Beyond Recycling

By Anne Rivas


“Enough is as good as a feast.” – Mary Poppins


We need to let go of the belief that we have unlimited resources and unlimited space to hide our garbage. Sweden burns its trash to generate energy, and they’ve gotten so efficient at recycling, composting, and burning their trash that they now import garbage from other countries.

Last week we talked about the eco footprint of the US. This week we are going to talk about what we can do to shrink it. Remember, Services covers infrastructure and manufacturing, among other things.

Let’s look at city planning. With the past 100 years of cars and cheap fuel, we have developed cities with businesses clustered together, and homes and schools clustered farther away. We need walkable neighborhoods with

Anne Rivas
Anne Rivas

workplaces, desirable housing and good schools close to each other. Some cities have efficient mass transit. Some cities don’t, because, as in Omaha, it’s easy to drive from one point to another in a fairly short time. A two-pronged approach, mass transit to move people between neighborhoods, and walkable neighborhoods that integrate workplaces, schools and housing will help to reduce our city footprint. Omaha has made a good beginning with the recent approval of Complete Streets.

Let’s look at building codes. We can establish higher energy conservation standards, and support passive solar and geothermal energy in new construction. We can invest in retro-fitting existing homes and businesses for greater efficiency. Some cities even provide help with gray water systems. Can we do that here?

We are extremely lucky to live in a farm state. I belong to a CSA, and I have a big yard with lots of room for vegetables. But all summer I have bought spinach (in a plastic box) that was grown in California. Why aren’t I eating the locally-grown kale from my CSA? Well, I’m tired of kale and I really like spinach. I know that’s lame. Moreover, I like mangoes, bananas and avocadoes, none of which grow here. I’m not saying we should only eat what we can grow ourselves; we need to be aware of the trade-offs we are making. We, too, can expand urban agriculture, shrinking some of the distance food travels (I see bunches of bananas carpooling with avocadoes. Road Trip!)

With backyard and community gardens, urban farms, walkable neighborhoods, and mass transit, our city footprint will shrink. It’s a start.


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