Cover Story

PostHaste Green Edition

by Dege Legg

Interviews with Mark Pope, Griff Blakewood, Jon Langlinais, Collin Bercier**.**

Manager, Lafayette Environmental Quality Division
by Dege Legg

How long does it take a milk jug to biodegrade? With the heat down here and the humidity, you could throw it out in a field and it might be gone in a year. Then again, they say it could take as long as five to eight years. Remnants of it will remain, but eventually break down.

Where does all the trash in Lafayette go? Where does it end up? Jeff Davis Parish, around Welsh, Louisiana. 52 miles from the center of Lafayette. It is owned by Jeff Davis Parish and operated by Allied Waste. If you get on I-10 westbound and know where to look, you can see if off to the right.

Is it a dump? Or has the word “dump” been succeeded by cleaner sounding “landfill?” It is a landfill. Landfills now are called Type-1 Sanitary landfills. That is a technical term. A sanitary landfill is for household waste, but you can put some commercial waste in there; for example, tile, carpet, and pieces of concrete. It is a public-use landfill, which means you can clean your garage and load your trailers up with old rags, vases, cassettes, and garbage and you can drive there and dump your stuff. They’ll put you on a scale and charge accordingly. $36 per ton.

Where would Lafayette residents dump their trash 50 years ago? They dug a hole and dropped garbage in it. Burned it. There was an old dirt pit in Lafayette. It was a deep hole in the ground. When I was a kid I’d see garbage trucks back up and dump their stuff in it. Dumps used to be a hole in the ground. Literally, a hole in the ground.

Why did Lafayette switch over from manned garbage trucks to the robot-arm thing? Two reasons. Allied Waste was losing money on the contract and they had service problems in 2007 that went on for awhile — they couldn’t keep people on the back of the truck. It’s a tough, tough job. They brought in people from outside — Beaumont, Lake Charles — and still had problems. They were behind. The initial contract stated that people were to use 35 gallon garbage cans. But residents eventually began using 40, 50, 60 gallon garbage cans. How is one guy supposed to lift that when it’s full? That’s why we went to the automated. It had gotten totally out of control. Household garbage must fit in the cart. If it’s not in the cart, it does not get picked up.

What won’t the new automated garbage trucks take under the new contract? Furniture, large appliances, and other large items. Those are bulk items. Bulky items are picked up once a month, during a designated week. You can call in, get put on a list, and set your stuff out.

What about hurricane debris? That’s different. When a hurricane comes and you’ve got trees knocked down and siding ripped off – that is handled by an emergency response contractor with huge trucks and huge equipment and trailers. It’s totally separate.

Where does the recycled stuff go? All over the map. The Recycling Foundation picks it up and they process it, segregate it, crush it, and they ship it off. Last I checked, the soda bottles went to Alabama. The high density polyethylene and glass went to Houston. The paper stays here. It’s all over the map. It goes to buyers for this stuff.

Name me something that people might think is recyclable but in fact is not. Styrofoam and coat hangers.

Why not coat hangers? A coat hanger is not going to recycle. It’s an extremely weak composite metal. (Editor’s note: Return them to the dry cleaner)

Why not Styrofoam? Why? Because here’s the deal. (pulls out a Styrofoam cup) You see the triangle on the bottom of this cup with the number inside of it? Six. The numbers go one through seven. People have come to think it’s the recycling symbol, but more accurately it’s the plastic industry symbol. They’re all recyclable except for PS-6: polystyrene. Why? It’s not practical, it’s too light, and it’s full of air. They don’t want to ship it. When you go to bundle it, it crushes all over the place and just flies apart.

Name me something that is recyclable that the recycling industry just doesn’t want? Caps on soda and water bottles. After you finish drinking a Coke and screw the top back on, it seals the air in the bottle, takes up space, and in great numbers can’t be compacted. You can stand on it, mash it and it still won’t crush. Companies get penalized for light bales, because it is less efficient — you’re just shipping a bunch of air down the road as opposed to a tightly compact bale.

