Letter To The Editor: Consumers & Waste Disposal

Los Alamos

I saw an internet article recently about Chile’s Atacama Desert (the driest desert in the world) serving as the world’s dumping ground.

For example, tons of “fast fashion” clothing and automobiles are discarded there. I don’t see an economical way to ship a used Chevy fender to the US from Chile. Locals in Chile find a way to obtain (pilfer?) clothing and sell it in various market locations. China has mountains of discarded plastic beverage bottles. Vietnamese workers sit around pots of molten solder and remove electronic components from discarded printed circuit boards. Chinese workers sift through piles of electronics components to extract valuable tantalum capacitors. Workers in India sort through tailings piles to find rubies. Coal-fired power plants create mountains of discarded coal-ash debris.

The pollution and the waste caused by manufacturers and consumers is difficult for me to tolerate. From a chemical engineering perspective, however, I view the discarded and waste items as a resource. What can be created from all that pollution and waste?

In Los Alamos County, there is a similar problem. Discarded consumer items go into residential roll-off trash bins, the EcoStation Reuse Area, the EcoStation Transfer Station (and then hauled to a distant landfill), various EcoStation recycling bins (and then hauled perhaps to a cardboard or metals recycler), EcoStation chemical/electronics/battery drop-off areas (and then hauled to a recycler), EcoStation lawn trimmings/pallet pile (and then ground up in size reduction equipment – made available for public use), Ecostation refrigerator storage area (and hauled away as metal scrap after Freon removal), or local thrift stores.

Alternately, discarded consumer items may go into green Big Brothers bins (and then hauled away to savers who pay some small amount per pound for the items). Los Alamos County views discarded items as “junk” or a nuisance. The Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board is helpless in a society with a “throw-away” mentality related to consumer goods. Again, I ask myself, “What can be created from all that pollution and waste?” I know that I am pretty much alone in my thinking on this matter.

I am disgusted with the penalties imposed by the proposed Los Alamos County Nuisance Code. Other than recycling some materials, penalties do not solve the basic problem of what to do with discarded consumer goods/waste items/“Junk”. I believe that glass in particular is a problem because it has limited value as a recycled material.

I have been reading about John Adams (Reference 1). Adams believed in a balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. If all power were to be vested in a single legislature Adams asked, “What was to restrain it from making tyrannical laws, in order to execute them in a tyrannical manner?”

In fact, this is exactly the issue facing Los Alamos County in the form of Los Alamos County Nuisance Code enforcement with associated penalties. It boils down to manufacturers getting money for consumer goods and Los Alamos County residents/businesses owners potentially being fined or imprisoned for purchasing, using, storing and discarding commercial goods. Maybe the only solution is to purchase nothing. I think they call that a recession or a depression.

Reference 1: McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Simon and Schuster. 2002. p. 376.

Editor’s note: Letters and columns published in the Los Alamos Daily Post reflect the views of the writer. The Post encourages readers to do their own fact checking.


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