On Trash

By Galen Laserson

Visitors returning from emerging markets commonly remark on two problems that plague developing cities: traffic and trash. Admittedly, visitors likely purchase bottled water and do not stay long enough to have to navigate power outages or a local transit system. More viscerally, traffic and trash are both highly visible and unpleasantly familiar enough that there is nothing “charming” or “local” about experiencing them and nothing particularly exciting about fixing them. Saravana’s post (“Roads – Simple, Mundane and Absolutely Vital”) teases out the significance of roads to economic development in West Africa, a concept we have added to in our class discussions about how to capture the lost productivity resulting from traffic. Accordingly, I would like to leave traffic aside for the moment and focus on trash.

At its core, trash is waste – the enemy of sustainability. Continue reading


Saving money, space and clean air: the case for compulsory composting in sustainable cities

By Clémentine Contat

Landfills are a growing issue for most cities in the US. They take on a lot of space, a scare resource for most big cities, and cost an increasing amount of money to the municipalities, businesses and indirectly taxpayers. The average landfill tipping fee goes up to $105.40 in Massachusetts, the most expensive place to dump trash, followed by Maine and Vermont[1]. Indeed, the cost of land and lack of competition caused by the scarcity of new permits push the prices higher every year. The landfills are also a major source of greenhouse gases through the decomposition of organic waste.

Composting of organic waste in anaerobic digesters can largely decrease that burden on cities by saving scarce space, limiting greenhouse emissions from organic waste in landfills, but most importantly by reducing the average cost of trash to the taxpayer. Not only does composting require less space to operate, but it can also generate income through production of renewable energy, fertilizers for crops and issuance of carbon credits. Continue reading