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Texas law specifies the following "hierarchy" from the most to the least preferred methods of management for municipal solid waste (excluding sludge):(21)
The TNRCC oversees the development and implementation of local and regional municipal solid waste plans that incorporate this suggested "hierarchy." At the regional level, the Councils of Governments have developed the plans. A portion of the revenues generated from MSW transport and landfill disposal fees are committed to support the regional and local MSW planning process.
Each method for dealing with municipal solid waste - reduction, recycling, reprocessing and land disposal - has its unique advantages and disadvantages to the health of the environment and public.
Source Reduction Management Option
Perhaps the most difficult municipal solid waste management concept is source reduction. In other words, prevent the creation of waste.
The Legislature called for a 40 percent reduction by January, 1994 of the amount of solid waste disposed of in Texas. This was probably an optimistic goal for a program begun in 1991 and dependent primarily upon voluntary compliance. Maintaining the level of current source reduction initiatives, the TNRCC estimates Texas may be able to realize a 20 percent reduction in the total tons of municipal solid waste disposed of yearly in MSW landfills by the year 2000 and reach the 40 percent reduction goal by 2010.(22) With current programs, the TNRCC estimates a 30 percent reduction in the yearly "per capita" disposal rate can be achieved by the year 2000 and a 40 percent reduction in "per capita" disposal rate can be achieved by the year 2005.(23)
In Texas, public education as well as citizen and business initiatives, rather than regulation or financial incentives and disincentives, are the primary tools for reducing the amount of municipal solid waste.
In other parts of the country, laws have been passed to promote source reduction using financial incentives and various restrictions on product packaging. For example, the State of Maine bans the sale of single-serving juice boxes.(25) Some cities charge residents for each bag of waste to be hauled away.
Source reduction efforts also take place at the local level. For example, to complement its curbside recycling program, the city of Austin established a Pay-as-You-Throw pilot project - a system of garbage rates based on how much a customer sends to a landfill. The result was a 23 percent reduction in waste picked up. Austin plans to implement the Pay-as-You-Throw program citywide.
Source: William Rathje and Cullen Murphy, Rubbish (New York: Harper Perennial Press, 1992), 97.
Source: Cynthia Pollock, Mining Urban Wastes: The Potential for Recycling (Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute 1987 Paper No. 76), 8.
|DEFINITION OF RECYCLING|
|The Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act defines recycling as a "process through which materials that have served their intended use or are scrappped, discarded, used, surplus, or obsolete are collected, separated, or processed and returned to use in the form of raw materials in the production of new products."(26)|
Reuse/Recycling Management Option
Human beings have always engaged in recycling activities. There have also always been entrepreneurs who have made a living - some a very lucrative living - recycling rags and newsprint, scrap metal and secondary material (refrigerators, cars, stoves).
In the United States the recycling "movement" began in the late 1960s. Believing that Americans were consuming too much of the world's resources - trees, minerals, fuel, water - environmental groups began to stress recycling. But in the 60s and 70s the market for recyclables was not substantial and recycling efforts dwindled. Authors Rathje and Murphy credit Lady Bird Johnson and her beautification campaign for reviving recycling initiatives. They point out that Mrs. Johnson's beautification campaign was in fact a campaign against litter, "garbage that is out of place." When Americans began to address the problem of litter by enacting bottle bills with deposit fees and restrictions on pull-off tabs, beverage distributors began to collect bottles and cans and sell them to scrap markets or reuse them.(27) From this flurry over litter, various recycling programs began to emerge all over the country.
Prompted by the increasing cost and closure of landfills, the Texas Legislature in 1991 established a commitment to a statewide residential and workplace recycling strategy. The Texas recycling program is dependent primarily upon voluntary participation, rather than mandated participation by communities and workplaces. Governmental entities at the state, county and city levels, however, are mandated to establish a collection program for recyclable materials generated by the entity's operations. Educational systems are included. The state provides resources in the form of technical and financial assistance to businesses, public school systems and other public institutions. Potentially recyclable products captured from municipal waste include plastic, paper, glass, steel, aluminum, yard waste, used motor oil and corrugated containers.
The national recycling rate is 19 percent.(28) In 1994, TNRCC estimated that Texas' recycling rate (including composting) for MSW was about 14 percent of the typical MSW generated.(29)
According to recycling experts, a successful statewide recycling program requires a balance among three components: recovery of recyclables, processing infrastructure and market demand for recycled materials.(30) Each type of waste material has a different recycling potential. For example, the General Land Office's 1992 recycling study states there is a potential growth in glass recycling. This growth, however, is hampered by the lack of a comprehensive glass collection system, the low value of waste and broken glass and the high collection and transportion costs.(31) The growth rate for recycled paper, metal, plastic and other materials is affected by factors such as these, including the cost of virgin materials and the capacity of end-users. Recycling rates for these materials are discussed rather thoroughly in the TNRCC's 1995 Municipal Solid Waste Plan for Texas.
