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Taking out the trash: it's law in Indiana. Come up with a plan to cut garbage in half by the turn of the century. Can local government do it?

It's a massive task that's drumming up lots of business for environmental consultants. But will it even work?

This spring, about 60 governmental entities known as solid-waste management districts will be putting the finishing touches on plans to deal with solid waste--better known as trash or garbage, what most of us send to the landfills. The districts are under a July 1992 deadline set by 1990's Comprehensive Solid Waste Bill, often referred to by those in the environmental industry as Indiana House Bill 1240. The ultimate goal set by the law: Reduce the amount of trash going to landfills by 35 percent before January 1996, and by 50 percent before January 2001.

It's a lofty goal--and, most would agree, a worthy one. Whether it's realistic is another question, but there's pretty much agreement on strategy. "Our biggest way of doing it will be by recycling," predicts Joseph B. Wuertz, director of the Daviess County Solid Waste Management District in Southwest Indiana. Wuertz is confident major recycling plans can work, noting that neighboring DuBois County already has had tremendous success with a recycling program. "What motivated them was the cost of putting it into the landfill. They did it before the Indiana regulations came on line; it was a cost-cutting necessity."

Though its plan is still in the works, the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District already has given indications of the direction it will take; it has established a recycling center and composting station for residents to use, says Jim Murray, the district administrator.

Recycling is such a good option, Wuertz says, that it alone ought to be able to generate most of the 35 percent reduction in solid waste. And he thinks it can be done by the deadline four years from now. "The problem with all of this, however, is the ability to get rid of the stuff once you've collected it. And that's something we're going to have to have some help with."

Finding markets for recyclables is, indeed, one of the fundamental issues in recycling. The propensity to recycle has been growing much more quickly than the ability to use the recycled materials. "The people who have been buying these things have been inundated," Wuertz says. He recalls an article in a trade publication, illustrated by a trash bag in a tux. "Garbage: All Dressed Up But No Place to Go," it was called. The illustration was funny; the article wasn't.

As an example, Wuertz points to the experiences of a local non-profit group that for years has raised funds by collecting and selling old newspapers. These days, he says, the only nearby dealer that will pay anything for newsprint will accept only newsprint, no brown paper grocery sacks or slick inserts. Another dealer will accept sacks, inserts and magazines, but won't pay; obviously, the group deals with the recycler offering cash. That leaves behind a lot of paper that may be recyclable but is not economical to collect.

There are other obstacles as well, notes Brian R. Miller, executive director of the Northeast Indiana Solid Waste Management District, which includes DeKalb, Lagrange, Noble and Steuben counties. Curbside recycling is one of the most effective ways to reduce waste from the residential sector, but much of Miller's district (and much of Indiana, for that matter) is rural, where curbside programs are much less cost-effective.

Also, curbside programs often are run in conjunction with the municipal trash pickup, and there are some two dozen municipalities in Miller's multicounty district. That'll take some coordination. And coordinating recycling with industry--which generates between a third and a half of the waste in his area--is another challenge. Though a survey he has conducted has found a fair amount of recycling in the commercial and industrial sector already, it'll take a lot more to reach the goals.

Business and industry, he notes, typically have their waste hauled by private contractors, not the municipality. It's unclear whether local government has the authority--if it were to need it--to mandate recycling by industry. "If local governments are charged with the responsibility of meeting those reduction goals, they'll need some legislative authority."

Another challenge he sees is getting recycling cooperation from the thousands of summer tourists that visit his district's numerous lakes and contribute loads of garbage. It's one thing to arrange a recycling program for permanent residents, but quite another to reach the campers and boaters, who come out in numbers that sometimes dwarf the permanent population.

Perhaps the hardest thing, Miller says, will be taking the step from 35 percent reduction in the mid-'90s to 50 percent reduction at the turn of the century. "That last 15 percent will be extremely difficult. Though we're 10 years away, I don't know whether technologies or people's attitudes will change enough," he says.

"It's like the sprinter trying to shave a tenth of a second off of his time in the 100-meter dash," he continues. "It's not too hard to get down to 10 seconds, but to get to 9.9 is very difficult. That's the same as the relationship between 35 percent and 50 percent."

Though the solid-waste bill is intended to reduce the waste generated and landfilled, there always will be some need for landfills, says Murray of the Bartholomew County district. He notes that what cannot be recycled, composted, or incinerated will have to go to a landfill. What's more, incineration leaves behind ashes that must be deposited into a landfill. It is even possible that a solid-waste plan will document the need to build a new landfill at some point, adds Bill Read, vice president of the Nashville-based engineering firm AECON Inc., a consultant for the Decatur County Solid Waste Management District.

