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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Thanks to a law signed this past June, there could be much less plastic waste in California within a decade

Thanks to a law signed this past June, there could be much less plastic waste in California within a decade

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Pennsylvania’s first proposed hazardous waste landfill would be near homes and schools

PITTSBURGH — A landfill company based in Pittsburgh has applied for a permit to open the first hazardous waste landfill in the state of Pennsylvania, which some fear could threaten waterways and increase air pollution. Hazardous waste includes anything potentially dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment. It includes things like cleaning chemicals, paint and solvents, corrosive or toxic industrial waste, sludge from air pollution control units and waste from the oil and gas industry, including potentially radioactive substances. Federal regulations require these waste products to be handled and disposed of with special care. The company that would build the new hazardous waste landfill, MAX Environmental Technologies, Inc., is headquartered in Pittsburgh and operates two landfills in the nearby communities of Yukon and Bulger. The Yukon facility, which is about 29 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, stores and treats this type of waste, but isn’t permitted to dispose of it on site, so any waste that remains hazardous after treatment must be transported out of state for disposal. If MAX’s permit is granted, the company will construct a new hazardous waste landfill on its Yukon property, which is within one mile of 485 homes and about two and a half miles from the Yough School District. Residents in the area have spent decades fighting to close the existing landfill due to concerns that it’s too close to homes and schools and fears that the hazardous pollution it emits is causing health problems. “We moved there as newlyweds in our first home in the 1980s, and shortly after we moved there my husband and I started to experience all kinds of health problems,” Diana Steck told EHN, noting that at the time, the landfill was owned by a different company, Mill Services. “My husband developed this terrible rash that was on his face and his back and arms, and I had problems with asthma and started to have issues with unexplained joint pain.” After Steck’s children were born, they started experiencing unusual health issues too. She saw orange plumes rising from the site and said the acrid smells gave her family blisters in their nostrils and mouths. After reading a news story about the landfill releasing toxic pollutants like heavy metals, arsenic and chromium compounds into the air and water, she joined a group of residents who were also worried about the health impacts, and spent the next several decades unsuccessfully fighting to see the landfill closed. Steck has since moved about 10 miles away, but remains worried. “The community has been deemed a sacrifice zone,” she said. “This new landfill would be even closer to homes, and it would be closer to Sewickley Creek, a tributary of the Youghiogheny River, which is a drinking water source for many people downstream. Everyone who lives in this area, even those who are further away from the landfill, should be concerned about this.” More recently, public outcry erupted when MAX Environmental petitioned to have some of the waste it handles reclassified as non-hazardous. Environmental advocates say the company hasn’t been a good neighbor. “The existing facility is chronically noncompliant,” Melissa Marshall, an attorney and community advocate at the Mountain Watershed Association, told EHN, adding that the facility ranks among the top facilities in the state for violations of its water discharge permit. “A company that can’t follow regulations designed to keep our waterways safe shouldn’t be trusted to become the first hazardous waste landfill in the state.” Meanwhile, the plant’s operators told EHN that they run the site safely and take all the precautions necessary to protect the environment and surrounding communities. “We’re obviously aware there have been exceedances of our discharge limits in the past,” said Carl Spadaro, who previously worked as an engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and now serves as the environmental manager for MAX Environmental Technologies. “Over the last few years, we’ve increased the maintenance of our wastewater treatment system so we’re keeping it as clean as possible.” What’s next, and how can residents weigh in?The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is holding a public meeting and public hearing on the first stage of the permit application on the evening of Thursday, Dec.1. The agency will also collect public comments about the proposed landfill until Jan. 20, 2023. DEP spokesperson Lauren Camarda noted that this hearing marks the beginning of a lengthy and comprehensive permitting process and said only topics related to siting regulations will be discussed at this first hearing. “The review process for a hazardous waste disposal facility is a prescriptive and multi-phase process and we are in phase I,” Camarda told EHN. “It is important to stress that if the phase I application is approved, there is still a phase II application that must be submitted that comes with its own comprehensive review process, including a public participation process.” If the application makes it through the first two phases without being denied by DEP, the agency will publish a notice of draft permit or intent to deny, and there will be additional public hearing and comment periods. “Normally they try to put sites like this as far away from people as they can,” Marshall said. “It’s very unusual to try and put a hazardous waste landfill this close to people’s homes… so it’s really important for the community to come participate in these hearings.”

