Column: We should take lead in recycling

Friday, January 30, 2009

Everyone knows that recycling is a great thing, right?

The municipalities, who jumped on recycling when the prices for plastic, cardboard, etc. were high, are now wondering what to do with the stuff that their citizens are so conscientiously collecting and putting out for curbside pickup.

No one knew that the market for recyclables could be so volatile.

As Bill Griggs, of Griggs & Maloney, pointed out at the recent informational meetings held in Marshall County, the price of cardboard used to be $130 per ton; now it's $30/ton.

In England, the price of recycled cans has fallen to a tenth of what it was, and it is cheaper to make new plastic than recycle old material.

Experts in England estimate that 15 percent of all recyclables are being stored there, waiting for a buyer, and could it could take a year for the backlog to clear.

Some municipalities in England, short of space and patience, have simply sent their recyclables to landfills.

There are other ways of getting rid of household trash. Covanta Energy has over 30 facilities in this country, using municipal solid waste as a fuel to generate renewable energy.

In north Alabama, for instance, the Huntsville Solid Waste to Energy Facility, located on 20.5 acres adjacent to Redstone Arsenal, processes 690 tons per day of solid waste and sewage sludge from the Huntsville wastewater treatment plant. It produces nearly 180,000 pounds of steam per hour that travels through a six-mile long export line for the Redstone Arsenal's heating and air conditioning needs.

Near Washington D.C. in Lorton, Va., Covanta Energy's largest facility processes 3,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste. The facility sells up to 79 megawatts of renewable energy to Dominion Virginia Power Company -- enough energy to meet the needs of 75,000 homes. Both of these facilities have been in continuous operation since 1990.

During the "great landfill fight" here in Marshall County in 2008, county commissioners and others heard a presentation from Americas Waste-to-Energy, a Georgia-based company, whose biosphere gasification process turns garbage into saleable ash and drinkable water.

It's all very well to talk about expanding recycling, establishing a transfer station, and trucking Marshall County's garbage to another landfill when - not if - Cedar Ridge closes. But shouldn't we look up from the trash blowing around our feet and seek a completely different solution? After all, some of these Covanta facilities have been working for almost 20 years.

Tennessee is already at or near the bottom of quite a few national lists - obesity, infant mortality, and educational standards, to name just three. Why can't we be at the top of a list of states with successful, environmentally friendly methods of getting rid of garbage?

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always got," as the saying goes, and if we don't do something different with our garbage, we'll end up with what we've always had: a landfill -either hosting one here in the county, or paying to have our trash trucked to one far away.

Remember that recycling is a win-win for companies like Waste Management. The more people recycle, the less trash goes in the landfill and the longer the landfill lasts. The less people recycle, the more trash goes in the landfill and the more tipping fees are paid.

Think about it - and then tell your county commissioners, city councilors, mayors, and aldermen what you want done with your tax dollars.