Trash: Pick It Up

Though questions about how we’re going to buy stuff in post-credit America may dominate the news, some interesting stories about what we’re going to do with that stuff once we’re done with it have percolated up, too:

  • Fight the power? In Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, a purported Wild West-style rebellious streak documented in The New York Times and right here on Rooflines has manifested itself in widespread resistance to recycling on the part of residents and bureaucrats.

Maybe Houston can send a Long Island-style garbage barge out to the Gulf and up the Mississippi to the Ohio River to join the other 25,000 lbs. of municipal waste that Pennsylvania imports every day. Just as older, post-indudstrial cities like Camden, NJ have become regional trash dumps, older-post industrial Pennsylvania has become a national trash dump. It’s not just the Keystone State, though that uses trash to generate cash: according to the office of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), at least 37 other states mortgage their environments to balance their budgets.

I admit, I’m not sure if Houston’s trash actually does end up in PA, but if Puerto Rico’s trash can end up in Virginia, and Toronto’s trash can end up in Detroit, anything is possible.

  • Tainted land. One reason that older manufacturing cities tend to sprawl is the difficulty associated with reusing formerly industrial land contaminated with chemicals and heavy metals. While Pittsburgh has demonstrated great success turning these properties into mixed-use developments and even upscale housing subdivisions,, some sites still elude revitalization. The EPA has given the brain trust over at Carnegie Mellon University a $900,000 grant (one of only ten nationally) to strategize for the reuse of these sites.# Projects like those CMU seeks to advance have had great success in revitalizing flagging urban cores. While Rust Belt cities may not be running out of land anytime soon, growing areas suffering the ill effects of sprawl could benefit from this waste-not, want-not approach to land use.
  • Build it again, Sam. An older city’s demolition budget, unfortunately, is one of its most important expenditures. Firms in Cleveland and Pittsburgh are taking a novel approach to demolition by systemitizing reuse of condemned structures’ building materials in a process called “deconstruction.” Though deconstruction right now is subsidized by foundations and authorities, with the skyrocketing cost of materials and commodities the potential is promising for this environmentally-friendly process to become a municipally-friendly moneymaker.

As we’ve heard for the last 40 years, ideas have consequences — and ideas about waste have consequences, too. All cities could take a cue from Pittsburgh artist Bob Johnson, who collects the detritus of the consumer economy (maybe Houston’s?) from along the city’s three rivers and compresses it into cubes that serve as a reminder that trash doesn’t just go away.


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