25 July 2008

New Temple Design: Rexburg and Twin Falls Idaho

Rexburg Temple by Scott O. Smith

Not having visited the Rexburg or Twin Falls Idaho Temples in person yet, I can hardly offer an expert critique of their design and execution. However, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on the most recent Temples of the LDS Church. From an exterior standpoint, the Rexburg Temple is more grand, elegant, proportional, and attractive than that of the Twin Falls. Whether intended or not, the building merges elements from both the St. George and Mesa Temples to draw from the past, giving us something familiar, while presenting those elements in a new and fresh way.

Rexburg Temple by GoofyJ

Rexburg, Idaho Temple
The architect of the Rexburg Temple, Architectural Nexus, designed repeating narrow vertical windows in the side façades that are very much in the language of the Mesa Arizona Temple. As is the building base that the Temple rests on. Additionally, the extension of this base pulling forward from the main building is almost an exact replica from Mesa. With a single axis rectangular plan rather than a dual axis square plan, the Rexburg Temple also has similarities with the St. George Temple. Here we have a linear, elongated plan and a prominent steeple that hierarchically establishes the focal point of the building, directing us to the building entrance. The St George Temple took the single steeple from Kirtland and Nauvoo and pulled it out of the building, protruding to the front. This similar language has been used at Rexburg and Twin Falls. Windows have been inserted into this protruding steeple, and the most prominent part of the Temple, the Celestial room, placed inside of it.

Mesa Temple by MatthewPHX showing facade and protruding entrance base similar to Rexburg

St. George Temple showing a single protruding steeple

Twin Falls, Idaho Temple
The architect of the Twin Falls Temple, MHTN Architects, was lead by Principal Kyle Taft for this project. The Temple square footage is about half the square footage of the Rexburg Temple, and it definitely has similar features. But somehow, using Rexburg as a model and adding the change in scale did not equal as strong of a design in this case. As you can see, the base is gone, there is no front extension, and the elegant window repetition on the sides is not nearly as interesting.

Twin Falls Temple under construction

Another design failure is quoted from the architect himself, “He noted that the endowment room clerestory windows were originally intended to filter natural light, but architectural requirements for passage of electrical and mechanical systems necessitated that artificial light be used behind that stained glass.” (source) The technical systems running through a building should never dictate the design, unless of course that is what’s intended. For this reason, this project would get a very negative critique in any beginning design school. The design process should allow for the expression of form, materials, and systems. To not account for the technical systems through the building while compromising one of the most important spaces in the building is embarrassing. Design is problem solving. If beautiful natural light is desired, there is an economical, beautiful workable solution. There always is. To me, this is where preparation, planning, and revelation can come to play for an LDS architect - especially as it regards the important design of a Temple.

One good feature of the Twin Falls Temple to note is the placement of the exterior lighting. Rather than washing out the night sky, the lighting is strictly focused on the Temple. This will help minimize waste, save money, and keep the night sky dark, protecting wildlife and the observatory at the nearby College of Southern Idaho.

Regional Materials
At the Twin Falls Temple, the beautiful rock forming the flowerbeds is native to Idaho, but most of the other interior finishes are imported. The granite floors are from India, and the anigre wood on the first floor is from Africa. While this may seem exotic and desirable, for a Temple to feel like a local Temple, a beautiful touch is to search for the best local materials available and use them. This regional approach to building adds distinction and flavor to each Temple, even in a “standard plan.” This approach is utilized for the artwork and stained glass, where local Idaho painters are featured, which is beautiful. The building, as a work of art, could reflect the same local flavor and customs. Rexburg, Twin Falls, and St. George all used regional materials for the exterior of the buildings. St. George used native red sandstone quarried north of the city, which was then plastered white. Both Rexburg and Twin Falls used white quartz precast panels that were mined in neighboring Washington state. While the St. George material selection was done out of necessity, I think a regional material selection today adds to the local beauty of the temple by becoming a Temple of the people and of the land in which it serves. Additionally, this provides significant cost and transportation savings as well as helping to stimulate the local economy in which the Temple is based. Regional building is sustainable building.

