Recycling and yard-waste bans

>From 1985 to 1992, recycling and composting of yard trimmings became an integral part of integrated municipal-solid-waste (MSW) management. Franklin Associates Ltd. reports that during this 7-year period, MSW recovered for recycling and composting in the United States increased 21/2 times in tonnage, while doubling the rate of recovery from 10 to 21 percent of total MSW (see Table 1).

Yard waste represents a substantial portion of wastes that the United States generates and throws away each year. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yard waste accounts for about 32 million tons or 18 percent of America's garbage annually. Composting is the foremost solution for reducing these figures.

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Composting is a simple way to convert organic waste into natural soil additives for use in landscaping and indoor planting. Finished compost improves soil texture, increases aeration and water infiltration of soil, suppresses weed growth, decreases erosion and increases soil fertility. Most importantly, composting reduces our reliance on landfills.

Landfills pose environmental concerns and human health risks. While many of today's landfills operate with pollution-control devices that minimize environmental risks, they cannot eliminate the pollutants completely. The EPA's list of potential environmental releases includes groundwater pollution, surface-water contamination (from runoff andacidic leachate), explosion hazards and impacts to areas such as wetlands or habitats for endangered species. The EPA reports that landscape trimmings are the second largest component (by weight) of waste disposed in landfills. In addition, the acidic makeup of yard waste can contribute to the mobility and toxicity of other waste products in the landfills.

Table 2 details a projected national average of 30 percent overall recovery for recycling and composting identified in Table 1 from residential and commercial sources by the year 2000. To increase recovery for recycling and composting from the 1992 level of 21 percent to 30 percent in 2000, the current recovery of 32 percent of these products and materials would have to increase to 42 percent.

Table 2 also projects that the quantity of yard trimmings in MSW will decline significantly by the year 2000, representing only 10 percent of the total MSW vs. 17 percent in 1992. States that exercise waste-disposal bans on yard trimmings deserve a substantial amount of credit for this projected decline. Currently, 23 states have active yard-waste bans (see map, page 10).

In its recycling study, Keep America Beautiful states: "All human activity, including recycling, has some resource and environmental consequences...recycling saves energy and reduces the amount of solid waste sent to landfills. The most obvious benefit to recycling is diversion of recovered materials from conventional disposal, such as the reduced dependence on landfills."

In 1979, the United States claimed an estimated 18,500 landfills. In 1990, the number was down to about 6,300, and it was estimated that only about 3,000 would remain open by 1995. The EPA's National Priorities List, released in June 1996, reports the existence of 1,276 hazardous waste sites in the United States. This figure includes general Superfund sites and federal facility sites. Although the number of landfills dropped 84 percent between 1979 and 1995, the amount of trash Americans generated increased 80 percent. The cost of opening and maintaining a landfill under environmental compliancy ranges between $250,000 to $1 million. By the year 2002, that cost is expected to increase by 2.3 percent. The solution, again, is to reduce the amount of waste going into the landfills. And as Table 1 (see page 10) illustrates, 1992 showed an improvement of 62 percent compared to 1985's 83 percent. If the projections are correct, we will see another significant decrease in 2000.

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