Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Recycling rhetoric and reality

Blaine County solid waste revenues have historically subsidized the recycling center and its program


Over the past two decades, the Environmental Resource Center has been a very strong and effective recycling advocate in the Wood River Valley. Positive aspects of this advocacy were the development of curbside recycling in the early 1990s and the inclusion of glass and plastic recycling into the curbside program. On the downside, the current form of ERC recycling advocacy has been long on rhetoric but short on reality.

It's very common to see buy-back programs offered by recycling centers. The goal of buy-back programs is to provide an additional incentive to increase the amount of materials brought to the recycling center. Buy-back funds are paid out when the value of a marketed commodity is more than the cost to process it. The Blaine County buy-back program contained an additional goal—to support the development of small-scale recycling-collection companies.

The development of this buy-back program was mandated by Blaine County when recycling center operation contracts were issued in 1995. Discussions were under way to eliminate the program prior to the ERC's claiming credit for the demise of the "needless waste of $120,000" that has been paid out to recycling-collection companies over the past 14 years.

What ERC Executive Director Craig Barry's guest opinion (April 30) also failed to disclose is the $300,000 to $400,000 it received over the past six to seven years from Blaine County solid waste revenues to provide recycling education and outreach services. The "long-on-rhetoric, short-on-reality" guest opinions and letters to the editor from the ERC attacking Southern Idaho Solid Waste's financial management practices coincided with elimination of the education and outreach funds paid to the ERC.

Blaine County solid waste revenues have historically subsidized the recycling center and its programs. Last year, that recycling center subsidy or net loss amounted to $120,000, and this year we are expecting the net loss (expenses minus revenue) to be $85,000. Solid waste revenues in Blaine County are directly linked to the tons of garbage hauled into the Ohio Gulch and Carey transfer stations, which is in the form of a tipping fee. Over the past four years, the tons of solid waste hauled to the transfer stations has decreased 41 percent. In this new budget year, we can expect to receive about $960,000 less in solid waste tipping fees than we collected in 2006.

One of Southern Idaho Solid Waste's primary operating principles is to find less costly, yet environmentally sound waste management practices. Since the Milner Butte landfill meets and exceeds EPA construction and operation standards, we are allowed to accept a variety of household hazardous wastes, including compact fluorescent light bulbs. Hence, our decision is not to participate in the CF bulb recycling program at this time or to expand the household hazardous waste program beyond batteries, paint, waste motor oil, anti-freeze, mercury thermometer and computer/e-waste recycling.

Even in light of the dramatically reduced revenues, Southern Idaho Solid Waste has not backed away from the current levels of operation of the solid waste system, the recycling center, the household hazardous waste program and the landfill gas management system. I am not apologetic about taking a financially conservative approach to managing public funds, especially in light of the economic challenges we are facing.

It is fully understandable to expect conflict between an advocacy group pushing program expansion and change and a public service provider trying to hold the line on costs. The ERC's persistent use of misleading rhetoric and half-truths is regrettable, however.

Terry Schultz is the executive director of Southern Idaho Solid Waste.

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