Temple as Art or Decoration?
Part of the problem may be how we view our buildings. The Magic Valley Times-News had an article highlighting the Twin Falls Temple. A quote from the article states, “But all the art, as well as the architecture, is just decoration. As an architect, Taft strived to avoid having the temple distract from the function it will serve. ‘What happens within the temple is quantum leaps more important than the building itself. We're providing a setting for the sacred worship,’ he said.”

Twin Falls Endowment Room - art, architecture, or decoration?

I profoundly disagree philosophically with the architect on his approach to this project. If what he stated were true, there would be no trims, mouldings, or wall mural paintings inside the Temple, because they would distract from what’s really important. If the building is simply viewed as a necessary evil that is constantly taking away from the sacred worship inside, then the most appropriate solution would be Minimalism. Since LDS Temples are far from being designed in the minimalist language, this explanation cannot be true.

My belief is that buildings are a sculpted art form that we inhabit. This is especially true in context of a Temple – a house of worship. As such, the building has the ability to add something of real value to our worship. In my mind, I cannot separate worship from the surrounding context in which it is placed. There will always be a relationship between the two. As such, all forms of art can enhance and add to our worship.

Rexburg Temple by packarddaniel
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18 July 2008

Three Reasons Population Control Doesn’t Help the Environment

My wife and I had a baby boy several weeks ago – our fifth – so I have been pondering and meaning to write this post for some time. Apparently some environmentalists favor having no children or using sterilization as a method to lower the earth’s population. Additionally, some governments have mandates in place to control the number of children each couple has. As a father of a large family I am not advocating for people to have large families. Nor am I an advocate for not having any children. I believe that the most appropriate response is what has been given by LDS Church leaders – it is up to you. “The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.” (1998 Church Handbook of Instructions) What I will address is the lack of correlation between the number of people on the planet and how eco-friendly we are. Unlike Paul Simon, I do not agree that “the planet groans every time it registers another birth.” (Born at the Right Time) So here are my reasons for believing population control doesn’t help the environment:

1) Fewer people don’t equal greater stewardship. Even if there were only one person on the earth, that doesn’t automatically make mankind environmentally conscious. As early as Cain, “all the forests of the earth rapidly disappeared, while that hero wandered through the earth with his bow for 130 years, looking for anything to kill—‘a human angel of death.’” (Nibley, Man’s Dominion, or Subduing the Earth) A single person could travel the world cutting every tree down, or killing every animal they see.

“If large parts of our country are polluted, it is not because we are too numerous, but because we pollute. The way to stop that disgrace is not to stop having children, but to start cleaning up. The growth of the GNP, sometimes now referred to as gross national pollution, gives us the resources for the job.” (Henry Wallich H. C. Wallich, Newsweek, June 29, 1970) This quote was found in an Ensign article by Philip F. Low from May 1971 titled, “Realities of the Population Explosion.”

2) It is impossible to determine how many people the Earth can sustain because social organization and technology continue to affect the number of people an area can sustain. The change from hunter/gatherer to farmer to city dweller to suburban life has changed the density of living. This will continue to change over time. Next on the horizon are potentially vertical farms in a single skyscraper that can feed an entire city. With technology and social arrangements changing every generation, how can anyone possibly say a specific maximum number that the earth can sustain?

Where people tend to get hung up is projecting our current levels of consumption, pollution, and sprawling cities into the future. What is involved is rethinking what it means to live in a city, how large our cities should be, the role of nature in our cities, how much we consume, where and how we use our energy, what types of fuel sources we have, living locally, and growing our own food, etc. It is a lack of knowledge, a lack of faith, a lack of dependence on God, and a lack of understanding why we are here. If fewer people are better for the planet, then natural disasters, disease, famine, and plagues are ultimately good things since they rid the planet of excess people.

