Don’t Eat That!

By: Chloe Benzer

What’s worse for the environment than cars, ships and airplanes combined? Turns out, it’s agriculturally-driven deforestation, which accounts for nearly 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Not only does the act of deforestation and the ensuing use of the land emit greenhouse gases, but by decreasing the number of trees available to absorb carbon emissions, deforestation is an environmental double-whammy. forest-lossAgricultural deforestation is the tearing-down of forests in order to use the land for agricultural purposes, such as raising cattle or growing soybeans – currently the largest perpetrators of this type of deforestation.

In 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests – a voluntary non-binding agreement to halt global deforestation – was endorsed by the UN and now has over 190 endorsers ranging from national governments to multi-national companies and non-governmental organizations. The basis of this agreement is to halt and reverse both agricultural and non-agricultural deforestation. The 10 goals of the agreement aim to reduce deforestation as well as decrease the financial dependence of producers on the cash crops that incentivize deforestation. In order to achieve part of these goals, big agricultural companies promise to source their products from farms that aren’t involved in deforestation.

However, measuring the effectiveness of this promise is proving difficult. It is arduous to track back from consumer products through the various channels to a farm, and then deduce whether or not that farm was the result of deforestation. Furthermore, the lack of firm commitments by the companies – who procure “certified” products when available – leaves an easy out. Overall market share is also important to consider, if the companies who have made the pledge may not be making too big a difference.

While the reduction in demand from a combination of large companies can certainly influence the amount of agricultural deforestation, the root of the problem is consumer demand for an abundance of products such as cattle and soy that lead to deforestation.

The way that we eat has an enormous impact on the environment around us; the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that “if all Americans eliminated just one quarter-pound serving of beef per week, the reduction in global warming gas emissions would be equivalent to taking four to six million cars off the road.” Not only does reducing beef consumption decrease the direct amount of pollution caused by cattle, it decreases the demand and alleviates some of the pressure to supply beef, reducing the incentive to cut down trees for grazing space.

Though changing our diets is both healthier for us and the environment, modifying behavior as ingrained as diet can be nearly impossible.pollution Vincent Réquillart of Toulouse School of Economics and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique argues that the best step would be aiming for smaller changes rather than substantial shifts between food groups – such as swapping red meat for white meat. Shifts like this could be accomplished with the implementation of a carbon tax, similar to other pollution-reduction polices.

While health-consciousness is a beneficial derivative of an eco-friendly diet, it is also important to consider where the food we eat comes from and how it gets to us, as an overall means to an altruistic end. There are around 500 million “smallholder farming households” that depend on agricultural production for income, most living on $2 a day. Because these households depend to such an extent on the crops they produce, the motive behind agricultural deforestation becomes clear. Thus, in order to eliminate such environmental degradation, it is necessary to create sustainable means for these farmers’ sustenance. For example, as Danny mentioned previously, microfinance is a viable way to support low-income families in poverty-stricken areas.agriculture

With the goal of pollution reduction in mind, it is important for both policy-makers and the average person to understand the links between so many of the choices we make, such as what we eat or how we get from one place to the next, as well as the processes involved in making those choices available. Not only should we consider the method in which the food we consume was produced and transported to us, we should also consider the motivations of the farmers. As we become more conscious about the environment and the situations of those in poorer countries, it becomes evident that the policies that affect food need to be consistent with each other as well as across nations. While the NYDF is a step in the right direction, commitments to improving the environment must become unanimous and more integrated. As we saw with the Paris Accord, it is evident that any action aimed at pollution reduction should be global, because a clean environment is a public good that can be tread upon by people from any nation.

Charles, Dan. “Deforestation Opponents Enlist Powerful Ally: Big Food. But There’s A Catch.” NPR. November 3, 2016.

