The 2010 State Solid Waste Management Plan is Changing the Status Quo Across New York State

Author: Luann Meyer

New York State has high expectations for local solid waste planning units as set forth in the 2010 State Solid Waste Management Plan.  The goals for waste reduction, reuse, and recycling along with composting are comprehensive and lofty.  For some planning units, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is encouraging them to prepare a whole new Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) that will reflect the goals of Beyond Waste or they are in danger of not getting required permitting for their solid waste management facilities.  The first reaction of many elected officials and county and municipal solid waste managers is to throw up their hands, “What are we supposed to do when we don’t have any money and our budgets are squeezed more every day?”  In addition, many people involved in solid waste planning have an institutional memory of SWMPs created at great expense twenty or more years ago.  Some of these plans became no better than expensive door stops since the projects proposed in them never saw the light of day. 

But don’t push the panic button right away.

Planning units can look at current best management practices and see Waste Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling/Composting successes already at work.  For example, many planning units and municipalities have instituted regularly scheduled electronic waste collection events, some as a result of the 2010 Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act.  Even more have provided pertinent recycling information on their websites, allowing residents easy access to recycling facility locations within their community.  In addition, municipalities have added recycling, composting, and waste reduction projects to their already extensive list of cooperative ventures with Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and volunteer groups.  Often local schools, colleges, and universities are providing opportunities for residents and student populations to contribute to the goals set forth in Beyond Waste.  Private companies are already reducing waste and recycling and may have very good data to show the progress they have made toward diverting waste away from disposal facilities.  It may take some time and effort to identify all of the programs already in place, and in particular to gather data on how much is already being recycled and composted by others within the planning unit, but planning units do not have reinvent the wheel when wheels are already turning in the community. 

Think Outside the Box.

Now what about thinking outside the box?  Would local municipalities in a planning unit be more willing to invest in a waste reduction program or initiative if there was some money available?  Some planning units are putting together an incentive program to encourage their municipalities or private businesses to come up with low cost, effective programs that focus on one or all of the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  In such cases, the planning unit is providing funding to the municipality or business for their program.  This approach can be treated as a grant program or a pilot program or even as a reward for doing the right thing.  Examples include:

  • Working with local schools to collect food scraps for composting.

  • Implementing a waste audit and waste reduction program for local businesses.

  • Encouraging the local economic development agency to seek out a start-up business that focuses on waste reduction or diversion and help that business find a home and prosper within the community.

  • Collaborating with local universities to generate an education plan to increase public outreach.

  • Forming an organics coalition of municipalities, universities, landscapers, and other stakeholders to share ideas for increased organics diversion and composting.

  • Promoting the sharing of equipment, such as tub grinders or screens, to improve ease and accessibility to yard waste composting programs.

  • Sponsoring an education series focused on waste reduction, product reuse, and recycling. This series could be led by a town, village, or a community organization.

  • Providing logistical support for community groups with special collection projects for textiles, household items, bicycles, etc. Offering a cooperative purchasing program supporting collection programs, such as room-size collection boxes for paper recycling in schools or larger containers for special collections at town drop-off sites.

Successful programs can be shared with other communities and replicated.  Municipal managers may be too quick to think that all programs will cost a lot of money or they will be too hard to implement, but by sharing information, we can find examples of cost-effective programs that work.  New York State professional organizations for solid waste management and recycling share ideas at local networking meetings and annual conferences.  Local officials can get great ideas about successful programs from other planning units while attending these meetings and conferences.  In particular, the biggest networking opportunity in New York for solid waste planning units is the Federation of New York Solid Waste Association's annual conference. Public/private partnerships are common across New York State and can be incorporated in a SWMP. 

One terrific example that resulted in a low cost benefit to the taxpayer is Monroe County’s Ecopark.  Monroe County partnered with Waste Management of New York, LLC (WMNY) to best address the community’s growing need for convenient and environmentally friendly methods of diverting a wide variety of solid waste from landfills.  Instead of erecting a structure from scratch, the County and WMNY identified and repurposed an under-utilized solid waste and recyclables transfer station owned by WMNY. The public/private partnership between Monroe County and WMNY and the sharing of ideas and funding between the two entities delivered an environmental solution to waste diversion with minimal financial impact to local taxpayers.  

The Ecopark opened its doors to the public on September 21, 2011 as a one-stop drop-off recycling facility where residents can bring their difficult-to-manage items including: electronics, appliances, compost, typical “blue box” recycling materials, printer cartridges, propane tanks, bulky plastic items, cooking oil/grease, fluorescent lights, sharps and syringes, sneakers, clothing and scrap metal.   Collections are also available for pharmaceutical and medication diversion as well as household hazardous wastes.   While it is not quick or easy to accomplish what the NYSDEC expects from local planning units, compromise, creative thinking and partnerships can accomplish a lot.  Planning units are not going to do this alone. They need help, ideas, and a fresh look at solid waste and recycling programs.  

New York State will continue to see advances in waste reduction and diversion in the next decades, as new environmental policies and technologies are rolled out.  But in the interim, confer with other planning units, municipalities, businesses, schools, churches, volunteer groups, or private corporations. Networking and cooperative approaches can be cost effective ways to ultimately achieve more waste reduction and diversion.