GARBAGE IS UNIVERSAL, and the country continues to be faced with difficult waste streams, shrinking budgets and landfill regulations. But the good news is that states and cities are allowed some creativity in how they deal with solid waste management pressures.
In the Northeast and Midwest, for example, shrinking landfill capacity increasingly has put pressure on states and counties to boost their recycling rates and promote market development — always tougher in down economic times. But Maryland is one of a few states that has implemented incentives for source reduction.
Dealing with the interstate movement of waste is another ongoing issue. Although some states must handle waste from a neighboring state, Michigan is seeing a flood of garbage from a neighboring country — Canada.
In the South, whose cities have experienced a boom in recent years, growth has increased wastes and created new and emerging waste streams. As a result, states such as South Carolina and Texas have had to find new ways of dealing with such wastes as electronics and organics.
In the West, expansive spaces can mean that it is more difficult to coordinate recycling programs or crack down on illegal dumping of tires and other materials. Thus, Western states must work harder to recover and reuse viable materials, often reaching out to under-represented communities. An Arizona project, for example, addresses waste management and recycling on the large Navajo Nation reservation.
The following programs are indicative of the waste management pressures in each state and region, but their waste handling solutions are also widely applicable to other states and waste streams.
Stimulating Market Development
In Massachusetts, where there is little problem getting people to recycle, promoting market development is the next logical step, especially because the state has instituted a 70 percent waste diversion goal by 2010. The Chelsea Center for Recycling and Market Development, Chelsea, Mass., is operated by the University of Massachusetts, was created by the state in 1995 to stimulate recycling.
Since then, the Chelsea Center has become a model for recycling market development, receiving the National Recycling Coalition's 2001 Award for Outstanding Market Development Program. The center has provided several grants, including one to promote economic development in New Bedford, Mass., by studying how fish processing waste can be diverted and converted into fertilizer. Another grant has helped to establish a pilot wood recovery and remanufacturing enterprise in Worcester. The Center also coordinates the Re-Made in Massachusetts Alliance, a network of recycled products manufacturers that can be accessed at www.chelseacenter.org.
While a state budget crisis currently threatens the Chelsea Center's ability to provide grants and other services, the center is seeking to diversify its funding. Meantime, in preparation for a proposed ban on the landfilling of waste wood, the center is working with the state and Green Seal Environmental, Washington, D.C., to analyze existing and new markets for waste wood in the state and the region.
Rewarding Source Reduction
It is easy to forget that a high recycling rate does not necessarily mean that less waste is going to the landfill if a state's waste generation is increasing. To combat increasing waste generation rates, states also must promote source reduction, usually through incentive programs.
Maryland's Source Reduction Credit Program, for example, allows counties to claim credit in their waste diversion rates if they can document specific source reduction promotions and activities.
In 2001, Maryland claims that the source reduction credit program in-creased the state's recycling rate by 2 percent, resulting in a 39 percent diversion rate in 2001. Specific source-reduction activities have included educational programs in schools, promoting source reduction on county Web sites and developing and maintaining a materials exchange.
According to Virginia Lipscomb, chief of planning and recycling for the state Department of the Environment's Waste Management Administration, Baltimore, participation in the credit program has increased from seven to 11 counties in the first two years.
“We hope to see even more counties participating this year,” she says. “We feel like if we get the information out in multiple ways, we're bound to make some kind of impact.”
Concerns about electronic waste (e-waste) disposal have been heard around the country as communities fear metals will wind up in their landfills. But the South Carolina legislature is just one group that has been proactive in finding ways to deal with the burgeoning electronic waste stream.
Last fall, the South Carolina Senate reviewed a bill that would collect a $5 fee on electronics containing cathode ray tubes (CRTs). The fee would have helped to fund an infrastructure for electronics recycling.
Under the proposed legislation, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Columbia, would have educated the public about electronics recycling and established a grant program. Local governments could apply for grants to offset the costs associated with collecting, transporting and processing old electronics. The grant program also would have funded development of new or innovative electronics design and recycling technology.
Although the bill did not pass, similar legislation already has been reintroduced in the state Senate this year, and proponents say that support to find a more proactive e-waste solution is growing. Similar legislation has been considered in North Carolina.
In Michigan, imported garbage takes up about 20 percent of the state's landfills, with the vast majority coming from Canada. Michigan currently is the third-largest trash importer, but with the closure of Toronto's Keele Valley Landfill last December, the 23,750 tons of waste generated weekly in Toronto will be sent to Sumpter Township, a suburb of Detroit. This additional tonnage may make Michigan the nation's second-largest importer, behind Pennsylvania.
In 1986, the two countries signed an agreement, amended in 1992, stating that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., would be notified of garbage shipments coming into the United States. But this agreement has not been enforced.