“Forest Declaration.” Forest Declaration. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Natural Resources Defense Council Eat Green Food Facts February 2010

Réquillart, Vincent. “Small changes in diet can make a big difference to greenhouse gas emissions.” The Economist. November 26, 2015.

https://www.microfinancegateway.org/topics/rural-and-agricultural-finance

http://www.wri.org/blog/2013/12/global-food-challenge-explained-18-graphics

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Microfinance as a Means of Restoring Impoverished Communities

By Daniel Ciaravino

Most informed individuals understand that there are copious problems effecting developing nations. From lack of political stability, to harsh economic conditions, to food shortages. Many of these issues can be ameliorated by providing a better financial environment for people in need to succeed in. Time and time again, grant programs have been tried in impoverished nations, with varying levels of success, (which I will expound on in more detail in the following paragraphs). However, one more efficient way that organizations are putting money in the hands of those who need it most is through microfinancing.

Microfinancing is the distribution of small loans to families in need to connect those individuals with resources they otherwise would have never had the chance to draw upon. The overwhelmingly majority of the micro loans that have been distributed have been to women which is primarily for two reasons. An adage explains the first reason why women are more suited for the microloans than men, “if you invest in a woman, you invest in a family.” This is largely true considering so many young people in developing countries are born without being raised by a father figure. The second reason why women are so important to invest in is because, on average, women are much more likely to pay back their loans in a timely manner than men. Though, this is not to say that those men in need do not get help if it is deemed necessary.

thebluesweater

Which brings this post to the next point: how exactly are these loans distributed to people (women) in need? The answer to this lies in Jacquelyn Novagratz’s excellent book entitled “The Blue Sweater”. The book takes an autobiographical journey through Novagratz’s experience in several African countries in developing an understanding of community needs in Uganda, Rwanda, and through other countries in Africa. Her goal throughout the book was to learn from the communities, to understand the local economies and how they operate.

She outlines in her book the problems with block grants being handed to impoverished people. She explains that these grants are ultimately destructive in many cases and can lead to communities relying on the grants. Once the reliance is created, if the funding is pulled then communities are left out in the cold if their programs are not generating sufficient profits. She highlights a specific example in her book where an UN came into a community of basket weavers and provided them with a block grants to help them with the production of their baskets, without developing an understanding of how the production process for the baskets worked. The problem was, that the profits they were generating from the basket weaving was actually more expensive than it was to sell them on market! The simplest concept of costs outweighing the benefits was present, and because the producers didn’t incur the costs directly they did not mind dealing with the deficit.

Problems like the one outlined in the basket weaving community directly exhibit the need for people to go into these communities, understanding the markets, production processes and economies and then making beneficial decisions in those economies.

If these grants are used for things like basket weaving and other slightly less than bare bones poverty issues, an understandable question comes up, which is: how exactly do these programs help the poorest of the poor. The idea is that when you help those just above the harshest conditions, is that it creates a community, as well as community based programs to help the poorest individuals have access to food. The program also helps individuals understand financial concepts, including financial responsibility. Many of the programs also help agricultural industry become more successful, which directly helps the food population.

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Bigger Plates Mean Bigger Landfills

 

Everyone loves going out to eat, enjoying a nice meal and a pleasant evening. In the United States going out to eat often involves indulging in huge feasts. In the United States serving sizes for our food is significantly larger than it is in other nations. While some may view the large sizes of our meals as a part of the American style it has tremendous externalities affiliated with it. To most Americans food waste may not seem like a worthwhile issue to try to fix, however in other nations finding food to eat can be a rarity. If more food can be salvaged it will decrease the amount of food that goes to waste and will improve food sustainability.

Increased landfill usage is a negative externalities affiliated with food waste. Landfills are steadily falling out of c40-food-US-never-eaten-300x270.jpgcommission as we continually fill them with our waste products. Landfills alone have an ample amount of negative externalities and our continued dependence upon them only accentuates the problem. Food waste is one of the areas that is responsible for the constant growth of our landfills. According to the “Natural Resource Defense Council” Americans throw out nearly half of the food that is produced, and while some of the food is disposed of in efficient manners the bulk of it is put in the trash and sent to a landfill.

What the issues of food waste really boils down to is the inefficiency within our food practices. Other nation waste significantly less food and do not see their landfills pile up as fast. Why is this? This is because other nations have societal practices which involve using less food and having smaller portion sizes. These practices result in more food being consumed and less being wasted. Americans also have the mind set of eating only the purest and freshest foods instead of settling for a potentially past prime piece of food.