The going won't be easy, however, for those who make their living running landfills. Take the example of John Cook, manager of Southside Landfill Transfer and Recycling Station in Indianapolis. Trash in the capital city is directed to a municipal incinerator, and Cook says the incinerator has taken away about 50 percent of his business. Landfills, however, now may collect a gate fee from users, thanks to a change in state law. That, says Murray, should encourage people to reduce their waste and start recycling or composting.

Also uncertain is the impact the solid-waste plans will have on drop-off recycling centers, says Susan Neal, owner of Indy Recycling in Indianapolis. Needless to say, Neal sees recycling as a "very viable alternative," though drop-off centers could suffer if curbside recycling catches on. Nevertheless, Neal believes some consumers will not want to pay for curbside service, especially city residents whose trash pickup is paid through property taxes and thus seems free. Indy Recycling, she says, is one of only a few drop-off centers in Indianapolis, so it could play a role even if curbside service proliferates.

One thing is certain. The solid-waste bill has generated plenty of work and competition among environmental consultants and engineers. Meeting a deadline last summer, Indiana's counties arranged themselves into 10 multicounty solid-waste management districts and 50 single-county districts.

The districts are governed by boards of directors consisting of local governmental officials. The boards are responsible for all aspects of solid-waste management within their districts. To ensure that the public's concerns are addressed in the solid-waste management plan, each district is required to appoint an advisory committee of citizen representatives with an environmental interest. The committee does not have voting power, but makes recommendations to the district board.

A look at the details of the solid-waste law indicates why it is creating work for the experts: the requirements are quite complex. The district plan, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, must include a demographic study projected for five, 10 and 20 years; estimates of how much solid waste will be generated in those time frames; information on disposal facilities; operation requirements; and ranking of disposal options such as recycling, composting, incinerating and building landfills. Each district must review its plan every five years and make revisions, if needed.

Writing a solid-waste management plan can be costly, says Rick Soderholm, director of client services for solid-waste management at R.W. Beck and Associates of Carmel. Depending upon what a district wants and expects from its plan writers, the cost can go anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000, he says.

"If the district plan does nothing more than accurately define how much solid waste is generated, it will have reached its objective," says Read of AECON. If a plan can "identify and locate the volume of recycled products somewhat accurately," he adds, "then the district will have received its money's worth."

Because there are so many new customers with legal mandates to spend that kind of money, Soderholm believes the solid-waste management market has become "extremely competitive." Competition in this area of environmental management was not as apparent before the solid-waste bill took effect because there was little incentive for such a service, adds Tom McMullen, president of Environmental Planning and Development Inc., a division of Curry and Associates in Indianapolis.

It takes a team effort among environmental consultants and engineers to write and implement a plan. R.W. Beck, for example, is working together with Commonwealth Engineers of Indianapolis to write a plan for the West Central Indiana Solid Waste Management District, which includes Hendricks, Montgomery, Morgan, Parke and Putnam counties.

Environmental engineers are licensed by the state of Indiana to do design work, a tool needed to implement a district plan, says Read of AECON. He agrees that it takes a team effort between engineers and consultants to write and implement a plan, each offering their own specialties and strengths.

The solid-waste management district business has been good for a number of Indiana firms. Soderholm says eight of the 60 districts have hired R.W. Beck to write plans, and according to McMullen, EPD has been hired to write plans for four districts. Both note that such a flurry of opportunities creates a danger that "fly-by-night" firms will proliferate, and they agree that the IDEM needs to develop the "best available technology standards" to prevent such an occurrence. Such standards would require environmental firms to have certain qualifications before they can do business in solid-waste management.

Opportunities for environmental consultants and engineers should continue to grow as the solid-waste plans are implemented. Read, for example, says AECON is on the cutting edge of solid-waste management with intentions to expand in the market as plans are approved and ready for implementation.

The Corporation for Environmental Management, a small Indianapolis firm, hopes to grow by snaring contracts as district plans are implemented. Dave Hogue, the company's president, has a background in geology and has been a consultant for 10 years. He started the corporation three years ago and plans to hire two more full-time employees, bringing his work force up to six.

Vickie Keramida, president of Ontario Environmental Consulting of Indianapolis, knows the issue of solid-waste management from experience. She formerly was employed by the city of Indianapolis and worked with groups that helped establish the city's first municipal waste incinerator. She says her company also has thought about entering the solid-waste management market. With many consultants in solid-waste management already and more considering entering the market, Keramida believes competition will continue to grow.

