LEGISLATION: State Yard Waste Ban Battles Confusing Changes

Implementing a landfill ban can be a harrowing process. Often, states become ensnared in a tangle of confusion, unanswered questions, political turmoil and frustrating setbacks.

For example, less than a year after Indiana's landfill ban on yard waste took effect, uncertainty remains as to which materials are actually banned. Changes in the legislation have contributed to the confusion. So far, for example, the state has gone from a ban on all yard waste material with one exemption, to a partial ban with no exemptions.

The original legislation, which was enacted in 1992 and took effect in October 1994, banned from solid waste landfills all "vegetative matter resulting from landscaping maintenance and land clearing projects." Aside from lead-acid batteries and whole tires, this was Indiana's first landfill ban - and the only one on a high-volume recyclable material.

Indiana's local governments moved quickly to comply with the new law. By the close of 1993, more than 100 communities in the state had established yard recycling and composting programs. To assist the growing number of towns and communities collecting and composting yard waste, representatives from the cooperative extension service, private sector composters, solid waste management districts and state officials formed the Composting Committee of Indiana. To date, this group has held a comprehensive conference, developed a yard waste management manual for communities, organized several Indiana State Fair booths and coordinated regional composting workshops.

The bill contained one exemption: it excluded facilities that collect their landfill gas and burn it to produce energy. The landfills that were eligible for this exemption were the largest in the state; combined they reportedly can handle 75 percent of Indiana's municipal solid waste.

After the yard waste ban went into effect, the small, local landfills could no longer accept yard waste - unlike those that had the capital to set up an energy production facility to collect and reuse their methane. In the small landfill owners' view, this created an unlevel playing field in Indiana and hindered the small landfills' ability to compete.

Small haulers also were affected. They would have to either continue tipping at the local landfill and set up a separate collection system for yard waste, or incur the added transportation costs and potentially higher tipping fee at an exempt landfill.

Earlier this year, legislation was introduced which attempted to compromise and close the exemption. It allowed landfills to accept grass and woody vegetative matter less than three feet long, as long as the waste was bagged, bundled or otherwise contained and not set out separately for collection. These exact materials had originally been banned from Indiana landfills.

Many recycling officials fear that the most recent changes to the yard waste ban will create problems for active yard recycling programs, halt the growth of private sector composters and diminish the chances of meeting the state's waste reduction goals. By allowing some yard waste (i.e. grass) in Indiana landfills, many believe the confusion will disrupt the established yard waste recycling and composting infrastructure.

Despite the recent changes, Indiana communities and solid waste management districts have educated residents on the benefits of keeping organic materials out of the waste stream. Due to these educational efforts and the infrastructure developed by the Composting Committee, yard waste recycling and composting now have become a vital part of Indiana's solid waste management system, according to municipal program directors.

In addition, the demand for composting equipment grants offered through a program by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has not declined. Late last year, 70 pieces of yard recycling equipment were granted to eligible programs and the department has received nearly 20 requests for funding since the bill was signed into law.

However, the verdict is still out as to whether Indiana's yard waste ban will be effective in the long-term. For now, officials believe that their educational efforts will be sufficient to keep the state's yard waste recycling and composting infrastructure intact and growing.