PITTSBURGH — A landfill company based in Pittsburgh has applied for a permit to open the first hazardous waste landfill in the state of Pennsylvania, which some fear could threaten waterways and increase air pollution. Hazardous waste includes anything potentially dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment. It includes things like cleaning chemicals, paint and solvents, corrosive or toxic industrial waste, sludge from air pollution control units and waste from the oil and gas industry, including potentially radioactive substances. Federal regulations require these waste products to be handled and disposed of with special care. The company that would build the new hazardous waste landfill, MAX Environmental Technologies, Inc., is headquartered in Pittsburgh and operates two landfills in the nearby communities of Yukon and Bulger. The Yukon facility, which is about 29 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, stores and treats this type of waste, but isn’t permitted to dispose of it on site, so any waste that remains hazardous after treatment must be transported out of state for disposal. If MAX’s permit is granted, the company will construct a new hazardous waste landfill on its Yukon property, which is within one mile of 485 homes and about two and a half miles from the Yough School District. Residents in the area have spent decades fighting to close the existing landfill due to concerns that it’s too close to homes and schools and fears that the hazardous pollution it emits is causing health problems. “We moved there as newlyweds in our first home in the 1980s, and shortly after we moved there my husband and I started to experience all kinds of health problems,” Diana Steck told EHN, noting that at the time, the landfill was owned by a different company, Mill Services. “My husband developed this terrible rash that was on his face and his back and arms, and I had problems with asthma and started to have issues with unexplained joint pain.” After Steck’s children were born, they started experiencing unusual health issues too. She saw orange plumes rising from the site and said the acrid smells gave her family blisters in their nostrils and mouths. After reading a news story about the landfill releasing toxic pollutants like heavy metals, arsenic and chromium compounds into the air and water, she joined a group of residents who were also worried about the health impacts, and spent the next several decades unsuccessfully fighting to see the landfill closed. Steck has since moved about 10 miles away, but remains worried. “The community has been deemed a sacrifice zone,” she said. “This new landfill would be even closer to homes, and it would be closer to Sewickley Creek, a tributary of the Youghiogheny River, which is a drinking water source for many people downstream. Everyone who lives in this area, even those who are further away from the landfill, should be concerned about this.” More recently, public outcry erupted when MAX Environmental petitioned to have some of the waste it handles reclassified as non-hazardous. Environmental advocates say the company hasn’t been a good neighbor. “The existing facility is chronically noncompliant,” Melissa Marshall, an attorney and community advocate at the Mountain Watershed Association, told EHN, adding that the facility ranks among the top facilities in the state for violations of its water discharge permit. “A company that can’t follow regulations designed to keep our waterways safe shouldn’t be trusted to become the first hazardous waste landfill in the state.” Meanwhile, the plant’s operators told EHN that they run the site safely and take all the precautions necessary to protect the environment and surrounding communities. “We’re obviously aware there have been exceedances of our discharge limits in the past,” said Carl Spadaro, who previously worked as an engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and now serves as the environmental manager for MAX Environmental Technologies. “Over the last few years, we’ve increased the maintenance of our wastewater treatment system so we’re keeping it as clean as possible.” What’s next, and how can residents weigh in?The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is holding a public meeting and public hearing on the first stage of the permit application on the evening of Thursday, Dec.1. The agency will also collect public comments about the proposed landfill until Jan. 20, 2023. DEP spokesperson Lauren Camarda noted that this hearing marks the beginning of a lengthy and comprehensive permitting process and said only topics related to siting regulations will be discussed at this first hearing. “The review process for a hazardous waste disposal facility is a prescriptive and multi-phase process and we are in phase I,” Camarda told EHN. “It is important to stress that if the phase I application is approved, there is still a phase II application that must be submitted that comes with its own comprehensive review process, including a public participation process.” If the application makes it through the first two phases without being denied by DEP, the agency will publish a notice of draft permit or intent to deny, and there will be additional public hearing and comment periods. “Normally they try to put sites like this as far away from people as they can,” Marshall said. “It’s very unusual to try and put a hazardous waste landfill this close to people’s homes… so it’s really important for the community to come participate in these hearings.”

Experts say COP27’s ‘plastic waste pyramid’ is focusing on the wrong solution

Some call it a missed opportunity to push for plastic production cuts.

