- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The world is talking trash. Seriously. Unwieldy garbage is piling up around the planet - along with ideas for its creative disposal.

There are feel-good moments, such as the decision by Tontitown, Ark., to rename its landfill “Eco-Vista” - one of 321 names suggested in a contest that boasted a cash prize, a ceremony and some nice speeches. Town fathers, who rejected names like “The Abyss” and “Funky Town,” now hope that both landfill and locals will become more environmentally friendly.

Our collective trash footprint is bigger than Eco-Vista, though. Numbers are definitely not down in our dumps.

Consider that the world’s population creates at least 1 billion tons of trash a year, according to the United Nations. Americans produced 251 million tons of trash in 2006, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. China is responsible for a third of the world’s trash, said the Beijing Review, with Chinese cities alone generating 150 million tons yearly.

Lofty concepts top the heap of solutions.

A Dutch geochemical engineer has proposed that humans mix their garbage with concrete, then build monumental pyramids to serve as landmarks in nations overrun with domestic and industrial waste.

“These pyramids, erected in prominent places, could serve as a tourist attraction and become a source of income rather than a continuing financial burden,” said Roelof D. Schuiling, who suggested that the fabrications also be used as foundations for housing, offices and leisure facilities, particularly in flood-prone regions.

The idea might appeal to China, where only 10 percent of garbage is recycled.

There is an aesthetic value, too, he said, citing the burgeoning field of “trash art” - sculptures, paintings and artistic installations fabricated or at least decorated with the detritus of contemporary life.

The Amsterdam-based researcher is thinking big, though.

“All of these works will pale into insignificance if a plan to dispose of solid domestic and even toxic industrial waste by building solid monuments to waste is undertaken,” Mr. Schuiling said.

His idea is an offshoot, perhaps, of “Mount Trashmore” - an increasingly generic name for the retooling of troublesome landfills through large-scale landscaping and diplomatic cooperation among public agencies.

The concept originated in Virginia Beach more than three decades ago; the original abandoned “Trashmore” landfill is now a 165-acre city park with skateboard arena, two ponds, picnic areas and hiking spots that attract 1 million visitors a year.

“Mount Trashmores” have been built in Florida, Iowa, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan, among other states.

The Dutch version proposes that garbage, including toxic waste, be set in concrete with additional “immobilizing additives,” then shaped into slabs, waterproofed and stacked like massive Legos.

“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.