May 17, 2010 | General

Bad News, Good News On Yard Trimmings Disposal Bans

yard waste disposal banBioCycle May 2010, Vol. 51, No. 5, p. 20
At press time, Florida Governor Crist had not signed legislation making the repeal official, but odds are that it soon will be legal to dispose of yard trimmings in landfills. Georgia, facing a similar challenge, was able to keep its ban in place.
Dan Sullivan

TWO OF FOUR states with pending legislation to repeal longstanding bans on landfilling yard trimmings have decided their fate. In Florida, a 20-year-old disposal ban on green waste was rescinded with the passage of HB 569 under the auspices of creating more methane for capture as renewable energy. In Georgia, controversial language that would have allowed yard trimmings in lined landfills that had methane capture systems was stripped out of HB 1059 before it passed the same day (April 29). The final bill allows these types of landfills to accept source separated yard trimmings for processing into compost and mulch. The new law also allows landfills to set up recycling operations for other separated materials such as plastic and glass after undergoing a minor permit modification.
Similar legislation to repeal decades-old bans on landfilling yard trimmings died in committee in Michigan in 2009 and at press time had not been reintroduced (a sponsor of that bill did not return phone calls for this story). And in Missouri, the composting industry – which depends heavily upon the availability of yard trimmings – is bracing for an eventual fight. “This is all about tip fees – I don’t care what anybody says,” suggests Patrick Geraty of St. Louis Composting. Geraty listed a litany of reasons for shrinking landfill revenues across the country, beginning with a shift 20 years ago toward composting municipal yard trimmings, to the green building movement and a greater tendency to recycle construction materials, to the current slow economy. “Landfills are trying to get some of that revenue back,” he says.

Josh Phares of Capitol Solutions in Tallahassee, state hill lobbyists for the U.S. Composting Council (USCC), called Florida’s move a step in the wrong direction. “Millions of dollars of private and public money went into that legislation,” Phares said of the 20-year-old ban on yard trimmings disposal. In the footsteps of that legislation, he says, 264 companies have set up shop as composters and invested heavily in infrastructure. While supporters of the Florida repeal claim that more yard trimmings in Class 1 landfills would allow them to capture more methane, the fact is that landfills will now be able to capture the tipping fees that – while the ban was on – had gone to composters. “We’re going to ask the governor to veto it,” he says of the letter his boss, Patrick Bell, would be drafting on behalf of the USCC.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who recently declared his switch from both the GOP to the independent ticket as well as from the governor’s race to a bid for U.S. Senate, may have other things on his mind. He is on record as saying he’d consider a special legislative session to deal with the state budget and other pressing issues that had not been resolved when the regular session ended May 3. Crist’s own mandate that his state achieve 75 percent recycling by 2020 led to drafting of other legislation that spelled out ways in which that goal would be accomplished.
Language supporting the repeal did not make it into HB 7243, Florida’s recycling bill that ultimately passed. But it remains to be seen whether a provision of that bill that gives recycling credit – one ton for each megawatt-hour produced – to renewable energy facilities using solid waste as a fuel will include landfill gas capture, as ultimately interpreted by state regulators, or whether that language will apply only to waste-to-energy combustion facilities. While the recycling bill “encourages” local governments “to recycle yard trash … into compost,” language was removed from the bill mandating that counties and municipalities within them compost at least five percent of all organic waste materials they generate.
“We believe that the establishment of yard waste processing facilities in the state was a positive result of the initial ban,” says Chris Snow of Hillsborough County (Florida) Solid Waste Department, who had testified against the legislation to repeal the yard trimmings ban. “This would impact, we believe, the better and higher use for yard waste than going into the landfills, even if they had the potential for gas generation and capture, due to the inefficient manner in which it is done. We did not support changing this 20-year-old law.”
Opponents of the landfill ban repeals have said that landfill gas capture is not only inefficient but that methane is a greater contributor to greenhouse gases than CO2 by a factor of 23. “In general, we believe that the decision to place yard clippings into landfills is inconsistent with our updated solid waste policy seeking the highest and best use of solid waste materials,” says Matt Flechter, Recycling and Composting Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “We don’t think placing yard clippings in the landfill is their highest and best use. There is plenty of methane that should be captured from landfills without the addition of yard waste. Let’s capture the methane that’s already being generated without sending additional organic waste to the landfill.”
Others were not so reserved. “It’s scientifically and technologically completely ungrounded,” says JD Lindeberg of Resource Recycling Systems in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lindeberg says his own scientific testimony about greenhouse gases when repeal legislation was being discussed had paled in comparison to that of distraught composters who had sunk their life savings into their businesses post yard trimmings ban. “It’s bad politics, it’s bad for the environment and it’s taking an industry that’s been creating compost and topsoil and that has begun to thrive and smacking it down in order to give money to the large landfill industry, take it out of state and take it to Wall Street. I think three strikes and you’re out – dumb, dumber and dumbest.”

Georgia not only shares a border with Florida, it shared pending legislation that at one point also threatened that state’s ban on landfilling yard trimmings. Although they were both decided the same day, the outcomes were vastly different. “Our goal is still to keep organics and yard trimmings out of landfills and toward their highest or best use,” says Mark Smith, Land Protection Branch Chief for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). While Georgia’s ban on yard trimmings in lined landfills – by acreage the most common type of landfill across the state – dates back to 1996, the ban has never applied to construction and demolition (C&D) or inert landfills. Some in the compost industry say this allowance alone has made it difficult for Georgia composters to compete. But considering the alternative that HB 1059 had one time proposed – opening up lined landfills to municipal green waste – the compost community within the state seems at peace for now with the bill as passed.
“We can live with it,” says Wayne King of ERTH Products, a Georgia composter and president of the USCC. “It allows composting at landfills, and other recycling facilities at landfills, for beneficial reuse. They did not repeal the ban on yard trimmings going into the landfill.” King says state environmental officials had expressed confidence they could monitor such activity so that compost and mulching operations at landfills led to sellable, usable products that would benefit Georgia’s soil and water resources. He did express concern that the source separated green waste, or the resulting compost or mulch, might be allowed for landfill cap and cover, which could effectively circumvent the ban if such practices became common.
“I would never want to say never,” Georgia EPD’s Smith says, suggesting that if there was an acute odor problem or compost was being substituted for another specific raw material to bolster surface vegetation, such practices might be permissible on a case-by-case basis. “But we’re not looking for significant quantities to be disposed of in the waste stream,” he says.
John Skinner, Executive Director of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), returned a call just as this issue was going to press. Skinner says that SWANA “conforms with the hierarchy that diversion into composting is a higher and better use,” but explains that the association is opposed to mandates that require yard trimmings not go to landfills. Blanket bans can have unintended consequences such as haulers simply going over the border to another county or state, he says. “What you need to do is invest in compost infrastructure and make sure it’s available at a reasonable cost. You may not even need the ban if the infrastructure is there.”

Sign up