May 17, 2011 | General

Editorial: Get Serious

BioCycle May 2011, Vol. 52, No. 5, p. 4
Nora Goldstein
In his 2011-2012 spending plan, Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania has proposed slicing about $550 million, or 50 percent, of state funding for colleges and universities. Obviously, that proposal is not sitting too well with the higher education community in our state.
Fortunately, the governor is quite helpful in suggesting ways for Pennsylvania colleges and universities to fill in the funding gap – drill for dollars.
At a meeting of state college trustees in late April, Corbett said schools could address revenue shortfalls by tapping the riches of the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves beneath their campuses. Six campuses in the state system apparently sit on these reserves. Given that the governor’s spending plan does not call for a tax on the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale – a campaign promise in his successful 2010 election – how else is the state’s education system supposed to survive?
Juxtaposed against the governor of the Keystone State’s ideas about how to sustain higher education is the grand opening of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s anaerobic digester this month. The dry fermentation system will process source separated food waste and yard trimmings from the campus as well as the community. Biogas will be used to generate electricity and heat for use by the university.
The first thought I had when reading about Corbett’s gas-drilling suggestion was: “Are you serious?” It is so backward thinking and antiquated. And then, last week, while working on this issue of BioCycle, I had the opportunity to interview Tim Cesarek, head of Waste Management (WM) Organic Growth. The company had just announced its investment in Peninsula Compost Company, which owns and operates the Wilmington (Delaware) Organics Recycling Center (WORC) – one of the largest source separated composting facilities on the East Coast. One of the main drivers for building the WORC facility was that the Delaware Solid Waste Authority banned disposal of yard trimmings in the Cherry Island landfill, which is a stone’s throw away from the composting site.
I pointed that fact out to Cesarek, whose company has been a leader in lobbying state legislatures to repeal bans on landfill disposal of yard trimmings (with recent successes in Florida and Georgia). I asked how WM’s investments in composting – where yard trimmings are the bulking agent of choice to process food waste – didn’t conflict with its aggressive push to repeal bans. “It’s simple,” he told me. “Our position is no ban without a plan.” In other words, banning yard trimmings from disposal will create an overabundance of material that needs to be managed, overwhelming the processing infrastructure available and creating the potential for environmental problems.
I replied that most of the state bans (there were 23 before the repeal movement) were adopted about 20 years ago and that quite a vibrant infrastructure is in place to compost and mulch these materials. While there were challenges with odors from grass clippings in the early days, leading to widespread adoption of grass cycling (remember the “let it lay” campaigns), these composting sites are doing quite well, thank you very much.
I hung up the phone, more than a little disconcerted by WM’s defense of why the company is pushing for repeals (some have suggested it has more to do with tipping fees and the bottom line). Again, I was thinking: “Are you serious?” The reality is, we need to get serious about addressing natural resources management, or we will soon deplete them all. Drilling for natural gas on college campuses and throwing away yard trimmings does not cut it. All the tools we need to conserve, preserve and sustain our planet are available (although we are sorely lacking on supportive public policies). So let’s get serious and put these critical tools to work now!

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