July 1, 2008

In Our View: Waste Not, Please


The word is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a condition or state of existence that requires "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who will be the keynote speaker at the Southwest Washington Sustainability Conference, Trade Show and Greenfest in Vancouver next week ( www.cityofvancouver.us/ conference ), put it this way in an April 18 speech in Oklahoma City:

"All that word means is that God wants us to use the things we've been given, to enrich ourselves, to improve our quality of life, to serve others - but we can't use them up. We can't sell the farm piece by piece in order to pay for the groceries; we can't drain the pond to catch the fish. We can't cut down the mountain to get at the coal. We can live off the interest; we can't go into the capital that belongs to our children."

And then there are those of us who might not yet be as dedicated to sustainability as we might, but who know it's the right goal to pursue. We're gradually getting the picture. Maybe we're reusing paper grocery sacks, consuming more leftovers before they have to be tossed, have trained ourselves to turn off the water tap while brushing our teeth and shut off lights when they aren't needed - or don't turn them on in the first place.

Composting is another piece of the sustainability equation. So it is exciting news that Cedar Grove Composting of Seattle is looking at Clark County as a possible site for its next high-tech composting plant, as reported in Monday's Columbian by Erik Robinson. What it would mean, if it happens, is that local residents would be able to include food scraps along with the mixed paper, newsprint, glass and metal that are already part of the recycling mix. Some 15 percent of our garbage is food scraps. "It could be turned into valuable compost" instead of being "lumped in with the garbage barged to a landfill in Eastern Oregon," he reported.

In a local pilot project, food waste from a few local restaurants is combined with food scraps from Portland and trucked to the company's Maple Valley composting plant. There, it is processed, bagged and distributed to Fred Meyer, Lowe's and Home Depot stores in Washington and Oregon.

An irony of the whole sustainability movement is that it is aided by a couple of bad-news developments. One is the dramatic spike in oil prices, which might be permanent, and the other is the overall economic downturn, which, we assume, is temporary. There's nothing like a squeeze on the family's budget to prompt us to try new cost- saving practices. And that's the double-barreled advantage of sustainability: less use of natural resources and cost savings to individuals and families.

The Sustainability Conference at the Hilton is open to the public, although for a substantial registration fee. Tickets to Kennedy's keynote speech may be purchased separately, however. But the daylong Greenfest on Saturday, July 12, at Vancouver's Marine Park and the adjacent Water Resources Education Center, is free and has plenty of activities, educational opportunities and entertainment for the whole family.

If you still have Monday's Columbian, check out the special section "Clark County Revitalized" for the Greenfest schedule of events and tips on how sustainability can apply to us all. "We can't drain the pond to catch the fish. We can live off the interest."

Originally published by Columbian editorial staff.

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