U.S.-Food-Waste-Infographic.pngHow can we as Americans stop wasting such a large amount of food? The most impactful way to stop wasting food is changing up the inefficient practices. Americans can start producing smaller serving sizes and stop throwing out food that is slightly past its prime. Changing up our societal practices can go a long way towards reducing the amount of food that gets wasted.

While changing up our societal practices is ultimately the most effective method at reducing the amount of food that is wasted it is difficult to change society so quickly and maybe that’s not what the American people want to do. I personally enjoy the large serving sizes that the United States has to offer and love that I can have leftovers for another time or day, however those leftovers rarely do get consumed. A more effective method of reducing food waste is to reuse or recycle our food waste. Reusing food waste can be saving our leftovers and eating them on another day. Recycling in the case of food waste is composting. imgres.pngComposting in essence is taking organic material and creating rich fertile soil. Organic based foods are the most popularly thrown out since they have a finite amount of shelf time. Reusing and recycling are the easiest and quickest way to cut back on the amount of food wasted.

In the United States more so than other nations food is popularly wasted. This is a significant issue since the wasted food is constantly filling our landfills and shortening their life spans, some individuals are hard pressed to find their next meal and wasted food is an indication of inefficient eating practices. Wasting food is a serious issue and solutions do exist, we as a society need top start implementing them more frequently.

By: Campbell Crosby

 

Sources

https://www.google.com/search?q=composting&espv=2&biw=1279&bih=617&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiMkMmJoK7QAhVn74MKHQA3DikQ_AUIBigB#imgrc=Na5Mcxh9uxbbtM%3A

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-daily-meal/what-do-restaurants-do-wi_b_5469841.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/heres-why-americans-waste-so-much-food-180955569/?no-ist

Food Waste In The U.S. Amounts To $162B Annually

Rebalancing the Food Waste Equation: A Case Study for Santa Barbara

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24,000 Years of Waste

For decades, U.S. development of nuclear power has stagnated, due largely in part to efforts from the environmental movement. Now, among increased concerns regarding climate change and national energy security, right and left might find some common ground in nuclear.

While nuclear may help alleviate some of our energy issues, it still has a significant amount of resistance to overcome. More problematic than safety (both environmental and health related) are the issues of cost and time. Most reactors in the U.S. today are several decades old and set to be decommissioned in the near future; meanwhile, construction of new plants has been lacking. Nuclear saw a golden age around 1970, but leveled off in the 90s amid public outcry. Most recently, five new projects were authorized in 2012, with expected completion by 2020. Two of these projects are currently experiencing severe delays.

nukelevel

Nuclear Power leveled off in the 90s

The high cost of nuclear power plants comes with good reason. The relative safety of plants today is a direct result of regulation and over engineering. Additionally, the costs of nuclear power plants must account for the high price tag for decommissioning. When power plants first began to be shut down at end of life, the companies involved were in for a rude awakening. As you might imagine, companies can’t just put the leftover materials from nuclear power plants in any ordinary landfill, and they can’t hire just any contractor to do the job. With costs like these, nuclear struggles to remain competitive with fossil fuels like coal for electricity production. While the startup cost is almost prohibitively high, nuclear is efficient during actual operation and produces no CO2. Additionally, nuclear is good at meeting market demand as it fluctuates. In contrast, renewables like solar and wind rely on natural factors and limited battery supply, most nuclear reactors can escalate or deescalate to meet demand with ease.

In addition to the cost of decommission, nuclear companies must also account for the storage of radioactive waste. Cost is perhaps the greatest limiting factor the market has for constructing additional pylons, but waste is the primary focus for the public and politicians. Currently, nuclear waste is stored on site at each individual power plant. In fact, it is currently illegal to transport the waste from its point of origin. Generally speaking, there are two broad categories for solutions to this issue, either use the waste for additional fuel and render it harmless or put it in long term storage.

