Column: Choices can help avoid extra waste

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 15, 2002

More garbage! More landfill space taken because of poor planning! Garbage unwittingly produced and becoming a larger problem every year!

These are statements similar to what I have been seeing in my trade magazines and environmental education literature. The focus that catches my eye is not the litter or the lack of reuse, but the toxic effects of improper management, disposal, and pollution it is causing.

A recent article from the Associated Press claims that within three years, Americans alone will discard about 130 million cellular telephones annually. This will generate 65,000 tons of toxic trash. On average, Americans hang on to their cell-phones for about 18 months before tossing them in the garbage. From the garbage they are buried or incinerated, putting a soup of toxins from arsenic to zinc that have been associated with cancer and neurological problems, into our environment. Many environmental groups are urging the cell phone industry to expand &uot;take-back&uot; programs so the batteries and phones are recycled. Also being urged is a program and design features so users don’t have to throw their phones away when they switch services. Maybe we should be asking our service providers about a return or take-back policy when we make a purchase. Even if the phone unit is free for signing up the service, there is still a responsibility for disposal of the old unit at the end of its life.

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Plastic bags have become so common, many of us don’t even notice the problems they have been causing in the environment. These petroleum based bags, once discarded, can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Four out of five shoppers in the U.S. use plastic bags over paper or cloth: The bags are so common we see them tangled in trees and fence posts everywhere. They litter our ditches, plug drainage systems, decorate our trees and shrubs and are an eyesore. They become another source of litter, added to what we have had for many years. If these bags were returned to the store for recycling, reused over and over, or avoided in the first place, there could be a large transformation for our environment.

During the manufacture of new plastic bags, harmful pollution is released into the atmosphere. This is not to point a finger, because there are other sources of air pollution, but we as consumers have choices when we spend our money. We have the choice of eliminating the plastic bags altogether with a cloth bag that can be reused over and over again, washed clean when dirty, to be used again. No more pollution, no more

litter, no more landfilling, no more danger to the environment.

Sony has a take-back program. If you have a Sony product to dispose of, you will not have to pay to get rid of it. Many other electronic manufacturers, worldwide, are now discussing this program and hopefully they will join this conservation effort. To dispose of a Sony product in Freeborn County, call our office or Waste Management of Southern Minnesota to find out how they are collected. If you are thinking about purchasing a new TV, VCR, stereo, computer, cell phone, or other electronic device, you should be asking about disposal options for that unit at life’s end. Otherwise you could be stuck with an unnecessary cost later.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is Freeborn County’s solid waste officer in the environmental services department.