If trash could talk…

First of all, we would like to give full credit to the Cape Cod Times for an outstanding editorial which they published yesterday.

Next, we’d like to make that available to you.

And finally (of course) we have our own editorial comment on their editorial comment.  Bear with us, it’ll be worth it!

So first – on with the editorial.  Note the highlighting – it’s ours.  Pay attention to these areas in particular.


Trash talk

Thinking green keeps us in the black

September 09, 2012 2:05 AM

Every town on the Cape will soon be paying a lot more money to dispose of its trash. Beginning in 2015, the Cape’s contracts with the SEMASS Resource Recovery facility (incinerator) in Rochester will begin to expire, and there is every indication that the charges per ton of trash from each town will more than double. Although no one likes higher bills, this looming increase is an opportunity for individuals and municipalities to better focus their efforts on recycling.

Right now, it costs Cape towns $37 to dump each ton of trash at SEMASS. Brewster, the only local community to negotiate a new contract, will pay $70 per ton. All evidence suggests that Brewster got a bargain: bids from six other vendors ranged from $78 per ton to $90 per ton. When you take into account that the Cape annually generates approximately 200,000 tons of trash, that translates into a price jump of between $8.2 million and $10.6 million per year.

When it comes to trash, the math is more than a little simple: The more trash that goes to SEMASS, the more it costs taxpayers. Therefore, anything that reduces that waste stream heading off Cape reduces the revenue stream heading in the same direction.   And yet, as simple as that is, Cape municipalities continue to struggle to increase their recycling rates.
Last year, Sandwich recognized the need to control waste costs and instituted a pay-as-you-throw policy. Under this approach, residents purchase a transfer station sticker for only $55, half the previous year’s price. They must also buy town-issued trash bags at a set cost. These are the only bags accepted at the town landfill. Recycling remains free. In general, the new system has been a resounding success. Again, the personal math is pretty direct: reduce your trash, reduce your costs.

Certainly, there are those who have tried to get around the system. Some in Sandwich have said that they now bring their trash to friends in neighboring communities who still pay a one-time fee for a sticker and then can dump an unlimited amount of trash. It remains to be seen just how much weekly trash runs might stretch the bonds of friendship.
More importantly, however, circumventing the system simply shifts the problem rather than solves it. The fact is we generate far too much trash and we treat that which we generate far too casually. One could argue that we live in a disposable society, where individual-sized packaging offers us conveniences about which our predecessors could only dream. But such convenience comes with a cost.

Perhaps it is because most of us no longer bury our trash in the communities in which we live, but we are now more removed from the consequences of our waste than at any time in human history. We can look at pictures of SEMASS, but without that direct contact, the scope of trash, and our individual role in the problem, can remain comfortably distant.
What needs to happen is a fundamental shift in terms of how each of us regards our contributions to the waste stream. The old mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle remains the battle cry when it comes to keeping the planet as green as possible. If that is not enough to prompt us to shift our attitudes, perhaps we should recognize that the same phrase will also help keep our communities out of the red.

Copyright © Cape Cod Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The editorial speaks for itself, but we want to make sure you have the PM-Sustainability-Intersection twist that we are always so keen to point out.  Below are some of the lessons learned from this Editorial that you can apply in general to sustainability thinking and in particular to your projects, wherever they fit on our scale of greenality.


  1. Sustainability provides tremendous innovation opportunities.  In this case, the towns of Brewster and Sandwich took what could have been a threat and turned it into an opportunity to either innovate or negotiate savings.
  2. The fact that we are separated from our waste – not only physically, but mentally, can be a negative.  We don’t think about efficiency.  We don’t think about ways to stop generating waste in the first place.  Look to your projects with a mindset of a very closed loop and realize that removing waste (think ‘lean’ PM) from your project and ensuing operation is a good thing.
  3. Being green (or thinking sustainably) is not only about altruism, although it is that, too.  It is about moving from the red to the black.


What do you think?  How do you feel about the Editorial?  Are you getting from it the same strong messages that we see there?


Clean or dirty?

On a recent visit to Hartsfield (Atlanta’s airport) I noticed that there were no recycling bins.  On closer inspection, and a little research, I realized that these were absent due to a new program they’ve introduced starting in November 2009 which lets customers dump whatever they want into the trash bins and the “sorting out” is done by the airport (actually a partner – read more below).  This got me wondering as to whether or not this was effective.  Sure enough I now know that although this has some advantages (see the press release by Hartsfield), it does have some problems.

ATL (the familiar three-letter-code for Hartsfield) generates nearly 70 tons of paper, plastic, food and other trash daily.

70 tonsDaily! That’s a lot of Nathan’s hot dog wrappers.  So indeed, steps taken to improve how much of this ends up in landfills are important steps.

Here from the press release is some of the benefit from this step:

“All waste generated by passengers, employees and businesses goes into the same container and is taken to a facility, where it is sorted and recycled. The Airport plans to reduce the amount of trash it sends to landfills by 50 percent by the end of the program’s first year — and by 70 percent by the end of the second year.”

Solid-waste handling company Waste Pro USA transports waste via an alternative-fuel truck to a material recovery facility (MRF), where it is sorted. All recyclable materials are recycled, and the rest is sent to landfills.

So this is a good thing, right?

Not necessarily…

An anonymous post to the article promoting this program goes like this:

“This process is what is known as a “Dirty MRF”. This is not the solution to recycling. Much of what could be recycled will end up in the landfill because it is ruined by waste. Single-stream recycling was introduced a few years back and it is a simple, easy solution to recycling. One container for recycling and one for waste. My request is that the busiest airport in world be a true leader in sustainability. A Dirty MRF concept is not impressive.”

This led me to an interesting description of a “dirty MRF” (which sounds much more intriguing than it is) at a very informative site on Mechanical and Biological waste treatment. There I found the table below – of strengths and weaknesses of Dirty MRFs.

So it comes down to a philosophical discussion of whether or not the technique of letting people throw anything into the bins actually gets more waste into a stream that may be able extract recyclables, outweighs the amount of energy and time in the sorting, and the amount of trash that ends up in landfills anyway.  Does anyone else out there with more knowledge and experience want to “weigh in” ?  Could we get someone from Hartsfield or Waste PRO USA to comment?

Strengths Weaknesses
Extracts additional recyclables from residual waste stream Low quality of recyclables output can render material of low value.
Generally lower capital costs compared to clean MRFs (per tonne equivalent) Unless there is a high level of separation in the plant, there is likely to be a major component of the waste entering the plant going to a disposal facility (landfill or energy from waste).
Can be used as part of an integrated system to gain energy and materials value out of the residual waste stream Where materials are divided for example into biodegradable and combustible material streams, the facility is reliant on the availability of other waste management operations.
Lower cost than MBT whilst achieving similar aims (although potentially less effectively) Potential dust / odour problems and health issues for staff on picking belts
Applying proven technology Any biodegradable stream derived from plant will be subject to the Animal By-products legislation
Outputs from the plant will still be classified as BMW under the Landfill Directive and active waste under Landfill Tax