Both of these solutions have significant roadblocks against their realization. Currently equipment does not exist to eradicate nuclear waste, and experimental projects take decades to carry out. Some major projects are underway for centralized storage of nuclear waste. Since nuclear waste currently being produced can have a half-life of 24,000 years these projects require an incredible amount of investment and expertise. Sweden is the first country to decide on a permanent storage facility. In fact, through community engagement and incentives the Swedish company had two towns actually competing to host the storage facility. Most communities are loath to accept such a dangerous sounding project to be constructed near them. While most people agree that we need such a facility, almost no one thinks it belongs near them. This leads to the commonly used acronym of NIMBY or Not in My Backyard.

osthammar.jpg

Radioactive waste repository in Östhammar

In the United States, plans were underway to create a storage facility at Yucca Mountain, a remote desert ridge 90 miles outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. However, during the Obama administration plans were halted, largely due to resistance from Harry Reid the Democratic leader in the Senate. Being a senator from Nevada, Reid was instrumental in cancelling the plans at Yucca Mountain. However, Reid has declared he will not be running for reelection after his current term expires. Additionally, president-elect Trump has expressed interest in revamping nuclear power in America and this would require a permanent home for nuclear waste. Already, nuclear utility companies have paid 21 billion to fund long term storage. Numerous Democrats have also expressed interest in establishing Yucca once and for all as a permanent storage location. These Senators were originally unwilling to go against Reid, but may find new confidence with his retirement. With bipartisan support Yucca Mountain may become a reality, but political approval is only the first step in a long fight for nuclear power.

Matthew Hurth

http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/showtext.php?t=ptb0802a

https://whatisnuclear.com/

http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-11-14/trump-advisers-eye-reviving-nevada-s-yucca-nuclear-waste-dump

http://www.npr.org/2011/07/28/138707842/in-sweden-a-tempered-approach-to-nuclear-waste

 

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Where to hide the body?

With the increasing threat of an exponentially growing population, another, often overlooked threat which goes hand in hand, is burial of the dead. Not only will future generations have to grapple with land use for the living, but also for the dearly departed. Traditional burial practices are intrusive and polluting. Commonly relying on toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and reinforced concrete tombs to preserve our dead, burials put strain on precious resources and assault our natural world. Especially when we consider the rate at which Baby Boomers will meet their end in the near future, the concern regarding land use becomes even more compelling. Chris Coutts, an associate professor in urban planning, projects that “76 million Americans…[will] reach the current age of average life expectancy, 78 years, between 2024 and 2042” (citylab.com). At that rate, “if they were all buried in standard burial plots, it would require roughly 130 square miles of pure grave space, not counting roads, trees or pathways,” an area equivalent to Las Vegas (citylab.com). Thus, we have a problem.

Enter: Green Burial Practices. A growing numbers of people are researching the opportunity to have a green burial when their time comes. Of the various alternatives the most established alternative is designated green burial sites where the deceased are placed in hand-dug graves which reduce the impact on the natural habitat. Corpses are then placed, un-embalmed, in “natural caskets made of biodegradable materials, such as cardboard, wicker and pine,” (npr.org). The standards for green burial sites, set by the Green Burial Council, include criteria for low-impact site planning, grounds care that respects the natural habitat, preservation and stewardship, and burial practices (greenburialcouncil.org). While green burial sites offer a natural alternative to traditional practices, green sites require more space “to reduce any adverse health or sanitation risks,” but are arguably seen as creating “miniature conservation zones” (citylab.com). These conservation zones can be regarded as a better use of the land, and prolongs the viability of the ecosystem in which the burial site resides. The use of conscience practices to preserve the natural habitat and take care of our dead can present an innovative solution to mitigate the rapid land use and undesirability of traditional cemeteries.bamboo_six_point_coffin_3q_flowers_hero