Key components of Texas' recycling programs:
In 1993, TNRCC received 97 percent or approximately $7 million of the total oil sale fees and the other 3 percent was retained by the Comptroller for administrative costs.
|COMPOSITION OF MSW GENERATED IN TEXAS|
|WASTE STREAM COMPONENT||PERCENT OF TOTAL|
|White Ledger Paper||2.3|
|Colored Ledger Paper||0.5|
|Kraft/Corrugated Cardboard Containers||12.0|
|Other Paper or Paperboard*||3.2|
|Recyclable Clear Glass Containers||2.8|
|Recyclable Colored Glass Containers||1.8|
|Other Non-Ferrous Metals||0.1|
|Other Ferrous Metals||0.7|
|Appliances ("White Goods")||1.5|
|PET (Code 1)||0.3|
|HDPE (Code 2)||0.6|
|PVC (Code 3)||<0.1|
|LDPE (Code 4)||0.1|
|PP (Code 5)||0.2|
|PS (Code 6)||0.7|
|Other Code (Code 7)||0.1|
*Includes telephone books.|
**Includes non-recyclable paper and diapers.
***Includes bi-metal cans and mixed metals.
|Source: R. W. Beck and Associates, 1991 Recycling Rate and Market Research (Texas Water Commission, 1993), 12.|
A 1993 statewide survey revealed that 71 percent of Texans polled who do not have curbside recycling service would be willing to pay an additional one to two dollars per month to have a curbside program. They are willing to pay for the following reasons (ranked in order of frequency of responses):
Waste-to-Energy Management Option for Municipal Solid Waste
Waste-to-energy facilities are incinerators that burn waste to create heat or electricity for nearby consumers. These facilities were first promoted during the energy crisis of the 1970s when fuel costs were rising and there was a fear of fuel shortages.
The Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act ranks waste-to-energy facilities third on the preferred hierarchy of municipal solid waste management options for Texas. The cities of Center, Carthage and Cleburne are the only cities in Texas that have municipal solid waste-to-energy incinerators. Together these incinerators convert annually approximately 28,400 tons of municipal solid waste to energy. (Eight entities in Texas use incinerators to burn municipal solid waste, including medical waste, but do not try to recover energy from these facilities.) The attractiveness of this waste management method is its ability to dispose of huge amounts of waste. Yet, currently there is no active movement by local or state government to develop more waste-to-energy facilities for municipal solid waste. There are two major reasons for this: high costs and the potential release of pollutants.
The public health and environmental problems associated with waste-to-energy facilities are similar to those associated with incinerators that don't generate steam or electricity: air pollution and groundwater pollution. A by-product of the combustion process is ash, the finer particles of which are released through the smoke stack. Others are captured in the "bag house" as fly ash and the heavier particles are collected as bottom ash. Depending on the waste stream, toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and dioxin are concentrated in the ash. Along with carbon dioxide and water, these pollutants are released into the air through the stack, potentially threatening air quality and the health of humans and the environment.(35) New technology for incineration facilities that eliminate many air contaminants is becoming available, but it is costly.(36)
Besides the ash released into the air, the ash collected at the incinerator also poses problems. It has routinely been disposed of in municipal solid waste landfills, causing concern for groundwater contamination. A 1994 United States Supreme Court decision ruled that municipal waste incineration ash that has high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic and other contaminants which would render it as hazardous waste cannot be disposed of in municipal landfills.(37) According to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, however, very little of the ash from active Texas incinerators has tested out to be hazardous.(38)
In Texas, historically it has been difficult for waste-to-energy facilities to compete financially with landfills. In the past, the cost of a landfill has been relatively less expensive than building and operating a waste-to-energy facility. Often revenues from the sale of steam or electricity do not cover the costs of building or operating the incinerator facility. Moreover, to make the most of steam or electrical generating capacity, incinerators need to operate at full production and this often means that a local community has to buy supplementary waste capacity, often at fees below what the community residents pay.(39) Another major criticism of waste-to-energy facilities is that they compete with recyclers over waste, and therefore they discourage community recycling efforts.
|ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS FROM RECYCLING|
|BENEFIT AS % REDUCTION OF||ALUMINUN||STEEL||PAPER||GLASS|
|Source: Robert Cowles Letcher and Mary T. Shell, "Source Separation and Citizen Recycling," in William D. Robinson, ed., The Solid Waste Handbook (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1986).|
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