Creative trash talk aims at slowing landfill piles

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“Such a system is sustainable, easy to control, and does away with the need for an extensive and ‘eternal’ monitoring system,” said Mr. Schuiling, who published his proposal in the June issue of the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues.

Garbage also has fueled our imaginations.

The press has seized on the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” repeatedly described as an “island” of garbage in the North Pacific “twice the size of Texas,” though its location has never been pinpointed.

In April, biologists from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in California took a 4,200-mile journey aboard a vessel built in part from plastic bottles, hoping to come across the fabled site.

They encountered lots of plastic debris trapped by ocean currents. They were disturbed by the sight of floating toothbrushes and derelict fish nets - but no isle of trash appeared. It was a myth, and journalists had “wrongfully reported” it, the biologists said.

Practical solutions are in the works, meanwhile.

Some communities have harnessed the methane and carbon dioxide that rise from landfills and manure piles to create electricity for local housing and businesses.

Researchers from the University of Maryland have developed a commercially viable “incubator,” fueled by bacteria from the Chesapeake Bay, that converts wastepaper, brewing byproducts and agricultural waste into ethanol.

Trashy habits die hard, though.

Challenged for space, Hawaiian officials hope to ship 100,000 tons of garbage - an 18-day trip by barge - to waste-management sites in Idaho, Oregon or Washington. The idea delighted entrepreneurs eager to bid on the juicy contract while alarming state officials who feared tropical bugs or plants could stow away in the Honolulu garbage.

“Given the importance of this issue and the potential economic and environmental impacts of allowing invasive species to be moved from Hawaii to Idaho, I ask that you remove the state of Idaho from consideration as a destination for this material unless these issues are addressed,” Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican, said in a June 6 response.

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