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ADEM Fails To Meet Projections For Reducing Waste

By Associated Press

Montgomery AL – The amount of waste in Alabama's landfills has not been reduced as planned and instead has jumped more than 50 percent in the past 12 years, according to a newspaper's analysis of records from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

The Birmingham News reported Monday that ADEM has failed to meet its goal in the early 1990s to reduce landfill waste by 25 percent. The initiative was part of a national push for recycling and other efforts to reduce waste, save landfill space, protect groundwater and conserve energy.

But ADEM does not track the amount of waste in landfills and has no records, or even its own estimate, of how much is being recycled in the state, the newspaper said.

Some Alabama cities and towns offer curbside pickup of aluminum, paper and plastic recyclables or have drop-off containers, but such programs are scattered.

The News complied statistics from ADEM records and found that the volume in the state's landfills has risen from 2.79 million tons in 1995 to 4.39 million tons in 2007, despite the goal of reducing it. The numbers are for general purpose landfills and do not include specialized landfills, such as those for construction materials or hazardous waste.

Public officials and others say cost is a key reason, but critics say ADEM has not come up with effective policies and Alabama lags behind other states in recycling and waste-reduction plans.

ADEM spokesman Scott Hughes said the department does not track the statewide volume of waste dumped in landfills or keep any record of progress toward the 25 percent reduction goal.

The agency also has no plans to seek legislation that would give it authority to mandate recycling or pursue the goal, even though its Solid Waste Management Plan specifically calls for the agency to do so, the News said.

"We're nowhere near it (the waste reduction goal)," said Pat Byington, a former member of the commission that oversees ADEM. "And what are we going to do about that is the issue."

ADEM's Solid Waste Management Plan called for the volume of waste disposed of in 1997 to be 25 percent less, in tonnage, than in 1992. It called for ADEM to pursue policies, through regulation or legislation, to achieve the reduction and encourage recycling.

"What's lacking is enforcement of those plans," said Michael Churchman, executive director of the Alabama Environmental Council, a private advocacy group. "There's no plan. There's no follow-up."

According to the Solid Waste Management Plan, only 2.6 percent of the state's solid waste stream was being recycled when the plan was written in 1991. Hughes said the current recycling estimate is 8 percent.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2006, Americans recycled 82 million tons of trash out of about 251 million tons generated, a recycling rate of about 32 percent.

Hughes said there's not been any analysis of the state's recycling trends over the past 15 years, but the agency does check to make sure landfills stay within their permitted limits for waste received and follow other regulations.

Mark Lollar, manager of Birmingham Recycling & Recovery, a private company that contracts with waste haulers to buy paper, aluminum and plastic, said Alabama's rural nature and the cost involved makes it difficult.

"If the community doesn't buy in on it, it's hard to make it successful," Lollar said. "Most communities are already strapped for funds as it is. You've got to pay your police and fire. Do you want to spend more money to recycle?"

Advocates say the benefits offset recycling costs because it saves energy, saves landfill space, protects groundwater, provides raw materials for manufacturing and creates jobs.

"We've got to remember it's the expressed wish of the Legislature that was passed back in the early'90s to reduce our waste and recycle 25 percent of our waste," Byington said. "So we have the mandate. We have the legislative intent. We've got to make it happen."

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Information from: The Birmingham News

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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