3) Having children is the most human and natural thing we do here. “The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World) This doesn’t say anything about the number of children, but does say that it is human and natural for us to have children. “It takes faith – unseeing faith – for young people to proceed immediately with their family responsibilities in the face of financial uncertainties.” (Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle) Fertility rates in developed countries are already at the lowest they have ever been in the history of the world.

If the planet has too many people, then ‘replacing yourself’ doesn’t solve the problem of over population. Actor Jason Alexander (George on Seinfeld) is promoting this. He says, “This planet was never intended to support the number of human beings we currently have residing on it…So our family talks about responsibility in family planning. We talk about replacing ourselves on this globe, rather than doubling or tripling our numbers.” That is fine if he chooses this for his family. I have no problem with that. But he is advocating for far less people on the planet than we currently have, and the solution he states is for us to replace ourselves only. But this does not get us to the goal of far less people on the planet. He continues by stating, “We will never be able to really get control of the destruction of our planet's valuable resources until we realize that we have an enormous responsibility and obligation to control the size of the human population.” So even though there already exists far more people than the earth can sustain, in his opinion, all we need to do is get control of the human population, and everything will be fine. What is clear to me is that the number of people is not most critical to control, but the over-consuming, irresponsible, polluting lifestyle that is most critical to control.

People are the solution
Barring epic destruction, we cannot lower the earth’s population. Replacing ourselves or only having one child per family will not solve any problems, but create additional problems. I choose to have children, and do not feel guilt or feel that I am being irresponsible or increasing my carbon footprint in this regard. One error of the popular carbon footprint calculators is that they assume a high number for a large family. This may be true, but doesn’t have to be. In fact, in many cases larger families are more frugal and responsible out of necessity. It is as difficult for a family of six to be carbon neutral as it is for a family of one. There doesn’t need to be any extra burden on society. Education and environmental responsibility is the key. A sheer large number of people doesn’t equal irresponsible anymore than a small number equals responsible. If each individual is independently carbon neutral, then all of humanity is also – no matter what the number of that population is. Moving away from finite resources such as oil and towards infinite and renewable resources, such as solar, hydrogen, and electricity will ensure a bright future for all.

Looking at people as part of the solution gives us hope and a positive outlook on the future. “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world…” (Ether 12:4) Good things happen when we think optimistically. Interestingly, those who choose not to have children, which tend to be the wealthy and educated, are naturally selecting themselves to extinction. As such, the poor and uneducated are increasing rapidly. As an educated and not low-income family, I feel it is my responsibility to be a part of the solution by bringing intelligent, thinking humans to the earth who will make a positive difference in the future of this planet.

How are people the solution?
The solution to all of this is for the poor to be exalted and the rich to be made low. The creation was given to us as an “earthly blessing,” a portion to provide the necessities of life. “I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare…” (see D&C 104: 11-18)

Regardless of how many people are on the earth, there will always be enough and to spare as long as the rich are made low in attempting to exalt the poor with the necessities of life. Those whose portion is in abundance, for the sake of the creation and all living on it, must give to those who do not have a portion in order to preserve the earth. If we don’t do this “in [God’s] own way,” then we will lose the blessing of an earth full of life with enough for all and to spare. God’s own way is to limit the sin of overconsumption in order to protect and preserve His creation as well as provide for all His children. Everyone will have enough if there is social equality and we all share what is here. This is what governments and religions should be promoting, rather than worrying about the number of children someone has. The warning for not sharing our abundance with the poor is clear. “If any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” (vs. 18)

In conclusion, the number of children you have has little to do with how environmentally conscious you are. Whether you have a small or a large family is a personal decision and matters little in the grand scheme of things. Overconsumption, not overpopulation is the real problem. If you want to be more eco-friendly and lower your carbon footprint in a real and meaningful way, the best move you can make is to give to the poor. This is the Lord’s plan for reducing, reusing, and recycling.
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16 July 2008

Hugh Nibley: Environmentalist

Hugh Nibley is one of the most prominent and outspoken environmentalists the Church has ever seen. I find it ironic that someone with a Temple blog dedicated to him is so against the environment. I enjoy the Temple blog, but unfortunately his recent post has left a bad taste in my mouth.