If all goes well, as competition grows, the amount of trash will shrink. Even if the 50 percent end goal proves to be unattainable, Wuertz says all the studying, planning and reducing will be quite beneficial. "I think the end result is that we'll see a lot more realistic approach to using our landfills."

The Secrets of Office Recycling Success

In a year's time, employees of the state of Indiana recycle office paper totaling about a quarter of their body weight. Those who work for Plainfield-based PSI Energy recycle office paper totaling as much as two-thirds of their weight. Employees of both organizations together save more than 11,000 trees each year through recycling efforts.

Other Hoosiers, the state and PSI reasoned, probably could learn a few things from the two successful office recycling programs. So the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and PSI teamed up to produce an eight-minute video and a 32-page handbook sharing the secrets of recycling success. The materials are available for Indiana businesses to buy, borrow or in some cases, receive free.

For Indiana communities to reach the state's goal of cutting waste by 35 percent within four years and 50 percent by the turn of the century, it's critical for businesses to get into the act, notes Kathy Prosser, IDEM commissioner. And as the state/PSI materials demonstrate, it's not that difficult, for offices large and small.

The first step, advises the video, is to put someone in charge of recycling. That doesn't necessarily mean hiring a new employee, but it's important to have someone to coordinate recycling efforts. This person, the handbook says, need not be a recycling expert, but should be a real "can-do" person who can deal with everyone from the waste haulers to top management. "Look for a recycling coordinator with lots of knowledge about your organization and how it makes decisions," the booklet advises. At a larger organization the recycling coordinator initially might have to spend one day a week planning the program, but as the program progresses it can more or less run itself and the time commitment will drop.

A recycling steering committee of five to nine people may be helpful, the handbook notes. While not essential, such a committee can bring together representatives of all affected employees to explore the "three R's of waste management"--reduce, reuse and recycle. "Having representatives from those areas of the organization most affected by the recycling program helps assure that those departments' concerns will be addressed," the booklet notes.

Studying waste is the next big step. Determine first how waste can be reduced, perhaps by copying on both sides of a sheet, or using electronic mail, or using routing slips and bulletin board rather than making lots of individual copies. Then figure out how much of the remaining material can be recycled, what it might be worth to a recycler, and how much might be saved by not having to haul away as much trash. It's likely that a good waste-management program will save at least a little money.

Next comes the recycling plan. The most important rule is "keep it simple." An exasperated actor in the video buries his head on a deskful of office paper as the narrator warns that workers won't recycle if the program is too complex. Give everyone a folder in which to slip recyclable paper throughout the day, the program advises. Tape a list on the folder outlining the acceptable materials. "Because there are so many different kinds of papers with different market values, good source separation could be the difference between a recycling program that makes money and one that operates in the red."

When the folder is full, the employee can empty it into a designated recycling bin. That, the program suggests, should be located in a high-traffic area, such as near the copier or the water cooler. As an alternative to the folder plan, each employee might keep a recycling box or bin near his or her trash can; a custodian could empty the recyclables each day.

The handbook from the state and PSI includes several samples of memos, posters and newsletters that can be used to pass along details of the recycling plan to the employees that will be implementing it. Communication is essential, the handbook notes; employees should receive updates at least monthly letting them know how the program is going and how much paper has been collected. "Make that material real to them," the advice goes on. "If you collected six tons of paper, telling them that's equivalent to 102 trees holds more meaning."

A handbook chapter titled "Closing the Loop" outlines the importance not only of recycling waste but buying recycled materials. Though paper with recycled content may cost a little more right now, buying it will help create more of a market for used materials as well as recycled goods, and bring down the cost of recycled products. The handbook lists some additional sources of information about how to "buy green."

The recycling program put together by the state and PSI focuses on paper and cans. Those two materials represent the best places to start because there are strong markets for them, and what's more, nearly half of what goes to the landfill is paper. But, the booklet notes, it's not difficult to add other materials to the program once it's up and running, materials such as glass and plastics.

The recycling video and booklet can be borrowed at many libraries across Indiana. For-profit companies may purchase the package for $24 from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce or the Indiana Manufacturers' Association, both of which provided some of the funding for the project. Non-profit companies may contact the IDEM for a free copy.

One final selling point for the program: Besides providing valuable information, the booklet itself is helping the environment. It's printed on recycled paper.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Environment; includes related articles
Author:Reid, Robin
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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