Make that spring cleaning easier on the environment

Julia Anastasio
Senior Manager of Government Affairs
APWA Washington office

As the long winter months wane and spring approaches, people everywhere are preparing for the season's ritual—spring cleaning. It is time to comb through the attic, empty closets, and clear out the garage. Computers, cell phones, sofas, old magazines, wood left over from repairing the fence and old paint cans fill your precious storage space. What should be done with all of this trash?

As a nation, Americans generate a lot of trash. From product packaging, food scraps, and grass clippings to old sofas, computers, scrap wood and old paint, Americans are throwing out more than 236 million tons of trash per year (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2003, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). Each American generates just over four pounds of trash per day and recycles only about one pound per day. Yet, EPA estimates that 75 percent of what Americans throw in the trash could actually be recycled. According to EPA, paper and plastics accounted for about half of the 236 million tons of municipal solid waste generated in the United States in 2003, representing a steady rise from 205.2 million tons in 1990, with no letup in sight.

Recycling is more than just throwing your cans, bottles, and newspapers in the blue bin. Recycling provides economic and environmental benefits. It is an enormously complex industry that affects how products are designed and manufactured and how wastes from residential and commercial consumers are managed. Significant energy and natural resources are used to make the products and packaging Americans utilize every day. When these products are recycled, the energy and resources embodied in the products is not wasted and harmful greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. The national recycling rate of 30 percent saves the equivalent of five billion gallons of gasoline, an energy savings of 661 trillion BTUs which is enough to meet the energy needs of 6.5 million households (http://www.earth911.org).

On an economic level, for every job on the curb collecting recyclables, there are 27 jobs in processing and manufacturing those materials into new products (National Recycling Coalition, The National Recycling Economic Information Study, http://www.nrc-recycle.org/resources/rei/aboutstudy.htm). Some experts estimate that incinerating 10,000 tons of trash creates one job; landfilling the same amount of waste creates six jobs and recycling 10,000 tons of waste creates 36 jobs (http://www.earth911.org).

When recycling programs first gained momentum nationwide, Americans were overwhelmingly supportive. However, in recent years, the proportion of trash Americans recycle has remained flat or decreased. For instance, 2002 marked the first year that the recycling rate of aluminum beverage cans dropped below 50 percent (Schuellter, Gretel H., "Wasting Away: Is recycling on the skids?," OnEarth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Fall 2002). The number of curbside recycling programs nationwide fell slightly from 9,700 in 2001 to 8,875 in 2002 (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2003, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). While Americans believe recycling is the "right thing to do," the current decline or leveling off of recycling rates indicates new approaches are needed to re-energize the recycling movement.

During the last session of Congress, members began addressing these trends and recognized the need for legislation to promote recycling efforts nationwide. A recycling tax credit provision, RISE, was included in the Senate Energy Bill. The RISE provision provided a 15 percent tax credit for the cost of qualified recycling equipment. The goal of the provision was to improve the quantity and quality of recycled materials in the market, create jobs, increase productivity and conserve energy by establishing a tax credit to preserve and expand America's declining recycling infrastructure. The RISE provision was ultimately stripped from the final Energy Bill during conference negotiations, but the Senate's actions have re-energized the debate and recycling incentives are likely to be back on the agenda this spring. Financial investment is necessary to provide needed capital for technology, equipment upgrades, and additional processing techniques to capture recyclable materials that now end up in landfills.

States and localities nationwide are emerging as the leaders in energizing recycling through new legislative proposals or newly enacted laws addressing recycling. The City of Seattle will now begin enforcing a 2003 ordinance mandating recycling. City garbage haulers are required to refuse to pick up trash that has large amounts of paper, milk cartons or other recyclable materials in it. Moreover, the City intends to fine commercial customers for repeat offenses. The City hopes to achieve a 60 percent recycling rate by 2010 through the enforcement of this ordinance.

Nearby in California a new law aims to make it easier and cheaper to recycle old electronics equipment. The rule adds an additional $6-10 for new televisions, computers and monitors to the purchase price. The money raised goes into a fund that helps California counties improve their recycling programs. One such community is using these extra funds to host free disposal days where residents can drop off eWaste for free, avoiding the usual $15.50-per-unit drop-off fee.

