The Bloomington (Indiana) Alternative, December 31, 2006
[Rachel's introduction: In Indiana the garbage industry has gained extraordinary influence within the Department of Environmental Management and the state legislature: Garbage incineration is about to be declared a form of "recycling" and real recycling is about to lose its funding.]
By Thomas P. Healy
In an unprecedented move, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) is seeking to alter the definition of what constitutes recycling by including incineration -- specifically waste- to-energy projects.
Additionally, IDEM's Office of Pollution Prevention and Technical Assistance is establishing an integrated recycling plan with new guidelines that could undermine local government recycling programs, encourage more polluting industries in Indiana and divert limited funds from legitimate recycling operations.
The state's environmental community -- especially members of the Indiana Recycling Coalition (IRC), a statewide nonprofit advocate for waste reduction and recycling -- is concerned that such initiatives threaten existing recycling projects and send plans to expand them up in smoke.
At a mid-December Business Summit on Recycling Issues called by the IRC, stakeholders in resource reduction and reuse activities learned about these policy changes and heard about legislative initiatives that may be introduced in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
IRC President Melissa Kriegerfox told attendees that Indiana is the first state to propose a redefinition of recycling to include incineration.
"As far as the Environmental Protection Agency is concerned, this is turning the solid waste hierarchy upside down," she said.
Kriegerfox, recycling and reuse director for the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District (SWMD), explained that the EPA's solid waste hierarchy places source reduction at the top, followed by reuse and recycling. The bottom tier is considered final disposal, and that includes incineration, waste-to-energy facilities and landfills, she said.
While not opposed in principle to waste-to-energy projects, Kriegerfox said IRC does not consider incineration to be recycling.
"Recycling takes materials and puts them in a process to make into a new product," she said. "Incineration is final disposal."
The IRC is also concerned about any policy shifts at IDEM that would mandate that recycling programs become "revenue neutral" and utilize only Indiana outlets for materials in an effort to "close the loop."
"Not all civic services generate revenue," Kriegerfox said, citing diverted costs -- both financial and environmental -- that rarely seem to end up in the equation. "As IDEM has proposed it, there's no way that you can make it work."
For example, there is no consideration for diverted greenhouse gas emissions from recycling, say, aluminum cans. Other values such as "pride of place" generated through community cleanups or the value a community derives from educational programs cannot be neatly plugged into a spreadsheet cell.
IRC claims the meaning of "closing the loop" -- a catchphrase long favored by waste reduction and reuse advocates -- is being subverted in IDEM's usage to insist that recyclables generated in Indiana be put back into the manufacturing process within Indiana.
Kriegerfox says IDEM ignores other options for boosting the marketplace for recycling in the state and the global nature of the commodities market.
"You can't expect businesses like Rumpke or Waste Management or Republic to use only the Indiana marketplace when they could get $25 to $100 more a ton by sending materials to California or China," she said.
The same holds true for community recycling programs. Monroe County's SWMD collects sorted office paper that is sold to a mill in Manawa, Wis., where it is made into tissue and tissue paper.Under the new proposal, that arrangement would be viewed with disfavor during the grant review process, in which the solid waste district would have to prove it is "successful" -- "revenue neutral" -- by using "closed- loop" Indiana-based outlets.
In this scenario, Kriegerfox said, IRC fears its member groups would suffer when it comes to competing for funds.
"If you don't meet those requirements then you can't apply for the grant," she said, which leaves more funds to give to waste-to-energy projects such as burning automobile tires or trash for energy.
That's not exactly accurate, according to Sandra Flum, director of intergovernmental affairs for IDEM.
"I think there's a misconception that we're talking about all waste- to-energy projects, and that's not the direction we're heading right now," she said. "We're looking at what's a good use."
Flum noted that waste-to-energy is currently not on the list of priorities the Recycling Market Development Board (RMDB) uses when considering applications for grants or low-interest loans.
"As the priority list is currently written, it's unclear whether state funds could be used for such projects," she said. "So adding [waste- to-energy projects] seemed like a good idea."
Indiana's problem with discarded automobile tires -- nearly 6 million annually -- prompted the specific inclusion of projects that involve burning tires for energy, Flum said.
An IDEM report created in November examined how funds available through the Recycling Market Development Program are being utilized and found that some remain leftover at year's end.
"So we thought it makes sense, if we're not going to spend money on the first priorities, that we at least add waste-to-energy as a priority," Flum said.
According to Flum, the report was the first step toward getting the RMDB to consider an expanded definition of recycling so it could provide grants to waste-to-energy projects. She stressed that including such projects would not threaten recycling programs.
"We clearly prioritize it so that the other valuable projects that have been traditionally funded would be higher priorities," she said. "For us it's where this falls in the priority, and we recognize it as a lower priority than other types of recycling."
Asked about pollution from waste-to-energy projects, Flum said, "You would certainly have emissions controls on any kind of incineration or smokestack, and it would be defined on a health-based standard. There's no way that we would encourage a business to come in here without controls on what they're emitting."
Flum was unaware of any "revenue-neutral" proposals and said that evaluating such recommendations would be appropriate for the state's Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC) to study.
"We think that's the right organization to give the direction that the RMDB asked for," she said.
Although the RMDB has thus far declined to include waste-to-energy in its definition of recycling, don't expect IDEM to stop pushing to expand the definition to include one of Gov. Daniels' pet projects. Flum suggested that another waste-to-energy source could be manure from Confined Animal Feeding Operations.
For its part, IRC will continue educating Hoosiers, reminding them that source reduction is the first of the three Rs of recycling.
In addition to participating in the Business Summit, IRC recently met with 15 environmental groups from around the state to discuss the proposed changes. The organization is poised to launch a Defend Recycling campaign next week, in time for the 2007 session of the Indiana General Assembly.
Thomas P. Healy can be reached at email@example.com
Details are available at http://www.indianarecycling.org
Copyright 2005 by The Bloomington Alternative