While a green burial site might not solve the space issue, it could help our housing markets. In analyzing the effect that traditional cemeteries have on housing prices, there are multiple considerations, both positive and negative that should be taken into account. Positively, “cemeteries offer a place to walk, jog, exercise, or otherwise enjoy the outdoors safe from speeding traffic” (freepatentsonline.com). Larsen and Coleman, researchers who examined the effect that proximity to cemeteries can have on housing prices, found that the relationship is uncertain. There are few studies that have examined this relationship, and those that have, found an insignificant correlation. However, biases may have been present. Including, “whether or not the cemetery is within sight of the subject property,” which the study of Larsen and Coleman attempted to overcome. Larsen and Coleman attest that disadvantages associated with proximity to cemeteries include noise disturbances and physical dangers such as poisoning and disease. From an environmental stand point, the willingness to pay of a potential homeowner to avoid a traditional cemetery may be higher in the future, when the state of current cemeteries decline, and hazardous chemicals accumulate in the soil and drinking water. Therefore, green burial sites can offer an effective solution to this threat. In addition, the alternative burial sites may actually be a desirable property to be located near, considering the stringent preservation that the council regulates.

Greta Baragar

http://www.citylab.com/housing/2012/10/americas-looming-burial-crisis/3752/

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17232879

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/article/Appraisal-Journal/220765045.html

http://greenburialcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015CemStandards.pdf

http://www.economist.com/node/17043348

 

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Waste Not, Want Not

We’ve all heard, at some point or another, the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” This motto effectively sums our planet’s sentiments towards waste production. Companies and individuals alike are told that the best way to help the planet, and their wallet, is to use as little material as many times as possible and to recycle that material when it can no longer be used. The problem with this concept is that most of our materials aren’t designed to be reused or recycled. Doing either can degrade the material, and reprocessing materials like plastics and papers also tends to release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere (Stiffler). Not to mention most products can only be recycled into a new product once or twice, and then must be thrown into a landfill (Williams). We call this process of material management “cradle to grave,” because it is a linear process built around the production of single-use products.

Our habit of constant waste disposal has a direct impact on our economy as well as our environment. Land that could be used to support businesses, parks, or other ventures is instead filled with millions of pounds of waste that will take thousands or more years to decompose. Landfills aren’t just smelly; they often leak polluting fluids called “leachates” and release methane gas. Thus, the values of property close to landfills are often substantially lower, which demonstrates the amount consumers are willing to accept for decreased environmental amenities like pleasant-smelling air and clean ground water (Hirschfeld, Vesilind, and Pas). Essentially, wasting is a waste.

What if we didn’t have to dispose of our waste? What if we never created any waste at all? If you are someone who spends a lot of time out in nature, this may not seem like a totally unrealistic idea. Natural world systems have evolved over the millennia to put every piece of waste to use. Whatever one organism throws away, another consumes. Architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart collaborated to theorize how this process could be applied to human communities (McDonough and Braungart). Their solution: a material manufacturing system dubbed “cradle to cradle.”

In a cradle to cradle system, materials would belong to one of two closed loop cycles: one that continuously reuses technical nutrients, and one that continuously reuses biological nutrient. A technical nutrient is described as a material that “feeds” an industrial cycle (McDonough and Braungart). An example of this type of technical nutrient would be metals or plastics. A biological nutrient is something that can be decomposed and returned to the natural world, like food, certain types of fabric, and paper. In both systems, the idea is that the material would be designed to be reused infinitely. It may seem like the cradle to cradle system is nothing more than a pipe dream, but we are closer to making it a reality than it may seem. Composting is one method of returning biological nutrients into their natural cycle, and this method of waste disposal is commonplace within many businesses and municipalities around the world. Materials like glass and certain metals can be recycled indefinitely if they are sorted properly (Williams). The trick is to find materials that retain their quality after being reprocessed, and designing products to be easily taken apart when no longer usable.

1280px-biological_and_technical_nutrients_c2c

Businesses have many incentives to work towards McDonough and Braungart’s goal. By cycling their products, companies can save huge amounts of money that would have otherwise been spent on virgin materials. Creating products that can either be reused indefinitely or composted will eliminate the concept of waste as we treat it now. We would then have more resources to spend on remediating current landfill sites to raise adjacent property values and lessen the effects of the other externalities associated with landfills. Pursuing cradle to cradle material cycling will also require a significant amount of innovation, creating new types of manufacturing industries. Whether or not we see this process gain traction in the near future, it is an intriguing solution to the ever-present issue of waste disposal and management.