Washington is considering similar legislation. Under the Washington proposal, manufacturers selling computers, monitors and televisions would establish or fund programs for statewide collection of unwanted items. Retailers, charities, haulers, recyclers and government facilities will be used to facilitate collection of this waste. The proposal was spurred by the lack of a national program to address eWaste and by the glut of items stacking up in attics and garages nationwide. Approximately 20 versions of eWaste legislation are being considered in cities and states across the country.

EWaste is beginning to get noticed by EPA and Congress as well. EPA recently announced that its Plug In To eCycling program resulted in more than 60 million pounds of old electronics being recycled. Through the program, manufacturers and retailers work together to raise public awareness about electronics reuse and recycling and to create more take-back opportunities for consumers and businesses. Congress is also beginning to consider the eWaste issue by standardizing the way Congress disposes of its used electronic equipment. Additionally, the Electronics Waste Recycling Promotion and Consumer Protection Act was introduced in the Senate and House last session. The proposal would give a tax incentive to companies and individuals for recycling unwanted electronic equipment, while at the same time mandating a study investigating a national recycling plan. After being introduced, the bill was referred to committee and has yet to emerge. APWA's Washington office will continue to monitor and report on these federal efforts in the coming months.

So, as you begin to tackle your spring cleaning, take the time to consider recycling some of that trash before putting it out on the curb to be sent to the landfill. There are many resources available on the Internet that can guide you to recycling locations or charities that will take your used items in your area. A good place to start is at http://www.nrc-recycle.org/howto/index.htm or at http://www.earth911.org.

Julia Anastasio can be reached at (202) 218-6750 or janastasio@apwa.net.

Parish President highlights successes of Katrina response

On December 13, St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis briefed congressional staff about one of the success stories in emergency response during Hurricane Katrina. As the eye of the storm muscled through the New Orleans area parish on August 29, St. Tammany suffered total power loss and complete failure of utilities and communication systems in addition to blocked roads across 100 percent of the parish.

Pictured from left to right: APWA Board member Shelby LaSalle of Krebs, LaSalle, LeMieux Consultants; St. Tammany Parish Chief Administrative Officer Bill Oiler; St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis; and APWA Executive Director Peter King

"Despite the devastation, power was restored to critical buildings within one week and nearly all roads were open to emergency vehicles in three days," said Davis, who was recently named 2005 Man of the Year by GQ Magazine for being a "Hurricane Hero" and "Katrina Savior." "We never lost communication with local hospitals and casualty rates from the storm remained very low."

Davis, president of APWA's North Lake Chapter from 1996-97, attributed the quick response to a parish emergency recovery strategy set in motion years before the storm hit. Public works crews were on the scene as first responders and played a vital role in the initial debris removal and utility restoration that made rescue efforts by fire, police and medical personnel possible.

Because of the speed with which critical infrastructure systems became operational, St. Tammany has seen a population explosion. An estimated 300,000 people currently reside in the parish, up from just 216,000 one year ago. The influx of people from surrounding parishes has caused urgent infrastructure needs.

The APWA Congressional Briefings are one part of an awareness campaign by APWA to provide information to congressional staff about the role of public works as well as needs in local communities.

APWA Transportation Committee chair speaks to congressional staff about land use and transportation

Bill Reichmuth, chair of APWA's Transportation Technical Committee and Executive Director of the Transportation Agency of Monterey County, CA, briefed House and Senate staff members January 24 on the impact of land use and transportation decisions on community sustainability.

  Bill Reichmuth speaks at the congressional briefing.

Reichmuth discussed how as population and the economy grow, transportation officials face increasing congestion challenges which require innovative approaches to land use and transportation planning. He highlighted intermodal solutions being applied to enhance community sustainability and stressed the benefit of policies that synchronize transportation and land use planning to promote Smart Growth goals.

Reichmuth has extensive experience in public works administration, construction management, and utilities, traffic, highway and bridge engineering and is working with local officials through his agency to provide a safe and efficient transportation system throughout Monterey County.

The briefing was one in a series of congressional briefings sponsored by APWA to provide information about the role and needs of public works and infrastructure in local communities.