Sunday, January 10, 2016

Letter to the city government

So I just found out that, despite promising to end the program this month, the Mountain View city government has decided to extend its stupid food scraps collection pilot "indefinitely." This program cut garbage pickup services in half to once every other week and instead allowed residents to put food scraps in composting bins to be picked up. Upset at this pointless extension of a decrease in useful services provided by the city government, I wrote them the following email:

I just found out that the food scraps pilot, which my household was entered into without our consent, will be extended indefinitely. This is unacceptable. We were told that this pointless waste of time and money would be ended at the beginning of this year, which was bad enough. That we are being forced to continue to foul up our environment with trash around our houses in a complete failure of the duties of the city government to honor the provision of services that are its responsibility.

There is not, and never will be, a shortage of landfill space in the United States, so the basic justification for the existence of the program in the first place made no sense. As an example (and only an example) of how much of a non-problem waste disposal is, consider the following. According to this article, an average modern landfill can store about 66,000 tons per acre. Death Valley is 1,920,000 acres, which means about 127 billion tons of garbage could be stored in Death Valley. In 2012 (the most recent year available), the entire US produced 250,890,000 tons of trash, which means that, without any recycling at all, there is enough space in Death Valley for 505 years worth of trash of the entire US. If one considers only the trash discarded to landfills in 2012, which was 164,270,000 tons, then Death Valley could store 771 years worth of trash. Obviously, it wouldn't make sense to ship all of the country's trash to one location, but the point of the example is to illustrate just how much of a non-issue garbage disposal is in the US.

The goal of "zero waste" is pointless, even in theory. Waste is an inescapable part of biological existence. Every living cell of every organism that has ever lived on this planet produces waste. The reason waste is harmful to humans is that it causes human health problems and can harm open spaces that humans use for recreation and enjoyment. This is why the invention of landfills is beneficial: rather than spreading waste out over places we care about, we concentrate waste in a small number of places that are not otherwise of much value to humans. This is an unmitigated good, because it allows us to have cleaner human environments. By keeping trash next to one's house for an extra week, the food scraps program is turning back the clock on human development and closer to the times when human had to live in their own filth. It is a small step, of course, but one which has no possible human justification. When given the choice between a cleaner human environment and a dirtier one, the Mountain View city government evidently decided that its citizens should live in a dirtier environment.

It is merely a waste of money for the city government to pay people to drive trucks to pick up empty green bins, but it is unacceptable to continue a program which was promised to end this month. End this program now, and restore our garbage service to the previous levels.