MSW Management July/August 2013 : Page 8

GUEST EDITORIAL I BY HARVEY W. GERSHMAN Need More Diversion? Revisit Bans and Ordinances ocal government recycling managers, or the newly minted sustainability managers, would like to increase waste recycling and diversion from landfills…without adding to their budgets or raising fees to their customers. So, wouldn’t it be nice if there were easy ways to do more without having to build additional infrastructure or offer another separate collection service? The answer is “Yes!” Bans result in less to dispose, and they create a new recycling sup-ply line. Over the past few decades, 43 states have banned certain materials from landfills ( ). The most notable banned ma-terials have been tires, yardwaste, lead-acid batteries, white goods, and—now in 20 states—electronics ( ). Such bans can divert 15% to 30% of waste and provide a feed-stock for higher reuse and recycling channels. Since 1990, Massa-chusetts has banned a number of materials from disposal, including common recyclables such as paper, cardboard, and food and bever-age containers. Enforcement takes place at the disposal facilities, which are required to issue notices (and can assess penalties) to the hauler and the generator if an incoming load contains too many recyclables. More recently, Tennessee’s governor signed a bill that outlaws aluminum cans and plastic bottles from landfills. Deposit and bag taxes result in more recycling and less waste/lit-ter…but where do the deposits/taxes go? Studies show that states with container deposit legislation have high-er recycling rates for those containers than states without deposit laws ( ). However, there are as many variations in the programs as there are states that have them. As another way to reduce waste and litter, some local governments now either ban or tax hard-to-recycle Styrofoam or single-use plastic bags offered by grocers or retail stores. To save a nickel, people carry reusable sacks, or the more creative use riderless baby strollers or stuff their pockets or clothing with their purchases. Are the funds collected through a bag tax or revenues from de-posit programs reverted to solid waste management and litter abate-ment programs to lessen the cost of services they deliver? We know in some states this has been a challenge, with revenue often marked for general funds. In other states, the revenue accrues to wholesalers, bottlers, and distributors…a windfall to the very same businesses that supply the packaged products—a result that does nothing to help fund environmental improvement. Nevertheless, the bottom line for deposit legislation and bag taxes is more recycled and less littered…good outcomes from programs that perhaps need some programmatic tweaking. Nonresidential properties can recycle more. Residential curbside recycling is available almost everywhere. The same cannot be said about recycling for nonresidential custom-ers. An interesting approach to increasing recycling for these waste generators is to establish ordinances and regulations that require nonresidential wastes be set out and collected in a certain way. That way, waste diversion and recycling become SOP—standard operating procedure. Moreover, one or more separate flows of materials can be directed to additional processing for materials, organics, or fuel/ energy recovery. The separate flows could be for glass containers, single-stream recyclables, cardboard, organics/foodwaste and other 8 MSW MANAGEMENT [ JULY/AUGUST 2013 ] L organics, and a “drier” mixed wastestream that can be processed for additional materials recovery. The end result is less waste left for fuel/energy processing or the landfill. How can recycling in nonresidential settings be normalized in this way? Most localities aren’t interested in creating legislation with intricate details and extensive staffing requirements like the ADA, though. So what else is available? Legislate the end result and allow businesses to drive the process for getting there. Setting a regulatory standard and granting flexibility on how to achieve it is one approach that can work for increasing diversion. For example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, businesses are required to recycle a wide range of materials and file an annual re-cycling report detailing their recycling, reuse and source reduction results ( ). Businesses can determine how they will achieve compliance: They can self-haul, reduce waste, and/ or arrange for collection service. The plan and reporting system are important because there is accountability to the county as the regulatory entity. If requirements err on the side of being too flex-ible or overly vague, businesses may consider them unimportant and ignore them. In another example, North Carolina requires businesses with Al-coholic Beverage Control agency (ABC) licenses to recycle beverage containers. Businesses can drop off containers at convenience centers or arrange for service, but they must recycle them. The state has provided extensive education and technical support, and compliance is reinforced through ABC inspections—i.e., recycling is required for licensure. Regulations are necessary, but they don’t necessarily have to cause a burden. Recycling can and will become SOP, just as other elements that were once considered “extra” have been. It would be “cheaper” if businesses were not required by law to provide personal protective equipment to employees or to properly manage chemicals, but that certainly would not be better! These are now standard features of business operations, and we and our earth are better for it. The best environmental regulations have clear and valuable purposes and al-low businesses to use their inherent innovation and entrepreneurial power to develop solutions. It’s time for elected officials to take a fresh look at bans and regu-lations that increase waste diversion, especially in the nonresidential sector. Solid waste and sustainability managers should take steps to encourage legislators and local officials to explore these options. As we advance the conversation, the following are useful principles: Be fair and firm —Although the regulation is flexible, it is “real” and compliance is required. Be realistic —Before banning a material from disposal, there must be at significant, if not sufficient, capacity for diversion of that material. Be aspirational —Use incentives for achieving a goal, not for complying with a mandate. MSW Harvey W. Gershman is president of Gershman, Brickner & Bratton Inc. (GBB) Solid Waste Management Consultants. iStock/sodafish

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