TDEC Develops Solid Waste Plan 2015-2025

The Division of Solid Waste recently unveiled their Solid Waste Plan 2015-2025 (available here).
The new Plan embraced all the elements of the past with vague promises for change.  Tennessee will remain the only state to credit landfilled construction waste as diverted, wildly inaccurate local reports will be expanded, and emphasis on rural waste will remain instead of larger counties which create the majority of solid waste.  Sometime in the future, regulations for landfills will be reviewed even though there are amply regulations now to control landfill pollution.

Below is a letter to a State Solid Waste Board member then a longer letter to the Commissioner.

“11 April 2015

Alan Leiserson, Member
Underground Storage Tanks and Solid Waste Control Board

You and I have a unique view on the Solid Waste Plan 2015-2025.  We testified before a Joint Government Operations Rule Committee in December 2011 where the Plan was a central point.  The Committee could not understand how I could oppose a TDEC Planning  effort. This Plan perfectly expresses that opposition.

This Plan does nothing except continue the present status of Tennessee solid waste.  There is nothing but vague promises for future change.  The loop-hole riddled  local reporting where local governments report only on what they personally collect and guess on the rest, the unique  to Tennessee rule of allowing landfilled construction waste to count as diverted which inflates Tennessee recycling numbers, and the polluting landfills are ignored.

The Department states that only complaints from local citizens will trigger remediation of landfills even though Tennessee is ranked 44th among all states in well being which reflects education, citizen participation, job opportunities, health. and other basic measures of citizen abilities.  Yet, it is an established fact accepted by TDEC that all Class I landfills which accept organic food waste create pollution and bad odors.  You, as a former regulator should have been vigilant that this Plan violates Tennessee Code Annotated  68-211-603 which mandates the components of the Plan.  This law is ignored.

I know from many years that this Plan is seen as a great victory for TDEC. However, not only the citizens are losers but so are the employees of TDEC who have the ability to do good work but are consigned to years more of winking at  bogus local reports and ill-functioning landfills.  This Board is hurting the employees of TDEC.

This is an industry friendly Solid Waste Plan.  For some reason, this Board, populated by effective, resourceful people, has chosen to remain silent at every opportunity to voice the need for incremental improvements in numbers, composting, recycling, and landfills.  Please find below and attached a letter BURNT wrote to Commissioner Martineau on this plan.

You, as past high ranking attorney for the Department and current Board member should look at the preliminary Energy Plan developed for the State by the Baker Center at the University of Tennessee which is on the Baker center web site.  Not only was this Energy Study written by an independent agency, the authors of the Energy Plan did not change their corporate name three times during the course of the process as happened here.

This note and the letter to the Commissioner is being sent to the Tennessee Environmental Council which nominated you and other activists who might not realize they should direct comments to you as their representative on this Board.

This is an in-house Solid Waste Plan.  Please read the letter below and attached.

Respectfully,

Bruce Wood, President”

Read a letter to Commissioner Martineau below:

” The Honorable Robert J. Martineau, Commissioner
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

RE:  Tennessee Solid Waste Plan 2015-2025

Dear Commissioner Martineau:

This plan demonstrates a great deal of work by TDEC staff and managers.  It is a good start. After all, it is many years since the Department has completed such a plan.

Shortcomings:

  • The plan did not address fundamental facts such as polluting landfills and inaccurate TDEC solid waste numbers.
  •  The Plan did not abide by the definitive Tennessee Code Annotated  68-211-603 which mandates the components of the Plan.
  • The extensive efforts to generate public participation did not work.  Attorneys, businesses, and environmentalists with acute interest in solid waste did not participate.

Recommended Actions:

  • The Underground Storage Tank and Solid Waste Control Board should support more work for this Plan.
  • Create a panel of Task Force members, business, organizations which work with the state and solid waste, and environmentalists to have public meetings with TDEC to address how to improve the Plan.

The Plan Ignores Polluted Class I Landfills, A Fact In Tennessee

During a discussion about frequent odor complaints about Bi-county Landfill (Clarkesville), a senior TDEC solid waste manager said all Class I landfills inTennessee smell bad because organic food waste, yard waste, and paper are landfilled.

