The City of Philadelphia recently took advantage of a state grant to replace - at no cost to municipal coffers - Center City's metal wire garbage cans with new solar powered trash compactors.
Called "Big Bellies," the new cans harness solar energy to compact refuse, so that each is able to hold more of it. Thus, they don't have to be emptied as often, which saves gas and manpower. Whereas the old wire cans held 55 gallons of trash, the new compactors can hold four times as much. They also are not open air like the old cans, eliminating the litter blown out onto the streets from overflowing receptacles.
The city is also installing solar recycling compactors at some sites, marking the first time pedestrian recycling services have been made available in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and his allies on City Council fell just short in the most recent attempt to ban plastic shopping bags after late lobbying from plastics interests and big supermarket chains. The bags take forever to break down in landfills, are often littered on city streets, and are especially damaging when they end up in waterways.
Though the measure fell short, even opponents acknowledged such a step was inevitable and would succeed in some form soon.
San Fransisco was the first American city to institute such a ban, in 2007. Hundreds of towns and cities around the world have already done so or may soon follow suit. San Fransisco has banned the bags outright, while other cities are levying mandatory surcharges in order to discourage their use.
San Fransisco, true to form as the nation's most progressive city on environmental issues, very recently became the first city to enact a mandatory composting program. By requiring residents to separate biodegradable foodstuffs from the garbage, San Fransisco appears on its way to fulfilling its goal of eliminating landfill waste by 2020.
When food scraps go to landfills, they unnecessarily take space and release methane gas as they break down. Compost is, of course, very useful to farmers and gardeners.
In January, Philadelphia debuted single stream recycling. The new initiative means an end to separating plastic from paper from glass and combines recycling day with regular trash pickup schedules.
Philadelphia has long had a reputation for filth, dating back to colonial times. Residents are notorious litterers and even though there has been curbside recycling pickup for a decade-ish, the city had embarrassingly low recycling rates.
Since the institution of single stream, recycling rates have doubled.
It's a good thing when cities reduce the amount of trash they produce. Not only does trash strain natural resources end energy, but it contributes to air and water pollution. It also costs a lot of money. Cities like Philadelphia and New Orleans pay landfills to take our waste based on weight. Reducing the amount of trash we produce reduces the amount we pay out of taxes for landfills.
Philadelphia has reversed a longstanding reputation for overall uncleanliness and residential indifference toward the environment. Mayor Nutter promised to set the city on a pathway toward becoming one of the nation's greenest and his initiatives since his inauguration indicate that the city is on a path to success.
New Orleans' very existence, more than any other city on the planet, partially depends on the world's ability to reduce greenhouse gases. New Orleans, more than any other city in the nation, depends on massive federal spending to protect it from the specter of rising seas and vulnerability to hurricanes. New Orleans, more than any other city in the nation, badly needs to take advantage of federal incentives promoting green industries by making itself attractive to environmentally-oriented start-ups.
Yet New Orleans is not examining mandatory composting laws, single stream recycling, plastic bag bans, or rain barrel distribution programs.
In fact, the City of New Orleans does not have any recycling services.
We're practically begging for the environmental movement to somehow solve our existential crisis while we continue gorge ourselves on the most wasteful consumption practices.
What kills me is more than simply not having the laws, is not even having a discussion about them on the agenda.
It's exceedingly hypocritical.
It's embarrassing and it's pathetic.
New Orleans pays exorbitant fees to dump trash at Old Gentilly Landfill, which of course, is co-operated by sanitation dept. contractor Jimmie Woods of Metro Disposal and construction caballer Steven Stumpf.
Though the city owns the landfill, they 'tip' the operators based on the amount of trash they handle. See the T-P:
In 2001, Stumpf and Woods formed a joint venture and submitted the only proposal to operate the new facility. In the final days of the Morial administration in early 2002, they signed a deal under which -- provided the landfill received a state permit -- they would keep 97 percent of the proceeds, with the city getting the other 3 percent.
Stumpf and Woods, as well as other contractors dependent on sanitation department contracts, are major contributors to political campaigns at all levels. Moldy City has blogged extensively about this over many moons.
It is not in the personal interests of private trash hauling and landfill operating contractors and their political allies to do anything that might jeopardize the volume of waste produced in the city of New Orleans.
Anyone considering a run for Mayor better have a detailed plan for how we can make up for lost time on these environmental quality issues, one that acknowledges the difficulty to navigate through the poisoned political waters that have contaminated all discussions around reforming how we do sanitation.
These are the types of things Mayoral candidates should start offering right now so that citizens have an opportunity to see if there is any substance to these people before the campaign gets reduced to lawn signs and robo-calls.
See also these two (1, 2) articles in the New York Times magazine about inner-city minorities taking charge of local green and good food initatives, busting negative stereotypes that poor people don't care about the environment.