I was out of town this weekend meeting with several leaders in the LDS Church physical facilities department discussing, among other things, the future of Church facilities and sustainability and how the Church desires to be more green. Imagine my shock when I get home and read on a major LDS blog (supposedly faith-promoting) how environmentalists are worldly, sterilizing, fascist dictators; that the choice is between the Lord or the Environment; and that this is the true separation of the wheat from the tares. Unfortunately this sounds like someone who has been listening to talk radio too much. It’s funny how the only type of environmentalist that exists in his post is a generalized extremist or whacko. You won’t see me using those same tactics by trying to group him into an abortion-clinic-bombing fanatic, but that is the tactic being used by grouping anyone who is concerned about the environment into a fanatic. What an unfortunate, mean-spirited, divisive post. If anything, posts like this and talk radio in general are creating the wedge that is dividing Zion. Most religious groups in the world, including Latter-day Saints, have a strong environmental ethic. Furthermore, many consider our pollution and poor treatment of the earth a moral issue.

So on to the topic at hand: Hugh Nibley. I have listed quotes from the Millenial Star post with adjacent quotes from Hugh Nibley:

HAYMOND: “The Adversary’s environmentalism plan is plotted squarely against God’s plan of salvation.”

NIBLEY: “...we have Brigham's reply, ‘This is our home. ‘This earth is the home he has prepared for us, and we are to prepare ourselves and our habitations for the celestial glory in store for the faithful.’ ‘This is the habitation of the Saints; this is the earth that will be given to the Saints.’ Again we have the support of the ancients. The earth, says Aristotle, was made to be a home for man, permanently, and for that he must achieve a stable balance with nature, harmonious and pleasant to all. Cicero echoes this sentiment when he says that the earth is a fit home for both gods and men, and man has his part to play in taking good care of the garden. This must be a stable, eternal order with man at the top of the animal scale, held most responsible if things go wrong. Notice that all these references are to one's local home as well as earthly habitation."

HAYMOND: "Having a stewardship of the earth does not mean that we give up our freedom, our life, liberty, property, and family (Alma 46:12-13). Such an overarching and overzealous concern for the Earth is worldly, most literally, and is the religion of environmentalism rather than the religion of God.”

NIBLEY: "Where do you move when pollution is universal? Now the dispute takes on a wholly new direction. It is a new ball game. Heretofore we have always heard that air is free, and it is a free country, and business cashed in on the boundless ocean, as a free dumping ground for industrial garbage."

"Brother Brigham states the problem in terms of a flat-out contest between the most vital necessity of life and pure greed, a principle as old as the human record, rooted in a fundamental fact of nature: ‘The world is after riches. Riches is the god they worship. . . .’"

HAYMOND: “It would not surprise me if the oil debacle is being artificially created by those in power positions who are worshiping the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12) and want to force us to drive less, use cleaner forms of fuel, and to minimize air pollution to 'save our planet.' I have heard estimates that the world’s oil reserves are enough to serve all energy needs for decades, yet we are seeing today the effects of shortages in supply. Why? Are we really that blind to see this socialist scheme?”

NIBLEY: “The contribution of such combustion centers to acid rain, greenhouse effect, and damaged ozone is irreversible. Here an entire issue of the National Geographic (December 1988) asks on the cover, ‘Can Man Save this Fragile Earth?’ We have long known that there is something wrong, if only by the duck test: if it looks bad, tastes bad, smells bad, and sounds bad in duplicitous argument, then it must be bad.”

“There is no more ancient, pervasive, or persistent tradition than that of the adversary, the Prince of Darkness, most often and most widely described as the lord of the underworld. For the classical writers, Spain was his kingdom, with its blighted regions of mines, smelters, and foundries—all worked by starving, filthy, driven slaves, converting the landscape into barren wastes of slag and stunted vegetation.”

