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DANC sets sights on 2100 with solid-waste reduction plan

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The Development Authority of the North Country is already looking into the next century when it comes to recycling and waste management; prospects of getting there are good but will include challenges on all fronts, according to representatives giving an Earth Day presentation Monday at Jefferson Community College.

For that matter, making recycling as attractive as it once was is a good place to start.

“It’s not as sexy as it used to be,” complained JCC student Erich A. Horeth as he inquired about the authority’s stance on getting the word out on television, citing his youthful familiarity with shows such as “Captain Planet and the Planeteers,” which ran in the mid-1990s with a format focused on promoting recycling and concern for the environment.

“We’re in a time warp here in the north country,” acknowledged Sayre S. Stevens, recycling and solid waste educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, pointing out the communities to the south, including Ithaca, already have advanced waste-reduction systems in place. “We have to get the word out.”

Though it may not have its own network like Ted Turner — one of the co-creators of “Captain Planet” — DANC is engaged in getting that word out via television and print advertisements, online at www.northcountryrecycles.org and through speaking engagements, according to Jan M. Oatman, DANC’s regional recycling coordinator.

The key may be starting early.

“Third- and fourth-grade students have a tendency to really absorb this stuff,” Mr. Stevens said.

Mr. Stevens, who works with different ages, said when you start working on recycling and composting with younger children, “it becomes a way of life.”

“Little kids are afraid of making a mistake,” Mr. Stevens said.

They will proceed through the lunch line at school, depositing their refuse in the appropriate containers with an air of “Am I doing this right?”

As you move up the age spectrum, however, it would appear that convenience and market forces begin to provide more powerful incentives.

Part of the appeal of recycling and composting to adults is it reduces the amount of money they pay to have their trash hauled away.

Mr. Stevens said with all the recycling and composting he does at home, even with four children he only visits the Jefferson County Transfer Station every two weeks with a trash bag. It costs him only $2 to deposit that bag.

The transfer station handles Jefferson County’s recycling and a large portion of its solid waste.

As far as convenience is concerned, the merits of single-stream recycling, in which materials are sorted at an automated facility, are hard to ignore.

According to Ms. Oatman, moving to single-stream recycling can increase recycling in an area by an average of 25 to 30 percent.

Jefferson County uses source-separation recycling, which means all materials must be sorted before they are turned in at the transfer station. Building a materials recovery facility that would sort recyclables in Jefferson County is not likely to happen anytime soon.

According to Ms. Oatman, such facilities are expensive to construct and operate.

County Highway Supervisor James L. Lawrence and Solid Waste Maintenance Supervisor Joseph J. Gould have said source separation allows them to keep costs down, recycling free and tipping fees low at the transfer station.

The Jefferson County Transfer Station runs as an enterprise fund — meaning it pays for itself with revenues it generates and is not a drain on the taxpayer — and turns recyclables into valuable commodities by packaging them and selling them to brokers who trade in trash.

There are close to a dozen other transfer stations in the county run by various towns and villages. Some of them self-market portions of their recycling stream and send the rest to the county transfer station while some send all of the recyclables to the county, according to Richard R. LeClerc, DANC Solid Waste Division manager.

Recyclable material sales cover 25 percent of the transfer station’s operating cost while the other 75 percent is handled by tipping fees paid by haulers who bring solid waste to the site. The county then trucks the waste to the DANC landfill in Rodman.

The transfer station has worked to stay competitive by innovating programs to recycle “e-material” such as computers and television sets and developing a program to recycle uprooted trees, hay and manure into highway topsoil.

Other counties, such as St. Lawrence County, have worked out revenue-sharing agreements with the companies that process their recyclables.

They’re “not going to make as much money per ton,” Ms. Oatman said, but it is an effective way to get recyclables out of the waste stream.

In the end, though, money does not drive the equation.

At the DANC landfill, “all our money comes from tip fees,” Ms. Oatman said. “We should be saying ‘Oh yes, bring us all your trash.’”

Instead, the goal is to reduce the amount of trash coming into the landfill by increasing the number of recyclables removed from the waste stream.

Anticipating approval of a landfill expansion request, Ms. Oatman said, “Do we hope it’s the last one? Yes.”

With the expansion, the landfill’s life is projected to last until 2083, according to Mr. LeClerc.

DANC has been presenting a proposed local law to its three charter counties — Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence — with the intention of getting all three on the same page and in line with the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to significantly reduce the amount of waste generated per person. According to DEC, state residents dispose of 4.1 pounds of waste per person per day. The plan calls for that amount to be reduced to 1.7 pounds per day by 2020 and 0.6 by 2030.

“We continue to have a goal of reducing per-capita solid waste disposal consistent with the state’s plan. If it gets reduced faster than that, it means it will increase the life of the landfill,” Mr. LeClerc said.

Doing so could extend the landfill past 2100.

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