C-Links Projects are Great Learning Experiences

Matt Young and Jen Bird give their presentation about "Poop Power" and Public Green Technology for the Fenelon Falls Social Infrastructure Team.

Matt Young and Jen Bird give their presentation about “Poop Power” and Public Green Technology for the Fenelon Falls Social Infrastructure Team.

WHAT DID YOU WASTE TODAY?

by Jen Bird, Community Leadership Project Finalist Fall 2012

We hear it all the time, we say it all the time… “waste not want not,” but have we ever really thought about what it means and how it applies to ALL aspects of life? If you’re one of the 800 million people (worldwide) chronically hungry, then this is likely more than a phrase; it’s a mantra, a principle to live by and maybe even the basis of your family’s survival. Those of us fortunate enough to never HAVE to think about this. I ask you now to really give it a good thought, roll it around in your head, look at how and where this could apply and ask yourself how you can incorporate it into your daily routine. If we were all to do this, imagine what we could come up with, imagine the innovative ways we could reuse anything and everything that was once considered “waste”.

 Here in the “first world” we pile our unwanted, unneeded and unused items into plastic bags, haul them to the curb where they are picked up by large trucks that stop and start again at every house (wasting time and fuel), from there, these bags of trash are placed in a landfill to rot and break down inside their plastic homes and eventually be buried as they are.

 I have no intention of going on about the shortcomings of the system, we know them all; and if not, there is a plethora of information available about how your municipality handles waste. What I do want to shed a light on is that there are alternate uses for all kinds of organic waste, from apple cores to dog poop. Yes, dog poop! This incredible, amazingly rich waste can be broken down into clean burning methane.

 Wait, did I just imply that we create MORE methane even though we know methane is more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide?

 Not exactly. As you may know, when organic matter breaks down it goes from a solid to a sort of liquid slurry. In doing so, natural gasses, like methane, are produced. Since this happens regardless of what we do with waste, let’s not simply encase it in plastic bags and bury it but rather harness that clean-burning fuel as an alternate energy source.

 What a concept!

 It’s not that farfetched,either. Matthew Mazotta (an MIT grad) came across this idea while traveling in India. He noticed people were using strange contraptions as a heat source for cooking. He was told that these contraptions were anaerobic digesters; a damp, oxygen-starved environment that sped up the process of breaking down organic matter using a combination of temperature, humidity and motion and turn all of that waste into usable fuel for energy. Simple to make and maintain, they provide free energy that can be harnessed instead of released (and wasted) into the atmosphere.

 Inspired by the idea, and seeing its potential, Mazotta created ‘The Park Spark Project’; a project involving a few cities globally, and some artistic and creative adaptations of this technology. One is a methane powered tea cart but my personal favourite is a dog-poop powered streetlight in a dog park. (An idea my group and I pitched in our common first semester community leadership project as a solution to a need for both tourism and green technology in Fenelon Falls.)

While the ideas are great as they are, it is not the actual appliance or gadget that fuels the project, but it is getting people’s attion and keeping it past the ‘yuck’ factor.  We as a society need to start to really think about our waste differently.  Speaking from experience, once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop… You too, will see possibilities everywhere! After all, if you can use something to produce something else, is it still waste? Or does it become a commodity? The million dollar question.

How can we translate this technology to garbage and landfills? Many communities are looking into the feasibility of having full organics waste programs, which are great, but can be costly to implement and come with the increased production of methane and other harmful gasses. What if, instead of a large scale composting facility which occupies a lot of area and produces harmful gasses (not to mention being very aromatic), we were to put that organic matter into a series of anaerobic digesters, and capture and store those gasses as an energy source?

Imagine how much energy we could generate and how much energy we could save.  What a concept !!

I want this article to make you think and in so doing, start discussions with others, which will make them think and discuss with others. We need to pay this forward and who knows, perhaps together, we’ll change our world’s view on waste after all.

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