Sunday, May 20, 2018

Wendy Bruget “A Latina’s Perspective on Copenhagen”

Latinovations would like to thank Wendy Bruget for her contribution to La Plaza.

When the team at Latinovations asked me to reflect on my recent trip to Copenhagen, I wasn’t sure that my focus area of garbage would be of particular interest to their blog readers. Alongside the Cinderella of the United Nations Summit was its less publicized sister, the International Solid Waste Association’s Conference on Waste and Climate Change( http://www.wasteandclimate.org/.) The purpose of the conference I attended was to bring attention to the relationship of waste and climate change.

Trash is largely overlooked when it comes to examining the causes of global warming, yet landfills are significant emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) such as methane which is 21 times more damaging to our environment than carbon dioxide because it is much more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere. According to the United States EPA, the second-largest source of methane emissions into the atmosphere is landfills, accounting for over 22.7 percent of all methane emissions from the US. (http://epa.gov/methane/sources.html.)  For this reason, a significant reduction in GHG emissions could be attained through the proper management of waste.  In other words, landfilled garbage is the low hanging fruit of the carbon food chain.

While Western Europe is slowly abandoning the practice of burying their waste in landfills,the US currently landfills 137 million tons of trash per year.  The European Union waste policy is based on a hierarchy of prevention, preparing for reuse, recycling, recovery (energy recovery) and disposal. Germany is on course to eliminate the practice of land filling its trash by 2020; they have achieved this goal by both recycling and the use of highly efficient and non-polluting waste to energy facilities.

Denmark can boast of 90% efficiency waste to energy plants supplying district heating to local residents. Danes use less than half as much energy per-capita as the average American, yet their gross national income is larger by 24%. The Danes have a higher standard of living. One theory is that they are multi-taskers, by commuting to work on bicycles they get high on endorphins contributing to happiness and greater productivity rates and of course they transform garbage into heat.

But how does this apply to us as Latinos?  According to a report on the National Resources Defense Council website (link), 3/4th of hazardous landfill sites are located in urban Latino & African American communities.  Mix that with the fact that our community is underinsured and has a better chance of living in a “non-attainment” air quality area, which means that you live in a community that does not meet the Federal EPA air quality standards you can get a real picture of the crisis we are facing.  While Denmark may seem far away and the global issues discussed there seem too technical to be relevant, we can see the effects of this problem everyday in our neighborhoods and communities.  And, we can imagine the dire consequences of not acting.

While we have instituted some form of recycling in almost every community, the reality is that landfills are the status quo, often in urban Latino communities. As we look to the next decade, the time is now for us as a community to get involved in the dialogue of what exactly is the next generation of landfills and why will it matter to the air we collectively breathe. Air quality and climate change are issues that matters to us; they impacts us, and we need to be part of the solution.

Wendy Bruget is a Los Angeles based public affairs consultant where she represents a diverse client base ranging from redevelopment issues to waste to energy projects before the City and County. She is a board Member of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality PAC and the Carbon Credit Foundation.

Comments

  1. Excellent article! Very interesting.

  2. Very insightful article. Among the many issues that impact the well-being of Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S., climate change, global warming and environmental quality must come to the fore of the national and local Latino policy agenda.

  3. Shyla Butler says:

    Those Danes are one upping us again!

  4. Sharon Martinez says:

    Loved the article! I appreciate the info/facts and all the statistics you shared with us. Keep up the great work!

  5. Thank you so much for getting this information out there! I think too many of us are just operating as you say, ‘status quo’ and we don’t have the time we think we do.
    We must act now! Kudos!!

  6. Very good article, and I have a comment to add that relates to Latin countries. I visit Mexico often. One of my well-educated friends told me that Mexico has a very high recycling rate. The reason is they do it at the dump. While the circumstances may not be pretty, Latin countries are very inventive about re-use adn re-invention.
    Added to this, Mexico has a national health insurance program. I think this puts them two steps ahead of the US. We can’t seem to manage either of these on a large scale.