“I could be accused of being prejudiced and extremist, but I would not have taken my position at all if I was not forced into it by the bristling headlines that have suddenly emerged on every side; and the issue never would have reached the covers and front pages of staid conservative journals had it not been thrust upon them by the crushing accumulation of evidence sounding alarm in all quarters. I was brought up in an alarmist atmosphere first by my grandparents, then by the Axis Powers, and now by a sea of frightening statistics; but especially the scriptures kept me thinking. After hearing Jack Anderson this morning, I feel that if anything, I am much too complacent.”

HAYMOND: “Our exceedingly environmentally sensitive society has bought into the campaign that our human ‘species’ is destroying the Earth, and that we are in imminent danger of disaster. I believe WALL-E is another card in the deck of fear-mongering tactics employed by our common Enemy to get power, money, control, oppress mankind with false ‘prophets,’ and reign with blood and horror prior to the return of the Savior.”

NIBLEY: “an early Christian tradition that the evil spirits which constantly seek to defile and corrupt human society ‘move about in thick polluted air,’ as a most fitting environment for their work. In a passage from a famous Hermetic work, the Koreø Kosmu (excerpt 23), the Air complains to the Creator, ‘O Master, I myself am made thick and polluted, and by the stench of dead things from the dump I reek to heaven, so that I breed sickness, and have ceased to be wholesome; and when I look down from above I see things which are too awful to behold.’”

“I do not worry very much about Geneva anymore; it is only a small fumarole at the base of a mighty volcano which is now shuddering and groaning ominously. Brother Anderson said that he hears the great waterfall roaring just ahead. So let us both end with the Book of Mormon:

'For behold, ye do love money. . . . O ye pollutions, . . . who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? . . . Why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans, . . . and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord . . . for vengeance upon your heads? Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer.' (Mormon 8:37–41).”

In conclusion, contrary to what talk radio and others may try to tell you, the environment is not a political issue, it is a human issue. We are all on this planet together and we need to take care of it and we aren’t doing such a good job. Incentives and restrictions help us to do this better. It has nothing to do with socialism or fascism or sterilization, but has everything to do with being better stewards.

*Nibley quotes taken from the essay ‘Stewardship of the Air’. (There is also a link to this and many other such essays on the sidebar.)
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10 July 2008

Now Kids Can Play Before Doing Schoolwork

I always had to finish my schoolwork before playing outside. Now children in Essam, Ghana can play before doing their schoolwork. At a school with no electricity, BYU and Empower Playgrounds have come up with a new and creative way of providing electricity to a village from an activity all children continuously do: play. They installed a merry-go-round that is capturing the energy from children playing and using it in a productive way. This ingenious idea will enhance the community in multiple ways by helping to enhance education, teach science, and provide a fun play structure.

The spinning merry-go-round generates power that is stored in a car battery. This, in turn, charges several dozen portable LED lights to be used in classrooms and homes. Empower Playgrounds hopes to bring this to thousands of additional schools in Ghana. This type of out-of-the-box thinking is helping to raise the standard of living while building a sustainable future in Africa.

Concept Design

More info:
Empower Playgrounds
BYU Article
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08 July 2008

Garden Harvest

Here is a progress picture from our first real garden. For the most part everything is growing well. Except something keeps digging out the carrots - a squirrel or cat possibly? We may need to put up a fence even though I don't want to. Last night we harvested the first of the lettuce and radishes and had a delicious salad for dinner. If only the cucumbers and tomatoes and carrots were ready... My real question is: How does a home-grown salad taste so much more delicious than with store-bought ingredients? Is it in my mind only?

