By Eli Bass—Director of Jewish Life
Through archeology we find our history. Archeology as a practice allows us to get a better glimpse of our past, allowing us to learn and understand what life was like in eras past.
In Jerusalem a 70-meter high mound was recently the site of such learning. Israeli archeologist Yuval Gadot led the excavation of the site from 2013 to 2014. What he thinks he found lays the groundwork for a challenge we deal with today.
Inside this mound his team discovered an abundance of fish skeletons and the bones of an assortment of other animals. They found other scraps from industry and wood burned fires. A few coins date the site’s use from 0 C.E. to 70 C.E. Gadot believes this mound is one of the earliest examples of a planned landfill. In the first century this was a method for cleanliness, where waste was gathered and piled away from the people who produced it.
This model of burying trash far away from those who produced it has become the standard method of disposal. Landfill placement is an issue of environmental justice. No one wants a landfill in their backyard. Yet the waste must go somewhere, and usually it is near the home of racial minorities and people in poverty.
Landfill use is about resources. Plastics are extracted from oil, and our ability to recycle plastics results in less use of fossil fuels. Paper and cardboard come from trees. Our purchasing decisions have real world consequences. In 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the United States produced 254 million tons of waste, which went to a landfill. I know that the majority of what I buy will likely end up in a landfill. The EPA estimates that each day the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash. Of that 1.51 pounds is either recycled or composted.
On campus, we are working to improve our own statistics. TerraCycle bins and a growth in on-campus recycling are promising. More challenging is the use of campus recycling bins for trash, which results in the entire bin going to the landfill. Our campus is recycling, but we should be recycling more.
Forty percent of all food produced in the United States ends up in landfills. Food is 12 percent of the United States’ waste stream.
Deuteronomy 16:20 tells us “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” One way that I pursue environmental justice is working to reduce my waste. I recycle. Not only my paper and aluminum cans but also my food.
In my home and at Hillel House much of the food waste goes to the worms. Red wigglers are a specific type of worm known for their deep appetites. In optimal settings red worms are said to eat about half of their body weights each day. Because I compost with these worms both at work and at home, I have thousands of them. They keep away the smell of rotting food and create a rich, wonderful soil. It is also my way of reducing my impact on the environment. Let me know if you would like to have a tour.
My worms are a daily reminder to me of how we can take disgusting waste and turn it into delicious produce and beautiful houseplants. Gadot noted the lack of many valuable resources, such as metal, at the site he researched, likely because they were recycled. I’m reflective that future historians may also judge us for the piles of trash we will leave. We can do better.
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