Opinion Your Views — 02 May 2013
Earth Day may be over, but our job is just beginning in Alexandria

To the editor:

With the momentum of Earth Day and the arrival of spring, our thoughts turn to the small ways we can help the environment: filling our recycling bin; turning off lights when leaving a room; setting the air conditioning thermostat a few degrees higher; and taking out the trash. Wait, taking out the trash?

Yes, that’s right. For better or worse, trash, an inevitable byproduct of human civilization, could potentially join wind, solar and hydro power as a renewable energy source.

Consider this: Alexandria transports its trash to the Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility at 5301 Eisenhower Ave., which generates electricity. The average Alexandria household disposes of 46 pounds of trash each week, generating enough kilowatts of energy to drive 38 miles around town in an electric vehicle. Given that the city collects trash from 17,000 homes a week, a tireless traveler could drive the hypothetical electric car around earth 25 times a week.

That’s the idea that fueled a partnership between the city’s recycling program and the Covanta Energy. Covanta Energy has provided a 100-percent electric car, the Nissan Leaf, to the city to promote the benefits of using trash to power electric cars.

Does this innovation mean that we’re wasting our time following the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle? Should we just fill up our trashcans and go on with our everyday lives? No, not at all.

The natural resources we save by recycling are worth more than the electricity that can be created. And of course, consuming nothing saves resources and eliminates pollution, too.

Remember, every action counts. That includes making smart purchasing decisions that are good for us and the environment; donating unwanted items to charity for reuse; and recycling our paper, bottles and cans.

Then, and only then, can we put out the trash knowing that we’ve done everything we can to preserve the natural resources andenvironmental sustainability of our eco-city.

- Michael Clem
Recycling program manager, Department of Transportation and Environmental Services

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