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06 July 2008

Nature and the City in Synagogue Design

Exterior Elevations

Alfred Jacoby, one of the most famous Jewish architects in Germany, has designed his first synagogue in the United States and it was dedicated in Park City, Utah last week. Temple Har Shalom, meaning Mountain of Peace in Hebrew, was designed to coexist with nature in the midst of this high mountain desert. With the Jewish community in Utah being different from the congregations in Germany, "Instead of a discourse with history, in Park City Jacoby's discourse was with nature." The synagogue has clean, simple lines and sanctuaries full of natural light. The ceiling undulates, suggestive of the mountains on the other side of the stained glass windows. (source) "The floor-to-ceiling windows reveal beautiful vistas on two floors, which include a conference room and classrooms that will be available to the community." (source)

While Temple Har Shalom has a site ‘in nature’ on the periphery of Park City, the synagogues in Germany are more integrated with city life. German synagogues, in cities such as Aachen and Heidelberg, are noticeable and inviting, with large entrances "to invite you in, as a gesture," Jacoby said. (source)

It hasn't always been this way though. "In the years following the Holocaust, Jewish communities in Germany — made up of displaced Jews from other countries, since the German Jewish population had been decimated — began building synagogues to replace the ones destroyed by the Nazis. These new synagogues often were hidden away and were generally so nondescript they looked like cafeterias, says Jacoby…The idea, even three or four decades after the end of World War II, was to try not to be noticed. But in 1986, when Jacoby won an architectural competition to design a new synagogue in Darmstadt, he tried a different approach: ‘to show that Jews can be part of a city.’" (source)

In 2000, there was a wave of neofascist vandalism sweeping through Germany. "But the possibility of vandalism hasn't stopped him from designing synagogues that make their presence known. ‘I want them to be part of the urban fabric,’ he said, ‘to heal with architecture.’" (source) Being open and inviting to the community in a synagogue in Kassel included placing the sacred Torah scrolls inside of a glass box that could be seen by anyone walking or driving past the building.

"Ultimately, what this institution is about is relationships. Whether it's your relationship with God or a spiritual relationship or relationship with another human being, it's about relationships, enhancing relationships, and making the lives of Utahns better." (source)

Exterior Rendering
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02 July 2008

WALL-E, Barney and Big Belly: What to do with our Waste

On average, each American produces 30 pounds of waste per week. 25,000 tons of garbage is generated from the city of New York every day. In May, the city of Naples, Italy was littered with over 6000 tons of rubbish piling up and spilling over in city streets because of a dysfunctional waste collection system. In spite of rising food prices, Americans continue to waste an astounding amount of food. According to this NY Times article, 27 percent of food available for consumption ends up in the landfill, which works out to a pound of food every day per person.


When we’re responsible for cleanup, we pay attention’ says an article I recently read. The article is a discussion on helping to clean church buildings, but I think the concept is applicable to the environment as well. How many of us have been to a landfill? Do we know what happens to our waste when we put it in a can? It would be nice if school curriculums required children (and adults) to see the process of where waste goes when it leaves our hands. Even Barney, one of my least favorite children’s shows sings, "Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share."


The new Pixar film has as its main character a robot named WALL-E, standing for Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class. The film is "set in the late 2700s, several centuries after humans finally filled the Earth with so much garbage that life was no longer sustainable and they had to leave." (Eric Snider review) WALL-E is a solar-powered trash compactor that collects trash and compacts it into cubes. Sound far-fetched? While they don’t walk, and aren’t as cute, similar solar-powered trash compactors are springing up all over the country. They go by the unflattering name of ‘Big Belly.’

Big Belly

I recently spotted several of them in downtown Portland. According to their website they are also in Boston, MA and Queens, NY, Arizona State University, Albuquerque parks, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, among other places. Big Belly can hold eight times the trash of a traditional garbage can and is essentially a smart appliance. It will work in all climates since it can complete 1000 crush cycles after just five hours in the sun and can function without sunlight for up to four weeks. Additionally, it is very strong meaning animals cannot access the trash and spread disease, as is often the case with traditional garbage cans. The cost is expensive up front, but the payback savings take less than a year to make up the difference. Less trips to pick up trash saves the city significant time and money.

So there you have it. WALL-E, Barney, and Big Belly. Three unlikely friends joining forces in the battle over what to do with our trash. They don't solve our landfill problems and they don't force us to be responsible with how much we waste, but they are helping us to be more efficient and thoughtful about how we collect our waste.

Need more convincing? Check out this video clip from ‘Beyond Tomorrow’.

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