By Heather Mullinix
Three cheers for the Cumberland County Commission! A few weeks ago, they approved the money needed to fund a single-stream recycling program in Cumberland County, and I, for one, am thrilled.
Single-stream recycling takes the guesswork out of recycling. Don’t know what kind of plastic that container is? No worries — it all goes in one basket. You won’t have to stand out in the cold sorting through drink bottles, detergent bottles, milk cartons and food containers. You can reduce the number of containers you keep around to keep all that stuff before you take your things to the recycling center.
I try to recycle, and not just because I have Gen X guilt about killing the planet with my disposal junk. Yes, recycling is good for the planet, but it’s also good for saving money. Just like upgrading my home to reduce energy use is good for my bottom line, reducing the amount of trash going into the landfill saves the county money — money that could be used for other things, like upgrading our schools, adding more personnel to the sheriff’s or fire departments, making it possible to pay more competitive wages to our county employees, or maybe even reducing the amount of property taxes we pay in this county.
Cumberland County no longer has a landfill. The county — that’s you and me and everyone else that lives here — has to pay a tipping fee per ton of garbage that’s taken to an out-of-county landfill. And there’s the cost of transporting all that waste. All that adds up to big money. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency reported Americans produced about 4.3 pounds of trash per day, per person. Most of that is paper and paperboard products. If you’re like me and cooking consists of opening a box from the freezer and popping it into the microwave, you know where that trash is coming from. Most of that household waste is recyclable in one way or another. Food scraps can become compost, for example.
In 2011, the county reported about a 20 percent rate of recycling. If it were more convenient to recycle, that number would likely increase.
I know it will in my house. My altruism goes only so far before I stop and think, “Just what’s in this for me?” It’s a challenge to find space for my cans, my plastics and my cardboard and my junk mail and magazines. I recycle my newspapers at work because it’s convenient. I recycle at home because it’s the right thing to do for my community and my world. But I might do a better job of it if it were more convenient — especially when it’s cold out. I detest being cold, and standing out there on Marietta St. sorting through my plastic in the middle of a snow storm isn’t high on my list of priorities. Making it easier for me would make me want to participate more.
The program as described so far would have a conveyor belt system where people would pick through the recycled materials, sorting it to paper, plastic and so forth. The idea is to use workers from the Cumberland County Jail as part of a work program.
Those recycled materials can be sold and provide funds for the county. That’s right, we’re not just saving money by not sending this stuff to the landfill, we’re getting money when we turn around and sell all that stuff. Every year, the Cumberland County Recycling Center collects and sells more recycled material, bringing in additional revenue. Low estimates provided by Tom Breeden, Cumberland County Solid Waste director, and Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner and solid waste and recycling center employee, have the county netting about $400,000 a year in revenue from selling additional recyclable materials and saving $124,000 in tipping fees.
The single-stream recycling program is being funded with a grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation grant, providing $320,000 of the program costs. The county approved funding recently to purchase a larger piece of property adjacent to the current recycling center on Marietta St., with a building in place already. The solid waste department will use $649,000 of its fund balance to fund the project.
The county has instituted several programs to keep recyclable and hazardous materials out of the landfills. That includes the glass pulverizer. There really isn’t a good market for recycled glass and those empty bottles are heavy. In the trash business, heavy equals bad for whoever is footing the bill. The glass pulverizer takes that bulky material and crushes it into a fine, sand-like substance.
I try to do my part here, as well, snooping through the recycling bins for bottles that I want to use in crafts, but I can barely make a dent in the amount of glass that comes into the center.
You can also take electronics to the recycling center where they will be properly disposed of instead of going into a landfill. TVs, computer monitors and other materials pose significant environmental hazards if they aren’t properly disposed of.
The Cumberland County Solid Waste Department is to be commended for its economical approach to helping the county save money and dealing with all the trash we create as we go about our business. We’re fortunate. Other counties in this area don’t have a recycling program at all. Others have recycling available, but you have to pay to recycle. Hopefully the new program will be up and running soon and will serve as a shining example of a successful program to those counties around us that need a little encouragement to help themselves and their world.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.