INFRASTRUCTURE

We spend 2% of GDP on infrastructure versus 4% for the Europeans.  This will not end well.

Here’s an idea: why not adequately fund the IRS?  There are several good reasons to do so, but one is the added billions in tax revenue (of an estimated $400 billion unpaid each year) we’d then have available for needed projects.

Actually, those billions are available now: bond buyers are falling all over themselves to lend us money at low rates.  We should grab it and get to work.

But it wouldn’t hurt to collect some of the extra billions in tax revenue that are due, as well.

THE POSTAL SERVICE AND THE UNDER-BANKED

Here’s another idea (and this one is catching on).  From The New Republic:

 . . . [A] new government report detailed an innovation that would preserve one of the largest job creators in the country, save billions of dollars specifically for the poor, and develop the very ladders of opportunity that Obama has championed as of late. What’s more, this could apparently be accomplished without Congressional action, but merely through existing executive prerogatives.

What’s the policy? Letting the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) offer basic banking services to customers, like savings accounts, debit cards and even simple loans. The idea has been kicked around policy circles for years, but now it has a crucial new adherent: the USPS Inspector General, who endorsed the initiative in a comprehensive white paper.

The Inspector General, who conducted the study with the help of a team of experts in international postal banking as well as a former executive from Merrill Lynch, correctly frames the proposal not as a challenge to mega-banks, but as a way to deliver needed amenities to the nearly 68 million Americans—over one-quarter of U.S. households—who have limited or no access to financial services. Instead of banks, these mostly low-income individuals use check-cashing stores, pawnshops, payday lenders, and other unscrupulous financial services providers who gouged their customers to the tune of $89 billion in interest and fees in 2012, according to the IG report. Post offices could deliver the same services at a 90 percent discount, saving the average underserved household over $2,000 a year and still providing the USPS with $8.9 billion in new annual profits, significantly improving its troubled balance sheet. The report calls simple financial services “the single best new opportunity for the posts to earn additional revenue.” . . .

WHAT TO DO WITH FOOD WASTE

Except for the time I borrowed a friend’s apartment in West Hollywood for two weeks (next to the one where Sal Mineo was stabbed to death, but I digress) while I wrote a magazine story on the making of Dino DeLaurentiis’s remake of King Kong (“the most original motion picture event of all time,” as he billed it, but again I digress) and jammed the kitchen drain pipe by putting grapefruit rinds down the Dispos-All (that’s the point I was getting to) — it happened 40 years ago, and I remember that sink, and the plumber I had to call, as if it were yesterday — I’ve never had a Dispos-All . . . though apparently something like 50% of American households do.  (Wikipedia tells all.)

My friend Debra Shore is Chicago’s water commissioner.  Her latest newsletter:

In the U.S., we waste an average of 213 pounds of food per household per year.

So I am often asked, “Is it better to throw food waste out in the garbage or to dispose of it in the sink using a garbage disposal?”

The best thing you can do with food waste from your home is to compost it–place food scraps in a compost heap or bin along with yard waste and allow it to decompose naturally. I own a Compost Tumbler, an elevated bin with a handle that you rotate every few days. The compost produced can then be used as a natural fertilizer spread on your lawn, used in your garden or flowerbeds, given freely to friends and neighbors. Compost has additional benefits of improving soil structure, increasing drought resistance, reducing the need for fertilizer, water, even pesticides. But, of course, many people don’t have yards or don’t want the obligation of managing their own food scraps and yard waste.

So, the next best option is–drum roll here!–to use a garbage disposal, that is, to put food scraps down the sink and have them chewed up by what’s called in the business a food waste disposer (FWD) and conveyed along with other household waste to a sewage treatment plant. Does that surprise you? It may.

Here’s why using a garbage disposal is better for the environment than throwing food waste out to be trucked to a landfill. Food waste–principally vegetables and fruits–can comprise up to 20 percent of the garbage collected in cities. The average household has 213 lbs. of food waste a year. That’s a lot of weight to be trucked to landfills and a big cost to municipalities.

When organic matter decomposes in landfills, it produces methane gas, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (21 times the global warming potential of CO2). Landfills have methods to capture this methane gas, but they are not nearly as efficient as wastewater treatment plants. When food scraps are sent via the waste stream to wastewater plants, the anaerobic digesters there capture the methane generated by decomposition of organic matter and convert the gas to electricity or to biofuel–renewable energy!

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District currently captures between 50 and 80 percent of the methane generated at the treatment plants using it to heat the digesters and facilities. At some times of the year, however, the plants produce more methane than they can use so the excess is flared off. Happily, plans are underway to develop new facilities at the Calumet and Stickney plants to generate, capture and reuse even more of the methane produced by the sewage treatment process and use it to produce electricity or biofuel.

East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland, CA was the first wastewater treatment plant in the nation to convert post-consumer food scraps to energy via anaerobic digestion.

A pilot program in Philadelphia seeking to reduce the amount of food waste going to landfills will install garbage disposals in 200 homes. There the city has gathered baseline data on the amount of food waste in garbage–roughly 10 percent–and hopes to see a reduction once the disposals are in use. Every ton of garbage diverted from landfills saves the city $68 in tipping fees whereas the disposals are estimated to use less than one percent of a household’s total water consumption and to cost less than 50 cents a year in electricity to operate.

(The Chicago Conservation Corps and InSinkErator, the largest manufacturer of food waste disposers, are collaborating on a similar study in Chicago’s Uptown and Maple Park neighborhoods. For information on that project, contact (866) 271-1085 or ChicagoInSinkEratorproject@gmail.com)

A 2011 study reported that if 30,000 households switched from disposing of food waste in a landfill to using a garbage disposal, the reduction in global warming potential would be equivalent to a savings of 4.6 million miles driven in the average American car or “100 community members going carbon neutral for a year.” Think of what that might mean if all of the 1.9 million households in Cook County had–and used–garbage disposals!

Of course, the very best way to dispose of food waste is to waste less of it in the first place.  I keep telling you: don’t eat.

 

 

 

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