By Bill Crane, contributor
“Every day there’s a new headline and study detailing the dire position our planet is in. The time to act on sustainability was yesterday. Elected officials at every level will be judged in the future by what they do today, ” said Amir Farokhi, Atlanta City Council Member, District 2.
Following the leftward lead of the San Francisco International Airport Authority, and the college town of Berkeley, California, Atlanta’s City Council is considering a local ordinance to ban all single-use plastics in or on City of Atlanta property, which would also include the world’s business airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. A study by the city found that since 2012 only about 5 percent of waste generated at the airport was being recycled, though nearly 85 percent of the waste stream is recyclable or compostable if properly separated.
Through this long hot summer, with heat waves in places like Chicago, New York and London, and floods dominating much of the Midwest’s summer…and great ice sheet melts in Alaska, Greenland and points north, it is clear, at least to me, that our planet is warming. Though I wasn’t here during the last great floods and warming period which ended with most of North America covered in ice following what was once a grand scale real life edition of Jurassic Park…I’m reasonably certain that those dinosaurs who subsequently became the oil and carbon deposits we are burning now did not bring on that warming trend with dinosaur flatulence and egregious burning of some kind of prior fossil fuels.
However the City of Atlanta, and Hartsfield-Jackson in particular, are not known for being cautious or conservative in terms of energy use or consumption. And while reducing waste streams is an admirable goal, I would first prefer seeing our capital city simply PICK UP and dispose of its existing trash. Almost any trip to the airport, Atlanta parks or city government buildings routinely includes over-flowing trash cans.
And at Hartsfield-Jackson and most of the nation’s airports since 9/11, all restaurants have moved to plastic, single use cutlery. Banning plastic bags, straws and plastic/styrofoam cups typically moves retailers and businesses to paper bags, straws and cups coated in paraffin which are also non-recyclable and most typically land in landfills.
I will note Starbuck’s massive environment saving gesture of moving from plastic straws in paper wrappers to now paper straws in plastic wrapping. Hartsfield-Jackson has dozens of recycling bins and trash compactors (which usually don’t work) scattered along its concourses. Yet trash is picked up so infrequently that these recycling bins are often filled with other waste and refuse.
Kroger is phasing out single-use plastic bags, returning to paper and placing greater emphasis on boxes and re-usable bags…while allowing their customer base several years to make this transition. Discount grocer Aldi’s provides NO bags and even incents customers to return shopping carts to one central bin, with a quarter and lower prices being their customer incentives. It does not take a lot to gain the attention of consumers as well bring on more positive behavior. Remember bottle deposits?
A major step benefiting our environment was made during the administrations of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, vastly increasing municipal sewer treatment capacity and reducing raw sewerage spills into the Chattahoochee River. Now electricity consumption at the airport and all city government properties could be greatly reduced with LED lighting, motion sensors and day/night timers on street lights and all exterior lighting.
And before we ban plastic forks, spoons, straws and cups at the airport, consider the millions of passengers annually passing through who will have no warning of these changes before their arrival, as well as the many seniors citizens and children with food consumption challenges requiring the use of straws, and just how meals not intended to be held in one’s hands can actually be consumed without utensils, or bringing back the metal ones, including knives.
The United Nations issued an environmental study this month which identifies our current global food supply and production system as causing roughly 25 percent of all carbon emissions. Everything from irrigation in modern farming to flatulent cows were identified as carbon creating culprits. The U.N. is recommending that all U.S. citizens move to a more plant based, fruit and vegetable diet…reducing meat consumption to one roughly 4 oz. serving (one quarter pound hamburger) per week. Thankfully, the U.N. is only empowered to make recommendations, unlike our Atlanta City Council, and they can’t pass laws. Because only four burgers a month might just be the last straw…or at least the last plastic straw.