In January, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., introduced a bill that to enforce the agreement, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., introduced a measure to limit the amount of foreign waste states can accept.
Much of the Toronto waste goes to the township's Carleton Farms landfill, owned by Republic Services, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “Toronto waste has been coming across the border, and U.S. waste has been going north for 10 or 15 years,” says Will Flower, Republic's vice president of communications.
Closing the Organics Loop
It is becoming increasingly common for states to divert yard trimmings and other organic wastes from the landfill. But stimulating end-markets for such wastes can be more challenging.
Austin-based Texas Disposal Systems, through its operating company Texas Landfill Management, identifies and processes source-separated organic waste streams and combines them with supplementary waste streams to create more than 50 organic products, including compost, soils, mulches, fertilizers, and other gardening products such as volcanic sand. These products then are marketed to retail and wholesale outlets in the Southwest.
By last fall, Texas Landfill Management facilities had diverted 122,455 tons of compostable materials — ranging from dead animals to beer, wine and other beverages — from landfills, according to the company.
In 2002, the program won awards from the National Recycling Coalition, Washington, D.C., and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Austin (now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality).
“We are working harder to develop new markets for our products to cushion some of the seasonality of the business,” says Jim Doersam, general manager of the Texas Disposal System's Garden-Ville and Texas Organic Products divisions. “This includes, but is not limited to, marketing in warmer climates in the Southwest, and continuing to market to those who are unfamiliar with our products.”
Rocky Mountain West
Driving Tire Recycling
Illegal dumping continues to create eyesores and potential health problems, especially in the West. Colorado is striving to end the practice.
For example, the Denver-based Department of Local Affairs is funding cleanup of illegally disposed waste tires and providing grants to public entities to reuse or recycle waste tires. The department also provides partial reimbursement to end-users that process scrap tires.
Funded projects have included a boat ramp made of tire bales on the Nee Gronda Reservoir in eastern Kiowa County, as well as rubberized asphalt used on runways at the Glenwood Springs Airport near Aspen.
Children in Ordway, Colo., are benefiting, too. “There is a cerebral palsy center there that has a small playground, and they wanted a real easy surface under the children's play area to minimize injury,” says Anne Peters, the department's waste tire program consultant. “They received a grant to put in a special material, a surface that looks like grass but has a lot of recycled rubber in it.”
Additionally, the Denver-based Colorado Commission on Higher Education has awarded grants to higher education institutions and other public or private entities to research and develop waste diversion and recycling solutions, especially to handle waste tires.
Recycling and ReBuilding
In an age of constant new construction, imagine the energy and cost savings that could be realized if 85 percent of the materials used to construct a building were reused when it was torn down.
Portland, Ore.'s five-year-old nonprofit ReBuilding Center (RBC) is aiming to salvage exactly that high of a percentage of local buildings. RBC is a project of the local community organization Our United Villages, which has diverted 4.5 million pounds of building materials from landfills and generated nearly $2 million in sales. In 2002, the Association of Oregon Recyclers presented the ReBuilding Center with its Alice Soderwall Reuse and Waste Prevention Award.
Three years ago, the RBC launched Deconstruction Services, which has completed more than 300 deconstruction jobs, including more than 100 houses, from roof to foundation.
In 2002, the RBC also began a regraded lumber program, in which used lumber is regraded and certified for use in building construction, fully closing the loop. The Refined Furniture program creates new furniture out of otherwise unusable materials. “In 2002, we increased used material diversion, we served more customers, and we got more material back into the community,” says Brian McVay, project manager for Deconstruction Services. “We went from 120 jobs to 200 within a year.”
The center plans to expand its 12,000-square-foot facility in mid-2003.
Managing Tribal Waste
The Navajo Nation in Arizona, which is larger than the state of West Virginia, has more than 1,000 illegal dumping sites, according to The Navajo Times. And like any other state, the Navajo and other local tribes must find creative ways to collect, manage and recycle their waste.
To address these issues, the state's Protective Circles projects develop partnerships between tribal agencies, local chapter leaders and educators, and students to provide instruction on composting, source reduction, recycling and protecting land and water. Curriculum and science kits are available to help implement a solid waste education program.
The Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP), which runs the Protective Circles projects through an affiliation with Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, wants to diversify its funding sources so the project can continue far into the future.
“I incorporate [Protective Circles concepts] into other things we're doing,” says Mansel Nelson, project manager for ITEP's environmental outreach program. “For example, I have a grant for water education so … I incorporate the concepts of groundwater protection, so that kids and teachers can see what happens to groundwater from an illegal dumping site.”
Kim A. O'Connell is a contributing editor.