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Thursday, March 4, 2010

EPA to state: Yard-waste-in-landfills bill is bad idea

A bill that could send 1.5 million tons of perfectly good yard waste into landfills every year — and generate a nice amount of cash for a few landfill companies — has generated ample criticism from environmentalists, composting buffs and businessmen who rely on the discarded yard trimmings.

You can now add the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the list of critics.

In a Feb. 25 letter to state Environmental Protection Director Allen Barnes, EPA Region IV Director Alan Farmer says the federal agency "shares your concern" about the bill, which would repeal the ban on yard waste in certain landfills. (You can download a PDF of Farmer's letter if you'd like.)

If approved, the bill sponsored by state Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, would allow landfills that capture methane gas to accept the yard trimmings you — or at least Atlanta residents — on the curb with your recycling. The landfills say that extra waste would boost methane production, which they later sell as bioenergy. It'd also mean they could make more cash in dumping fees during a dismal economic period when even they're hurting.

Farmer, who oversees the agency's Southeast environmental office, says to reverse course would be undo nearly 15 years of progress — and impact a burgeoning economy that relies on the materials.

"Since Georgia adopted the landfill ban in 1996, over 13 percent of municipal solid waste has been diverted away from landfills and is being used as a feedstock for other industries," Farmer writes. "This has extended the life of landfills in Georgia, thereby reducing the costs of siting, zoning, building and maintaining new landfills in the State."

He continues: "It's also worth noting that the economic activity generated by recycling is significant. In 2002, EPA found in its Recycling Economic Information study that five times as many people were employed in the recycling/reuse industries than in the waste  management industry and that a recycling industry employee is paid about $1,500 more in wages than one in the waste industry. Composters and other recyclers of organic waste are generating high value products used to support a variety of important industries, such as agriculture, horticulture, landscaping, stormwater management, and erosion control."

Farmer adds that the EPA supports waste-to-energy technology — but not if it means adding yard waste to landfills.

Might we paraphrase? This bill sucks and would hurt the environment and economy more than it'd help.

The bill, sponsored by  passed a subcommittee last month and now sits in the House Agriculture Committee.

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