As Seen in TEQ Magazine: Trash Talk

Oct 14

Does technology lead to less waste? Depends on how you use it.

TEQ TrashTalk_cmyk

Every minute new technology replaces old as old technology gets tossed. If the trash is digital, no big deal–one software application replaces another, and because of breakthroughs in storage we can keep them all. With the advent of digital technology, we theoretically need less paper. Instead, paper usage continues to increase throughout the world, and North Americans use more paper than anywhere else on the planet.

In addition to paper waste, technological advancements generate new trash concerns like electronic hardware trash. E-waste is on the rise, and it can leak all kinds of harmful chemicals and toxins like lead, mercury, arsenic, and beryllium into the ground.

While 94% of Pennsylvanians have access to recycling services, trash and recycling options for used hardware are limited and costly, so often hardware trash is tucked in with other trash. Pittsburgh has been labeled the country’s most livable city many times, but we have a major trash and garbage problem. From excessive litter left over after concerts to a lack of trash and recycling receptacles, Pittsburgh is far from perfect.

As a region, we need to move towards zero trash tolerance. A change in outlook that marries pride in our community to clean streets will ultimately result in more environmentally conscious choices.

Technology might be able to help–while it has created new problems, it can also create solutions.

Lots of innovation in waste management has occurred in the last twenty years, like the rise of waste to energy plants, where waste is incinerated and the heat is converted into energy. Anaerobic digestion, which breaks down waste through microorganisms in an oxygen-free environment, is gaining popularity for dealing with organic and solid waste. Biofuel production is now an accepted method of turning waste into fuel.

But waste innovation goes deeper than how it’s processed and reused. Technology can change how we talk about waste, raise awareness of the need for change, and accomplish these changes in attitude online, where new information is more accessible than ever.

The Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) is at the forefront of this kind of waste innovation, and has been for years. PRC is the force behind Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, the Green Building Alliance, Construction Junction, Scenic Pittsburgh, and Zero-Waste Pittsburgh. Through campaigns like Don’t Trash My Turf, Don’t Be A Litterbug, and now a bigger web presence in the works, the organization is using innovative tools to compel people to waste less, recycle more, and educate themselves on more sustainable practices.

“We are currently exploring the development of a permanent facility here in Pittsburgh to support the recycling of e-waste and many other common hard-to-recycle materials,” says Justin Stockdale, Western Regional Director of PRC who is working on finding solutions for handling difficult waste streams.

This year, PRC is celebrating its 75th anniversary. They deserve a huge shout out for their efforts to clean up Pennsylvania, reduce household waste, and educate and innovate around issues concerning roadside beautification, river clean-ups, rainwater collection barrels, and public awareness.

Through innovation in waste management and a change in perspective brought about by organizations like PRC, Pittsburgh can clean up and live up to being the most livable city in America.

Be the second to comment!

  • Paul, I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. There was a time – in fact, not too long ago – where everything an individual used was borne directly from the earth with little or no modification (relatively speaking, compared with today). And everything was rather biodegradable at a relatively swift rate. Today, while one can argue that everything does essentially originate from the natural world, most items of commerce have been severely altered from their original states, thus producing disastrous results (in the case of food … disease; in the case of technology … excessive and harmful waste). I am a fan of modern technology, though I feel we all must accept responsibility in making sure our spent gizmos and gadgets are dealt with properly, and many times (as you mentioned), a landfill is a poor habitat for biodegradation. We are stewards of this technology, and if we expect future generations to live in a world with incredible technological advances … well, they need to inhabit a clean world that is able to sustain such brilliant thinkers, shakers, and movers. Therefore, it is up to us to make sure that our future generations are not just cleaning up our messes, but rather taken care of and respected in advance. Keep up the great writing!