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  • Lorianna Kastrop

Waste Disposal: Can good design help with recycling?

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc., Architects

This morning I realized that waste disposal is not ordinarily a priority in space planning, but it should be. I was cleaning up after cooking in my kitchen and I needed to bend over and pull out my compostable materials bucket from under the sink for the food scraps, put them in, put the lid back on, return it under the sink. Then I needed to sweep up the crumbs, take the trash can out from under the sink, and throw out the debris. I put the trash can back. Then I put jars and cans in the recycling bin. (Fortunately, that is in a handy slide out rack inside the cabinet next to the sink.) Suddenly I thought that the ergonomics of this are all wrong. It may be one of the reasons why many people don’t like to recycle items or compost organic waste.

We should be designing homes and offices in ways that make it easy to recycle and reduce waste. No more bending over and taking out smelly little bins. We should have built-in receptacles, with charcoal filters and other devices to make them sanitary and within easy reach. I’d like to have a hole in my counter with a compost bin installed underneath so that I could just press down on the lid (flush with the counter) and scrape the peels and food scraps straight off the cutting board into the bin. That would be so easy! Of course, there needs to be an easy way to empty it as well.

We’ve all had the ubiquitous plastic “kitchen size” trash can that needs a plastic liner. There are better receptacles that are germ-resistant and easy to use and clean. The trash can and recycled materials containers should be installed in easy-open cabinets with motion-sensor openers. If a liner is necessary, it should be biodegradable or reusable.

Not everyone composts at home, but in many communities the local garbage service will collect organic waste in a separate bin. This includes lawn clippings, food scraps, and other acceptable organic materials. There is an important reason to separate the organic waste, beyond landfill waste reduction. It’s related to greenhouse gas, particularly methane! When organic waste is “sealed” in a landfill, it still eventually breaks down, but it breaks down “anaerobically” or without oxygen. The anaerobic decomposition process creates methane. The outgassing is stinky, flammable, and contributes to climate change.

Landfills are a major source of methane. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Methane (CH4) is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities…Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-year period…Landfills are the third largest source of CH4 emissions in the United States.”

When organic waste is composted, by contrast, the decomposition process is aerobic, or oxygenated. Compost piles are exposed to oxygen via the regular turning of the pile (or by processing with worms). A compost pile does outgas, but it produces carbon dioxide instead of methane. Carbon dioxide is less harmful to the environment. So, every little bit of organic waste that we can divert from the landfills can be beneficial. That little organic waste can under my sink is making a difference!

As architects (and kitchen designers), we need to encourage our clients to do environmentally friendly waste disposal in their homes and offices. Be sure to use separate containers for recyclables and organic waste. Keep the containers in a handy place. If it’s easy, it will become a good habit, one that is better for the planet.

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