Written by Malory Maletic

Sources:

http://www.opb.org/news/article/northwest-air-pollution-violators-generate-fines/

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/many-times-can-something-recycled-79191.html

http://www.gfredlee.com/Landfills/Hirschfeld-LFCosts.pdf

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

 

 

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Recycle, Recycle, Recycle

Recycling in the US has greatly increased in the past twenty years, but only 28% of all waste is recycled. Compared to Germany where 62% is recycled. On average across the European Union 40% of waste is recycled. Part of the reason for the higher rates of recycling in Europe is the higher population density. Whereas in the US, there is the capability of shipping landfill waste to a less densely populated area. However, the trend in both the US and Europe has been towards an increase in recycling and reuse.


The negative impact of waste being sent to landfills is especially seen in Great Britain where they only divert 17% of their waste from landfills as of 2005. They are now diverting almost 50% of their waste. Great Britain now has less operating landfills than they used to. Some of the landfills that have been closed down were in operation before the mid 90s, which is before regulations were imposed on what could be put there.  Many of these closed landfills are facing erosion due to their proximity to the coast. According to the Guardian, these landfills have toxic waste including, “large quantities of harmful metals, such as lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogenic.”

Great Britain has been trying to minimize its landfill waste, since the mid 90s. In the mid 90s they implemented a landfill tax. A tax would disincentivize people from sending their trash to landfills by increasing the price, while creating a revenue for the government to spend. This has been a highly effective decreasing annual tonnage from 100M tons a year in 1997 to less than 39M tons in 2013.

Image result for economics graph tax revenue

The above graph shows a basic Supply and Demand Curve with a tax. Now, if we assume the Dead Weight Loss is equal to the Marginal Damage that landfills cause there is actually a benefit to society in terms of the tax revenue gained from the tax. Not only has this tax had the effect of decreasing the amount of trash sent to landfills, but also has caused numerous landfills to close down. The closing of landfills helps reduce the places waste is able to go.

Another way Great Britain has been trying to reduce landfill waste is through waste-to-energy facilities. This is the same method used in Grand Rapids. This method has been criticized for the amount of CO2 emissions that it releases. The problem with waste is figuring out what the best method to dispose of it is. Recycling can be expensive, however, most countries in the EU incentivize it. In the US there is a slight incentive that has been increasing to recycle. Incentivizing recycling through a subsidy has also contributed to the decrease in landfill waste.

Image result for subsidy economic graph

The graph above shows the decrease in price when a subsidy is applied to a product. This will also increase the quantity of the product sold or used. In this case the incentive would be to increase the amount of waste recycled through decreasing the price to recycle. There is even a greater incentive to recycle with the combination of the price of trash going to the landfill increased through the tax and the price of recycling decreased through the subsidy.

Carrington, Damian. “Pollution Risks from over 1000 Old UK Landfill Sites Due to Coastal Erosion.” The Guardian. 5 May 2016. Web. Accessed: 5 November 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/05/pollution-risk-from-over-1000-landfill-sites-england-wales-coastal-erosion

“Recycling Around the World.” BBC. 25 June 2005. Web. Accessed: 5 November 2016. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4620041.stm#map

“Recycling is Important.” Recycling Guide UK. Web. Accessed: 5 November 2016. http://www.recycling-guide.org.uk/importance.html

“Recycling Rates in Europe.” European Environment Agency. 30 September 2013. Web. Accessed: 5 November 2016. http://www.eea.europa.eu/about-us/competitions/waste-smart-competition/recycling-rates-in-europe/image_view_fullscreen

“Waste.” European Comission. 6 August 2016. Web. Accessed: 5 November 2016. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/

West, Karl. “Waste not, Want not: How the Rubbish Industry Learned to Look Beyond Landfill.” The Guardian. 27 February 2015. Web. Accessed: 5 November 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/27/waste-rubbish-industry-landfill-recycling-dumps-incineration

By Ann Hardin

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