Has technology provided a better way to deal with waste?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Walk around McCook's alleys and you'll notice small brick structures that may be a mystery to you if you were born later than the mid-20th century. If you're a little older than that, you probably remember the days when backyard incinerators were the solid waste disposal method of choice, when boys were tasked with burning waste paper and plastic, not just carrying the trash out to the large container in the alley, designed for automated pickup.

If children were well-trained, they knew not to light the week's trash when the neighbor's wash was hanging on the line, downwind. (The more mischievious among us learned to "overlook" aerosol cans in anticipation of a gratifying explosion, complete with flying shrapnel.)

Somewhere along the line, whether by government regulation or social pressure, home incinerators went out of fashion, in favor of community landfills.

But later, thanks to tighter regulations, McCook officials determined it would be cheaper to pay someone to haul trash away -- in this case, to a regional landfill near Ogallala, than to maintain our own landfill, now an open field just east of Walmart.

But the "solution" has had its drawbacks over the years, most recently a backlog in trash thanks to a shortage of capacity for the contractor -- who is asking for a boost in fees -- and the need for an emergency purchase of trucks by the city.

We may or may not want to change the way we deal with solid waste, but now may be a good time to reassess the way we deal with disposal.

For instance how would the cost of establishing a community incinerator, meeting emission standards, compare with the present system? What would it cost to establish curbside recycling, thus reducing the waste stream? Are grants available to offset expenses through recovery of energy from methane from our own landfill, for example, or raw materials through recycling?

Even if the answers are no, it's worth a look.

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