Racine County group's initiative looks to cut food waste

In this undated photo, Kayla Morrison, a waitress at Shogun of Racine, on College Avenue, prepares to transfer leftover food into one of the non-Styrofoam carryout containers the restaurant now uses after switching from Styrofoam the previous year, in Racine, Wis. The Greater Racine Zero Waste Initiative promotes having restaurants avoid the use of Styrofoam containers.

RACINE, Wis. (AP) — An event is sneaking up that will cost everyone in the greater Racine area more money: Kestrel Hawk Landfill's steadily approaching closure.

The landfill, which swallows the trash of Racine, Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant, is estimated to have about three to five years left. Its manager, Republic Services, is operating the last remaining cell at Kestrel Hawk.

The beginning of the end will bring either the search for a new landfill site — which would be both difficult and controversial — or the onset of trucking local trash to existing but more distant landfills, thereby bringing higher transportation costs, the Journal Times reported.

"Siting and designing and building a new landfill will take years," said Michael Keleman, InSinkErator's manager of environmental engineering and marketing. He is one of two co-facilitators for the Greater Racine Zero Waste Initiative, a local effort to stave off the landfill's closure, with all the costs and difficulties that will bring.

Keleman said the Zero Waste Initiative started about two years ago with Racine City Administrator Jim Palenick looking over the proverbial horizon at the landfill's limited remaining usability. So, Palenick headed up the start of what became the Zero Waste Initiative, Keleman said.

And about a year ago, Palenick recognized that the effort needed to include Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant, Keleman said. Now there is participation from those communities, and Zero Waste meets about monthly.

"It's kind of a collaboration between Visioning Greater Racine and Greening Greater Racine," said Zero Waste's other co-facilitator: David Rhoads, a retired college religion/New Testament teacher.

Keleman, who came from the wastewater industry before he joined InSinkErator, explained his participation in Zero Waste: "If you think about it, after recycling, food waste is the largest portion of the garbage: 20-30%. So, disposers have a very key role in helping reduce what we send to the landfills."

But the Zero Waste Initiative is reaching far beyond trying to help promote garbage disposer use. The group has a list of nine areas in which it is trying to work, from reducing the use of Styrofoam containers at restaurants to cutting food waste and increasing recycling in school cafeterias.

One effort underway, Rhoads said, is a survey of area grocery stores regarding single-use plastic bags. The purpose is to see what stores currently do, and what they might be willing to do in the future to reduce the use of plastic bags.

"Interestingly, the State of Wisconsin prohibits communities from banning plastic bags," Keleman said. "So, as much of a local initiative as we can make, it has to be voluntary."

The Zero Waste Initiative currently has a list of 32 active participants in addition to Keleman and Rhoads. "I think we've had individual champions for each one of those different issues," Keleman said. "And so, we've kind of let those champions focus on their key areas."

In recent weeks, news outlets have been reporting on the recycling industry's problems caused by China's decision not to be the sorter of those materials. Commenting on that situation, Keleman said, "Which is really why zero waste is gaining momentum; it's reducing (waste) at the source. If you don't make it to begin with, you don't have it to get rid of."

One of the Zero Waste Initiative's literature pieces, about the zero-waste-office concept, lists the "Five Rs life cycle: refuse; reduce; reuse; recycle; and rot."

Keleman said he thinks society's attitudes toward the garbage we generate are shifting. "I'm hearing more and more, especially the millennials, the newer generations that single-use plastics — straws, all these things — there's a very negative attitude towards this. And so I think the mindset's changing."

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Information from: The Journal Times, http://www.journaltimes.com

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