The path to zero waste.
By Mike Hart
Special to The Bee
Published: Jan. 3, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3E
Being mayor of San Francisco often means you get your opinions published even when you are off-base. The recent commentary by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, co-authored by Teamster Robert Morales, is a prime example.
While Newsom correctly notes that landfills are bad, he misstates why. It’s not because they prevent recycling; it’s because every ton of landfilled trash emits 23 tons of CO2 or its equivalent. The International Panel on Climate Change found that few landfills capture these gases, with the best landfills capturing only 20 percent. We need to convert these gases to energy, not release them into the atmosphere.
Contrary to Newsom’s assertion, every ton of landfilled waste does not create 71 tons of “upstream” waste. The mayor lifted his assertion from a Sierra Club zero-waste paper citing a 1992 U.S. Office of Technology Assessment background paper.
But Newsom and the Sierra Club failed to notice that the paper does not support the claim or deal with municipal waste. Reducing waste is laudable; misleading the public is not.
Newsom inexcusably labels a wide array of thermal technologies as “really just glorified incineration.” But these technologies could not be more different. Whereas incineration creates smoke and ash, gasification can convert waste into new fuels without burning, without emissions and without producing waste.
Newsom claims we can squeeze 34 new jobs out of every 10,000 tons of waste composted. Newsom fails to reveal how much garbage costs will rise to pay those new employees or that composting releases significant greenhouse gases – especially at commercial scales – while doing nothing to solve our energy problems.
Give union workers the choice between being well paid to run gasifiers, a clean source of domestic power that reduce greenhouse gases and eliminate landfill costs, or picking bits of glass and used diapers out of compost destined for some vineyards.
President Barack Obama has recognized the opportunities presented by technologies such as gasification that can cleanly recycle waste while reducing our need for fossil fuels. It’s time for Newsom to put our environment above his desire for union contributions. We need an environmental solution to our energy and waste problems. Gasification, not highly paid composting, provides the answer.
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