What else don’t they like? The tops of soup cans. They don’t like them. They’re flat, sharp, cut people, and are a pain to clean up off the grounds of the recycling facility. It’s just not efficient. Throw it away. Rule of thumb: Take the top off of everything and just throw it away.

What’s the exact breakdown on our garbage fee each month? What goes where? $24.35 total. $19.50 a month to Allied Waste — once a week garbage, once a week yard waste, and once a month bulky collection. $2.19 a month to the Recycling Foundation for once a week curb-side recycling — city only. $2.64 a month to the Environmental Division.

What’s up with these stories you hear about dead cows floating down the Vermilion River? Is that some old school version of recycling? It happens. Bayou Vermilion District tried to get some grant money to build fences to help the farmers keep the cows away from the river, because cows are big and they’re dumb. They go down there to drink and they get stuck in the mud. They break a leg. And then they pull out and die or they sit there and they starve till they float down the river. Sometimes a pack of nutria comes and bites their necks.

Social Darwinism on the bayou. Last question. How much is the fine for littering in Lafayette? $75 first offence.

Professor at UL and local environmental guru

Off the top of your head, what are some simple but effective ways individuals can become less wasteful and instead more resourceful?

What are the metaphysical benefits of environmental stewardship? At the precise moment (geologically speaking), that one species of earthling realizes that the creation is the creator, that same species is hacking away at the very root of its own evolution. Mother Earth is more than poetry.

What do you say to people who argue that global warming is a hoax perpetuated on citizens by elite, nefarious organizations whose endgame is to cull and control the population down to a manageable “carrying capacity” of 500 million people? Consumer capitalism is a fossil fuel-powered machine which grows on money it makes by turning the world into garbage which it advertises on TV. Because the corporations paying for the broadcasts are essentially buying the audience from the networks/channels, they have no interest in educating them about the realities of climate change; denial and delusion are essential for infinite economic growth. Regarding a stable and sustainable human population level (the most important issue of all), I don’t know of anyone outside of the Georgia Guidestones brave enough to talk about it.

Seems pretty fishy when big oil companies and corporations are producing commercials that encourage individuals to “reduce their carbon footprint” when industry pollution, I’m assuming, far outweighs that of individuals. Thoughts? Ultimately, it’s all Greenwashing, but there are a few corporations (even among big oil) who have lowered their own carbon footprint. Check out Interface Carpet online to see what consciousness in a CEO can actually accomplish.

A 1985 Honda Civic Coupe HF 4-cylinder (M5) manual got 49 mpg in the city and 54 on the highway. What happened???!  Did auto companies just forget how to make fuel-efficient cars? Gas prices in the U.S. have been kept artificially low by various subsidies (e.g., our military presence in the Middle East) and the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) standards were evaded by the invention of the SUV. Most telling was the Bush administration’s tweak of a law intended to apply to farm equipment, which allowed rich people to get a $25,000 tax credit every year for driving a big enough SUV. Free Hummers! If the true costs of petroleum use were reflected in gas prices, we’d all be riding bicycles (see question 1).

Say I’ve got an old car battery, some torn up shoes, and a couple of bald tires lying around. Where do I bring them? Or what creative uses could I put them to? The Lafayette Pride Guide (where to dispose of everything) is available online or get a hard copy at City Hall or any public library branch. The art is up to you.

Say I’ve got a load of trash lying around my backyard and Allied won’t take it. Why can’t I just burn it? Plastics, paints, batteries and such can put toxic chemicals into the air, which have to come down somewhere. Burning old treated lumber will release arsenic, and burning PVC pipe can actually produce dioxin.