BURNT knows from personal experience that Middlepoint landfill in Murfreesboro creates odors every day and is very bad in the summer. The
Dickson County Landfill became a chemical waste landfill.  Wells were shut down and people died from multiple causes.  Both landfills in Camden have a record of odors and pollution.  Yet, neither the Plan or TDEC admits this problem or creates plans to stop it by composting organic food waste.

There is no mention of methane gas even though landfills are the source of almost 20% of the methane gas—a dangerous green house gas. Tennessee landfills should be a central theme throughout the Plan.

Inaccurate Tennessee Solid Waste Numbers Should Be A Concern

Tennessee solid waste numbers are full of distortions and gimmicks.  This should be a major topic in the Plan  TDEC invests heavily in local reporting by regions via Annual Progress Reports (APRs).  There are multiple loop-holes including crediting landfillled construction waste as diverted (the only state to do so) and local governments only reporting on what they collect.

Less than 50% of the Regions meet the 1991 25% waste reduction goal.  (see page 31 of the Plan for verification that the numbers are not accurate)   We need a  fundamental commitment for accurate numbers which means reform.  As long as Tennessee continues to rely on reports which are distorted by loopholes we will not have good numbers.  This should be a central theme of the  Plan.

Large Urban Counties Should Be The Focus Of Solid Waste Management

This fundamental fact has been brought up numerous times.  The 10 largest
counties have 50% of the population and generate approximately 50% of the
solid waste. These 10 counties, and contiguous counties, are a natural focus for solid waste management because they have solid waste economies of scale, infrastructure, and businesses which can use raw materials recovered from solid waste.  This strategy should be a central theme to the Plan. It is scarcely mentioned.

Concerning Tennessee Code Annotated  68-211-603

TCA 68-211-603 was passed by the General Assembly in 2014 to define the content of the State Solid Waste Plan. It does not appear as if these mandates have been met.

  • TCA 68-211-603 (a) mandates “The state plan shall have as its priority the reduction of the volume of wastes going to incinerators or landfills by means of local and regional recycling programs, mulching and composting of yard wastes and other suitable materials…[to ensure] that incinerators and landfills operate in an environmentally and economically sound manner.”

This Plan does not ensure that landfills operate in an environmentally
sound manner through recycling programs or mulching and composting of yard wastes, nor does it demonstrate “…as it’s priority the reduction of the
volume of wastes going to incinerators and landfills….”  There is ample rhetoric and promises made for the future but no priority in planning for waste reduction which is what the General Assembly required.

  • TCA 68-211-603 (a) mandates  “ The state plan shall identify incentives and systems that political subdivisions of this state may use to facilitate recycling and reuse of construction waste.”

The Plan does not identify incentives and systems for local governments
recycle and reuse construction waste.  The Plan promises this in the future but the General Assembly mandated that this be in the Plan.

  • TCA 68-211-603(c) mandates “The state plan shall include recommendations for
  1. “Large  scale composting in major metropolitan areas”; and
  2.  “Composting strategies that may be applied by specific types of waste producers, including higher education institutions, food service establishments, food retailers, and neighborhood groups.”

There are promises for the future but no recommendations for large-scale composting in metropolitan areas or composting strategies for neighborhood groups or food service  establishments.  The General Assembly wanted specific recommendations in the Plan.

  • TCA 68-211-603 (d) mandates  “The state plan shall include recommendations for a statewide system of collecting recyclable plastics that is based on regional collection centers.”

State wide system of collecting plastics based on regional centers does not appear to be part of the Plan.

Conclusion and Additional Points

This is a good start.  However, this Plan does not meet the criteria set by the General Assembly in TCA 68-211-603. The Plan does not address issues central to Tennessee such as landfills which hurt the environment and people, inaccurate solid waste numbers, and failure to address the concentration of solid waste in  large cities.

BURNT recommends the Department create a panel to provide feed back in public meetings which was sorely missing from the process for developing this Plan.

Apparently, the consultant for this Plan has been through three (3) name changes during the planning process.  This lack of stability is not conducive to a good plan.

Tennessee has an example of a real planning process at the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy  which studied A PROFILE OF THE ENERGY SECTOR IN TENNESSEE which is available at the Baker Center web site.  TDEC solid waste needs a relationship with a reputable outside consultant. The Plan demonstrated how few outside studies have been done and illustrated the quality of the Tennessee State University studies.

Bruce Wood, President
BURNT ”

TDECSolidWastePlanLetter