In the middle of the Egyptian desert, just outside Cairo, a new sculpture has gained the singular distinction of being the world’s “largest plastic waste pyramid.” Measuring nearly 33 feet high and weighing some 18 metric tons, the sculpture — made of plastic litter removed from the Nile — is truly gargantuan. The sculptors behind say it should serve as a stark message to leaders at COP27, the international climate conference that began in Sharm el-Sheikh last week, about the “incredible crisis” of plastic pollution. “Our installation will really draw attention to the scale of the problem of plastic waste in our rivers and oceans,” Justin Moran, founder of Hidden Sea, a wine company that co-sponsored the art installation, told Packaging News. The brand, which targets “socially conscious consumers” is using the sculpture to launch an initiative called 100YR CLEANUP, which is supposed to raise enough money to continuously remove plastic from the environment for the next 100 years. The plastic pyramid is eye-catching, but some environmental advocates say its focus on plastic cleanup is behind the times. They argue that what’s needed now is public pressure on policymakers and the petrochemical industry to stop making so much plastic in the first place. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do cleanup,” said Thalia Bofiliou, a senior investment analyst for the nonprofit financial think tank Planet Tracker, “but we shouldn’t do only that.” Plastic and packaging companies are planning to make more and more plastics, Biofilou said, and unless they “take responsibility and reduce plastic production, then the issue is not going to be resolved.” There are already 140 million metric tons of plastic in the planet’s oceans and rivers. By 2060, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that number will skyrocket to nearly half a billion metric tons, with annual plastic leakage to the natural world doubling to 44 million metric tons a year. Meanwhile, the 100YR CLEANUP is pledging to remove 1,500 water bottles’ worth of plastic from the environment for every $100 it raises.  The 100YR CLEANUP isn’t trying to clean up the planet on its own: Considering that the weight of a standard 600-milliliter water bottle is 0.93 ounces, the initiative would need to raise roughly $1.26 trillion to scoop up the world’s plastic pollution by 2060 — and then raise $113 billion each subsequent year to try to keep up with the still-accumulating piles of plastic bottles, bags, cutlery, and other trash. But even similar removal efforts haven’t made a dent in existing plastic pollution to date. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, an industry-founded nonprofit whose members include major polluters like Exxon Mobil, Shell, and the plastic-maker Braskem, only managed to collect about 4,000 metric tons of plastic trash over the first three years of its existence — just 0.04 percent of its own waste collection goal and about 0.006 percent of the plastic pollution that was generated during that time. Another sculpture, featured in Nairobi, Kenya, as the U.N. discussed a global plastics treaty, depicted plastic trash pouring out of a giant spout. Jamies Wakibia / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images Instead of just calling for more cleanups, Biofilou said advocates should spotlight companies that are responsible for plastic pollution and demand they be held accountable. Given the plastic waste pyramid’s proximity to COP27, the Coca-Cola Company could have been an easy target; the multinational beverage manufacturer is sponsoring the climate conference but has lobbied against legislation to address the plastics crisis. It was recently ranked the world’s biggest plastic polluter for the fourth year straight.  The pyramid is not the first piece of public art designed to call international attention to the plastic crisis. Another sculpture, featured over the summer as the United Nations discussed a global treaty on plastics, depicted plastic trash pouring out of a giant spout, urging policymakers to stem the metaphorical flow. Hidden Sea co-sponsored both the giant spout installation and the new plastic waste pyramid. Moran, Hidden Sea’s founder, told Grist “we need to turn the plastic tap off.” A spokesperson for the pyramid’s other co-sponsor, Zero Co, a body care and cleaning product company that makes refillable packaging, told Grist the business also supports “the elimination of producing or using single-use plastics.” They said the business hasn’t focused on this messaging in pyramid press materials because it “didn’t want to delve too far away from the story and complicate messaging.”  Aarthi Ananthanarayanan, director of the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy’s climate and plastics initiative, defended plastic cleanups and the waste pyramid. Despite the enormity of the plastic pollution problem, she said cleaning up even a small amount of plastic trash can engage and benefit local communities. She stressed, however, the need to highlight plastics’ entire life cycle and cradle-to-grave impacts — including not only how they mar rivers and beaches but how their production contributes to climate change. “What I wish they would have said is, ‘Plastics are fossil fuels — this is a pyramid of fossil fuel waste,’” Ananthanarayanan said. They didn’t, but if publicity around the waste sculpture helps draw that connection even a little bit she added, “I’ll take it.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Experts say COP27’s ‘plastic waste pyramid’ is focusing on the wrong solution on Nov 14, 2022.

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