We’ve all seen the copious quantities of garbage cans that line our streets and trash closets on collection day and it seems almost impossible that anyone could run out of garbage but it’s happened to Sweden. The country has actually run out of trash.
Cities in Sweden burn garbage for the energy to power their buildings and plants; nearly half of the structures in Oslo are powered by the burning of garbage. Sweden’s use of garbage for fuel, coupled with their extensive and popular recycling programs leaves only 4 percent of their solid waste going to landfills. What percent of household trash from the United States ends up in a landfill, you ask? An estimated 50 percent. In fact, one garbage burning plant owner in Oslo has expressed interest in purchasing American garbage. They’re already paying neighboring countries for their trash.
Available data for landfill use in the United States is a little bit old, but nevertheless startling. In 2003, Americans landfilled 2.46lbs of garbage…per person….per day. We have 3,091 active landfills across the states and while we are in no danger of running out of fill, we should consider that we may run out of land.
In the Lehigh Valley, there has been some discussion about the necessary expansion of the IESI Bethlehem landfill that operates off of Applebutter Road in Lower Saucon Township. The expansion would require a rezoning of the nearby area to accommodate waste, but the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission voted against this redesignation. So, where is the trash to go? The United States recycles 34.7 percent of its Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), burns 11.7 percent of it and discards 53.7 percent. With our population and rate of consumption, this leaves us with a lot of stuff packing our landfills while our municipalities are opposed to expanding landfills.
Should we start burning our trash for energy like Sweden? Try to recycle more? Or should we sell our trash?
What do you think is the SUSTAINABLE solution for the Lehigh Valley?
While sustainability is usually associated with nonprofit organizations and government planning, corporations have begun to take sustainability seriously and are reporting their progress to their shareholders.
These Corporate Sustainability Reports (or CSRs) are popping up on the websites of major companies like Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Coca Cola, Nike, GE, UPS and Nokia. These reports can include data on carbon disclosures, emissions, water usage and challenges in implementing sustainable growth policies.
CSRs should be transparent and authentic, as they are telling their customers and stakeholders what they are doing to help people, the planet and the economy. Data should be measured comparatively and the corporation should provide a baseline for the statistics that they provide. Sections can include balancing short and long term profitability, management of economic and environmental issues, risks and opportunities.
If you’d like to read some real reports, here is a list from Triple Pundit that ranks the top 10 sustainability reports from the past year. Does your company produce a sustainability report? Will it in the future? Hopefully at least one of these answers is yes!
Answer: Not an urban legend.
In metropolitan areas across the country, residents have been faced with fresh food deserts, or areas where one third of the population is more than a mile from a grocery store and one fifth exists below the poverty line. City dwellers are faced with carrying their groceries on long public transit rides, buying a car or relying on convenience stores to purchase their groceries.
For some lucky metro-poles, there is yet another option: visiting their local urban grocery stores. Though not exactly super markets, these small grocery stores strive to provide their cities with fresh food, meat and cooking staples within reasonable walking distance. Corner stores like these became passe after super stores like Wal-Mart, Wegmans, Weis and Giant came to suburbia. However there’s been a new push toward walkability and sustainable growth within our cities and we again need accessible food in our urban areas.
However, the confines of urban design present some challenges. These grocery stores have to use a fraction of the space that super stores have, prioritize the goods they will provide and consider parking in an area unable to accommodate a super-parking-lot. Even with these challenges in mind, many cities and entrepreneurs have taken the risk and opened such grocery stores.
In the city of Dallas, Texas, there is one such grocery store that also encompasses a delivery component. Nestled in the heart of downtown Dallas, Urbanmarket is the only full service grocery store in its area. They provide produce, meat, deli, seafood, wine & beer, health and beauty products, flowers and prepared foods. Also, if you submit your grocery list online by noon on Tuesday or Friday, your groceries will be delivered right to you.
Washington, D.C. is getting even more use out of urban space by utilizing mixed use development. On the same property as the Urban Lifestyle Safeway grocery store, there are 441 condos, 244 apartments and 75,000 square feet of retail space. The property is only 3.2 acres. Parking for these facilities is approximately 40 percent of a standard suburban grocery store but still has maintained a successful business model through foot and bike traffic.
There are four food deserts in the Lehigh Valley right now, which (according to the USDA) means that there are four regions in which one third of the population has to travel more than a mile to reach fresh food and at least one fifth of the population exists below the poverty line. Is an urban grocery store a potential solution to this fresh food problem? Envision Lehigh Valley has been gathering public input on fresh food access and those findings will be included in a comprehensive plan to combat food deserts in the Valley. Community involvement and ideas will be critical in this planning process.
Since the Livable Communities Act passed out of the Senate Banking Committee, it has been gaining support of smart growth advocates who hope that the bill will bring about resources “to integrate transportation, housing, economic development and environmental planning.” The Tri-State Transportation Campaign reports:
It would also establish a new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities in the Department of Housing and Urban Development to coordinate federal policies that foster sustainable development and provide technical assistance to communities. This would effectively formalize the recent partnership between the federal transportation, housing, and environmental agencies, which has thus far rewarded projects which combine transportation and efficient land use.
It is encouraging to see all of this push on sustainability and livability coming out of the federal governement. Hoping that all of this advocacy work materializes into real change in the way that communities are planned in America.
With the City of Allentown considering a Complete Streets policy and RenewLV’s Regional Transportation Forum drawing near, I thought it would be interesting to highlight some innovations in urban corridor planning. The National Complete Streets Coalition reported that the American Society of Landscape Architects helped draft a resolution to designate the fourth week in April as “National Streetscaping Week.” Supported in part by the Transportation for America coalition (of which RenewLV is a regional partner), the resolution would “promote the development of safe, attractive, and environmentally sustainable communities by urging federal, state, regional, and local policy-makers to fund and support streetscape improvement projects.”
Streetscape improvements go a long way in the implementation of complete streets policies. Physical improvements can change the overall feeling of a neighborhood and encourage alternative modes of transportation. Looking at the renderings below (drawn for the city of Houston, TX), you can see how a street can go from being merely auto-friendly, to being people-friendly.
Some Lehigh Valley communities have already changed the landscape of their streets to increase livability (even without an on-the-books Complete Streets policy). Walk around in the downtowns of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, and you’ll see what I mean.
This topic is sure to come up at RenewLV’s upcoming Regional Transportation Forum on the evening of April 19th. Hope to see you all at Hotel Bethlehem for a lively discussion!
Through May 15th, SUN*LV is collecting used and new tools to benefit community gardens across the Lehigh Valley. Some of the most needed items are shovels, rakes, hoes, spades, hand tools, and gloves. Drop-off sites are below.
Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley (SUN*LV) is a project of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. The initiative was originally formed by the Leadership Lehigh Valley Class of 2009 as a response to a broad range of issues which face the region. SUN*LV works with organizations and residents to help support existing community gardens and to assist in the creation of new community gardens in neighborhoods across the Lehigh Valley.
With the weather warming up, the timing is perfect for getting involved in community gardening in the Lehigh Valley. If you would like to support SUN*LV’s efforts or join the group, visit www.sunlvgardens.ning.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.