opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
While the vocal critics of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality rage on about the lack of public notices of their various permitting corporate hog farms near the Buffalo River, the agency is attempting to do some things right.
What things you ask?
Well, one of their better on-going programs is assisting the Sebastian County Solid Waste District in educating students about recycling. And perhaps, the agency is also better at planning for the future.
The ADEQ management and its staff are in the midst of reviewing the 10-year Waste Plan Assessments from the 18 Solid Waste Districts spread all over Arkansas. State law calls for the Districts to submit plans to ADEQ yearly and once every decade a new state wide plan is to be compiled and submitted to the Governor and the Legislature.
That compilation is ongoing this year, with the hope of having a snap shot of what all is going on around the state by mid-November.
At the Sebastian County Solid Waste District, one of the few single county solid waste districts in the state. district executive director Randy Hall is focusing on a key element of the 30 proposals being floated by ADEQ: Recycling education.
Hall hopes this quality program will keep producing a reduction on the amount of recyclables found the waste stream headed for landfills.
“We’ve been doing recycling education in the public schools for quite a while,” Hall told The City Wire. “We feel that the third grade is a target group to teach recycling education in the schools.”
Hall estimates that in the previous school year some 1,100 students from all the Fort Smith, Barling, Lavacca, Greenwood, and Mansfield schools, were visited by the District’s recycling educator last year.
The program costs the District about $3 per student, funded from fees collected at the landfill and remitted back to the Solid Waste District for Recycling Grants. The District’s recycling class augments what the school’s science programs are already teaching about topics like global warming, trash collection and recycling for a healthier community and environment.
Education expenses, especially school based education programs, are allowed and even welcomed to get out the message of ADEQ “to reduce, reuse and recycle – rather than hauling items to the landfill and forever using up that dwindling and valuable land space,” Hall said.
The Sebastian County Solid Waste District plan fits well with the on-going state plan, Hall said.
The first recommendation listed in the overall state plan proposes emphasizing “waste reduction, recycling, composting and waste-to-energy” over trash collection.
“There aren’t a lot of recycling markets where we’d like them to be,” said Karen Bassett, chief deputy director for the Environmental Quality Department. “The closest glass recycler that can deal with significant quantities is in Missouri. We’ve got some good recycling in the state, but the economics aren’t what they could be if we could get some more in-state recycling facilities.”
Again, Sebastian County Solid Waste District was one of the first in the state to partner with Ripple Glass of Kansas City to recycle the glass collected at various points in the District, Hall said.
Ripple sends trucks to collect the glass at no cost to Sebastian County Solid Waste District. Most of the glass is used in making fiberglass insulation. In the agreement with Ripple, the fiberglass manufacturer donates rolls of insulation back to the Sebastian County Solid Waste District for use in Habitat for Humanity homes or other nonprofits involved in home building for the needy or disabled.
Bassett said residents should consider the costs and benefits of recycling when they decide whether to financially support new facilities, either through fee or tax increases.
“I think we’ve all grown accustomed to paying for services like trash, water, sewer and pest control,” Bassett said. “We also need to understand that recycling is a service that’s being provided. It’s cheaper to have materials recycled than to send them to a landfill.”
Hall agrees. He also says the in-classroom education is an impact in the community that has far reaching affects.
“These youngsters get it,” Hall said. “They go home and educate the parents, grandparents on recycling. It works well for us.”
The program is only in the public schools, but Hall is open to his educator making the rounds at private schools, if asked.
“We really want to reach all the community’s third grade students,” Hall said.
The ADEQ recommendations were devised by six subcommittees that fall under the Statewide Solid Waste Planning Committee. The subcommittees addressed issues like assessing the needs of each district, waste collection, disposal, recycling, handling of special materials and education. The process began in August 2011 and is part of a 10-year review of the Statewide Solid Management Plan, implemented in 2003 under Act 1376 of 2001.
Getting a handle on recycling education is a start, a pretty good start compared to no education at all.
Remember reduce, reuse and recycle – the three arrows on that recycling emblem can make a difference in our communities.