Critical Mass bicyclist and owner of Rick Shaw Pedicabs

What is Critical Mass? It’s a spontaneous bicycling event that happens around the world once a month to raise bicycle awareness. To help drivers realize that there are bicycles on the road. For safety concerns, we usually “mass up.” We get together and ride our bikes around town. The organization has been around for about 10 years and the Lafayette chapter is about two years old.

How many bicyclists show up on average? 250. But depending on the weather, sometimes we have 50. Sometimes we have 10.

What do you have to say to drivers who complain about bicyclists on the roads? What’s really neat about Critical Mass is it’s composed of all forms of society that meet together. It’s not just college students and hippies. It is families, moms and dads, little kids as young as eight. It is lawyers and businessmen like myself. It is people in the medical profession. All kinds. That’s what makes it special, It is a celebratory thing where they look at it as their chance to hang out with like-minded people in a safe environment.

What’s the hierarchy of the organization? There is no hierarchy. There’s nobody in charge. There’s no planned route. Everyone’s equal. Doesn’t matter if it’s your first ride or your fiftieth ride, no one person is greater than the other. It’s the mass and the safety of the mass that is important. Anytime 250 people gather together and do it safely without incident is a special thing. It’s just really fun. And another good thing is that several businesses have sprung out of it, like my rickshaw business and possibly Recycled Cycles.

What’s up with your rickshaw business? It’s called Rick Shaw Pedicabs. I have a fleet of eight bicycle rickshaws. We transport people around the downtown area. It’s free, but passengers can tip or make a donation if they liked the service. It’s seasonal, starting up around Mardi Gras and running until the last Downtown Alive! in the spring. Also, I operate Lafayette’s only entirely green business.

What are benefits of running a green business? No fuel. No oil. My biggest expenditure is buying batteries for the blinking lights — you know, they’re bicycles. They just need a couple of tubes, tires, and tender loving care. It helps that the bikes don’t burn fuel. Zero emissions. But that’s not the main focus of the business, that’s just a perk. This business and Critical Mass are more about my love affair with bicycles, not necessarily my desire to save the planet. But being a good steward to the environment is a plus — I’m all about that, but that’s not my main goal.

Owner of Louisiana Solar Solutions
Web site:

What inspired you to start selling solar panels? I was watching the Green Channel and I saw a show on solar panels and I wondered why nobody in Louisiana had solar panels. So I went online, started researching it, and saw that the reason they didn’t have them was because it was too expensive. But that same year, the state of Louisiana and the federal government had just announced huge tax credits for solar, which breaks down to 30 percent federal and 50 percent from the state. That brings the cost down to 20 percent, which…you just can’t find any investment that good right now. Immediately after that, I took some classes and went to school at the Florida Solar Energy Center. Then I started my business.

How much do they cost? The average system that customers are putting in right now is about $25,000. With the tax credits it comes out to $5,000. And that will give them 450 to 500 kilowatt hours a month.

How much of pain in the ass is it to fill out the paperwork for these solar tax credits? None at all. We do it all for them. We do complete materials, installation, and the tax credits. Complete turnkey systems. All the customer has to do is write us a check. Once again, that’s an 80 percent tax credit.

What are the benefits? I couldn’t ask for a cooler job. All my customers are so interested and enthusiastic about this technology. I have relationships with all of them after the fact. That’s what is pretty cool to me, just doing something different that really nobody is doing around here.
What has been the response to solar panels in Lafayette? To be honest with you, inside of Lafayette we haven’t had big interest. But we’ve had a great response from Lake Charles to Mandeville and all the way up to Alexandria.

Why the lack of response in Lafayette? That’s been the question that everybody’s asking me and the one I ask myself a lot. There’s a lot of money in Lafayette and there’s a lot of people that are trying to do progressive things here, but the majority of my business comes from outside of Lafayette. It’s odd. We’ve probably done 40 to 50 systems this year, but all of them outside this area. It drives me crazy, because I want it so bad to be in Lafayette.

What’s the lifespan of a solar panel? All of our solar panels come with a 25-year warranty.