Pin It
Favorite

Pay Attention to the Context 

The details of environmentalism can be as important as the big picture.

click to enlarge Recycling coordinator Suzanne Tresko: \"Everything we throw away is essentially an earth resource\" - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Recycling coordinator Suzanne Tresko: \"Everything we throw away is essentially an earth resource\"

In the fall of 2007, Whitworth University’s dining services announced a new innovation: They were going to switch out their Styrofoam “to-go boxes” and plastic silverware for “Spudware” — boxes and silverware made with potato-based materials. The idea was that while plastic cutlery would be trapped in a landfill for perpetuity, spudware would rapidly decompose, returning to the earth. Even though it costs two or three times more than regular silverware, Whitworth continues to use the spudware (though officials say scarce supply has occasionaly forced them to revert to plastic) because of its biodegradability.

But here’s the thing: The vast majority of Spokane County’s garbage never sees the landfill. It’s tossed in an incinerator, turned to electricity and ash.

Spokane County residents face similar choices: Should they buy biodegradable if it’s just going to be consumed by fire anyway?

“If you’re buying a biodegradable product, just looking at the cost and the money factor and what you’re getting out of it — it’s not worth it,” says Suzanne Tresko, recycling coordinator for the City of Spokane’s regional solid waste system, which runs the incinerator. She says that most biodegradable products are designed with a compost facility — not an incinerator — in mind.

While the emissions from burning a Styrofoam container in a campfire are awful for the environment, she says, the technology in Spokane’s Wasteto-Energy Plant eliminates the difference between the types of things that are burnt.

“Our emission controls are phenomenal. There’s no comparison, in terms of burning,” says Tresko.

True, about 15 percent of Spokane County’s garbage is trucked to a landfill. But even then, Tresko says, landfills are specially designed to actually slow degradation — of anything — including things that normally degrade. As things decompose, they can create environmentally harmful methane and chemical leachate, so landfills go to great lengths to cap the landfill nightly, stopping degradation from happening.

In the Spokane region, Tresko says, filling up landfills to capacity isn’t the issue. What’s more important than the way things rot, she says, is the way a resource is created, how it’s shipped, and whether it’s thrown away at all. In other words, Spudware’s rate of decomposition matters less than how it’s made and how much gets used.

Cutting back on consumption, Tresko says, is a better strategy.

“Everything we throw away is essentially an earth resource,” Tresko says. She suggests buying in bulk, using reusable containers, and, perhaps most importantly, not buying things at all. Instead of buying more stuff as gifts, she says, give experiences, give tickets to events.

“Do you really need the bunny-shaped slippers?” she asks. “Do you really need that beer clock?” Since 2007, Whitworth has implemented a number of other measures to save resources from the start: eliminating cafeteria trays to save on dishwashing water and food supplies, for example, and giving students a 10-cent discount at the coffee shop for bringing a reusable cup.

That’s a strategy that, eventually, can add up to a genuine difference.

  • Pin It

Speaking of...

  • A Win for Everyone
  • A Win for Everyone

    The water protectors at Standing Rock achieve an important victory
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • Train Tax?
  • Train Tax?

    Spokane voters will consider fines on oil and coal trains on November's ballot
    • Jul 28, 2016
  • Cause For Alarm
  • Cause For Alarm

    Residents of a remote part of Stevens County say something is making them sick, but no one is sure exactly what it is
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • More »

Latest in News

  • 'Why Aren't They Digging?'
  • 'Why Aren't They Digging?'

    The family of a man killed by Spokane Police in 2011 is still searching for answers
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • 'Hookerville' Revisited
  • 'Hookerville' Revisited

    Pedestrian bridge's price tag draws fire before city council vote; plus, Washington, Idaho fall short in closing the achievement gap
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Taking a Hike
  • Taking a Hike

    Whether or not they supported the minimum wage hike, local businesses and nonprofits are scrambling to pay for it
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon
Spokane Valley Library Book Sale

Spokane Valley Library Book Sale @ Spokane Valley Library

Sat., Jan. 21, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Daniel Walters

Most Commented On

  • Thanks, Obama

    The legacy of the 44th President goes far beyond the election of the 45th
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • One Free Shave

    Donald Trump might have merited a honeymoon with voters had he managed his transition better
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

scandal


Comment


scandals


Briefs


green zone


Readers also liked…

  • Patrolling While Black
  • Patrolling While Black

    Gordon Grant's nearly 30 years as a Spokane cop have been affected by race, but that's not the whole story
    • Jul 8, 2015
  • Hopeless for Heroin
  • Hopeless for Heroin

    As heroin deaths continue to rise in Washington state, what can a parent do to save a child from the depths of addiction?
    • Jul 29, 2015

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation