Friday, April 30, 2010

Fluorescent bulb issue reflects larger recycling challenges

The compact fluorescent bulb issue clearly shows a disconnect between the concerns of local residents and those in charge of managing our solid waste—the Southern Idaho Solid Waste District.

There are many states and counties that have banned fluorescent bulbs from landfills, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires commercial and industrial entities to manage these toxic bulbs as "hazardous waste." While the EPA has exempted households from these regulations, they "strongly encourage the recycling of all fluorescent light bulbs" from households. The writing is clearly on the wall and it reads that these bulbs, while beneficial, need and can easily be recycled.

Recycling of compact fluorescent bulbs is safe, straightforward and inexpensive (about 60 cents per bulb). After hearing from many concerned residents, the Environmental Resource Center and the city of Hailey partnered to locate bulb recycling in Ketchum and Hailey. The ERC invited Southern Idaho Solid Waste District, which manages the Ohio Gulch recycling center, to participate in April 2008, but they declined, citing cost issues.

Having tracked solid waste management for years, I've noted that cost concerns are frequently cited as reasons for stymieing efforts to improve our recycling program.

What I find most interesting is that the same organization responsible for managing our recycling (Southern Idaho Solid Waste District) has actively supported an outdated "buy-back" policy that has needlessly wasted nearly $120,000 over the past 10 years. This practice pays commercial waste haulers to bring recyclables to Ohio Gulch, where they are contractually obligated and economically constrained to bring them anyway. This practice is nothing more than a corporate subsidy.

Effective management of our recycling efforts would have ended this subsidy years ago. Instead, it was the ERC that pointed this practice out to the County Commissioners at a budget hearing with the Southern Idaho Solid Waste District last July. At that meeting, the district argued (successfully, I might add) to weaken the community's recycling efforts out of concerns over cost and the economic downturn.

Yet these arguments appear disingenuous when that same organization paid out thousands that very year in wasteful subsidies. Clearly, better management would have caught this waste and saved our community more than enough funds to support county-wide bulb recycling and possibly other improvements.

In speaking about bulb recycling, district Director Terry Schultz stated in an Idaho Mountain Express story on April 23 that he was "not prepared to expand Blaine County's recycling facility until the economy turns around." Interestingly, when the ERC proposed creating a bulb-recycling program at Ohio Gulch, the economy was booming and Ohio Gulch recorded the highest revenues from recycling ever. Yet the district still decried cost reasons for not providing such a program. While costs are and should be a concern, it is clear that the district is playing politics with this cost card to stop efforts to improve recycling while it's squandering thousands in county funds.

Clearly it's time for a change. We deserve management that's not wasteful, committed to seeing recycling succeed and is responsive to our community.

Craig Barry

Executive Director

Environmental Resource Center

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