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Wasted Not

Green Issue: Utahns inch their way toward a greener life.


Garbage day would have seemed like magic to our pioneer ancestors: Drag your overflowing garbage bin a hundred or so feet from the house, and without having to give it another thought, the yucky contents are whisked away, and the bin returned, empty.

No need to find another use for all that stuff. No need to think about it. And the words that define our current age: conspicuous consumption and disposable.

Barry Smith has an intimate knowledge of the disposable part of the environment; he’s a sanitation engineer (garbage man) for Salt Lake County. He says, “Americans are very wasteful. We’re spoiled. We waste so much food that goes into the garbage. There’s a lot of people who don’t understand that we’re going to run out of room to dispose of our waste. But things are starting to change. The South Jordan landfill is pulling methane gas out of its garbage and selling the power to Murray City. That’s been going on in other parts of the country for a long time, but it’s new in Utah. We need to educate people on reusing our waste.”

This is not the first pop-culture go-round for concern about the environment. Living “green” was big in the 1970s, resulting in the cynical bumper sticker: The environment: mankind’s last fad. But this time, it might be serious, because 30 years later, it is more serious. People are starting to think beyond the clichés of recycling glass or bike commuting.

Even real-estate developers are more aware. Bob Strang is the head of Strang Excavating, a company that builds subdivisions and does some work for Salt Lake City. To him, careful use of resources is merely good economic sense.

“When we go into a development, we strip the topsoil and stockpile it, save it to be redistributed in yards and landscape areas. People can buy this topsoil from us, and we also sell landscape rock from the boulders we dig up. We encourage rockscaping to help conserve on water use,” he says.

Religious figures are also pondering better stewardship of the planet. Pastor Matthew Johnson, of Grace Baptist Church in West Valley City, says, “I think we are living rather green in Utah. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but I don’t think there’s a problem. We have new church construction, and we used “green” insulation, and the most efficient lights and appliances. Our landscape is drought tolerant to conserve water, and we recycle all our paper products.”

But some people are wary of the new emphasis on green. One of them is Susan Jensen, owner of Digital Ranch, a custom Web development and hosting company in Salt Lake City. She says, “I don’t think people should turn off their brain and accept anything that’s labeled ‘greenfriendly,’ because they could be deceived. Many companies and organizations will use it as a marketing technique, without really having changed anything. It’s up to each of us to do the homework and be accountable for our individual actions.”

Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey is focused on local concerns. “I’m concerned about air-quality issues, so that’s where I’m trying to spend my time in terms of environmental initiatives. I’m actively working on what we can do to improve the air quality of the Ogden area. We’re better than the rest of the Wasatch Front, but I would like to get us to the next level. Our air quality is going to get away from us if we don’t jump on it,” he warns.

Jean Young is being formally educated about the environment; the 55-year-old former housewife and mother of five children is now a full-time student at Salt Lake Community College. She’s also works at the Thayne Center for Service and Learning where students are actively engaged in environment issues. “One of our activities last semester was to take a trip to the Salt Lake landfill. We found out that 60 percent of all household garbage is recyclable.

But based on what she has observed, “Making things really ‘green’ is going to take generations of attitude change,” she says. It’s no longer cheesy to be green, and this time around, it may not be just a fad. Bountiful residents of all political persuasions packed public hearings to protest the building of a new refinery because of the air pollution it would cause. The project is now on hold. Politicians like Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. are speaking out against allowing EnergySolutions to accept foreign radioactive waste. With all the bad news about global warming, it’s actually cool to be an environmentalist again.

Wina Sturgeon is a sports writer who operates AdventureSportsWeekly.com.