December 22, 2010 | General

Florida Trashes Yard Trimmings Ban

BioCycle December 2010, Vol. 51, No. 12, p. 20
Lame-duck governor’s veto of longstanding legislation overwhelmingly overturned by state House and Senate.
Dan Sullivan

FLORIDA Governor Charlie Crist was lauded as a hero by that state’s organics recycling industry this past June when he vetoed legislation that would have allowed for disposal of yard trimmings in Class 1 landfills equipped to recover methane. Five months later – and immediately following an unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid for which Crist had switched from Republican to independent status – that veto was overturned by a newly-led state legislature, along with seven other bills the lame-duck governor had vetoed.
The move took place swiftly in a three-hour special session after the state House and Senate swore in 54 new members and named Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, Senate and House majority leaders, respectively. The yard trimmings ban had been on the books in its current form for more than 20 years.
“We never thought there would be this massive turnover of vetoes,” says Janet Dougherty of Sage Eco Solutions, a public relations firm that works closely with organics recyclers in Florida. “This bill [HB 569] got caught up in our governor’s Senate race. Basically, the Republican legislature was throwing it in Charlie Crist’s face after they won and he lost the U.S. Senate bid after switching to independent. They passed all the legislation he vetoed except two [of 10 bills].”
Many in the organics recycling industry say HB 569 had legs in the first place due to the concerted lobbying efforts of trash hauler and landfill operator Waste Management, a company that has recently been investing significantly in green technologies including organics recycling. “A waste company cannot claim to be ‘green’ when it is working aggressively to repeal one of the country’s most important recycling laws, the requirement to compost instead of landfill yard trimmings that is responsible for about a third of our diversion,” Center for a Competitive Waste Industry Executive Director Peter Anderson stated in a press release.
The statement also called attention to Waste Management’s support of similar repeal legislation in Georgia, Michigan and other states and challenged what were couched as “wholly false claims the company is making to defend its hostile recovery efforts.” Anderson stated that the argument that the repeal of the yard trimming bans helps the environment by recovering energy to generate electricity is flawed because these materials break down much too quickly for the methane to be adequately captured.
A spokesman for Waste Management took issue with Anderson’s claims. “The National Solid Waste Management Association [NSWMA] Florida Chapter and several solid waste and recycling companies, including Waste Management, supported that legislation,” says Waste Management Director of Communications Wes Muir. “The effort was to enable community choice for yard waste options.” The characterization of “repeal” and “overturn” of the Florida ban is factually incorrect, he says. “Communities in Florida are now enabled to choose the best methods for their citizens and infrastructure. Implementation is totally voluntary and at the discretion of the local facility operator. The exception allowed in this legislation applies only to landfill locations with an active gas-collection system that beneficially use the methane captured … and is not a repeal of the ban. Also the legislation involves only 12 out of 45 Class I landfills in Florida.” Given that non-MSW facilities – such as C&D landfills – in Florida can accept yard waste and most of these facilities have no gas collection systems, Muir says, “enabling yard waste to be utilized to generate green energy where gas collection does occur is an appropriate option.”
Waste Management recently acquired majority equity interest in Ohio-based compost and mulch producer Garick, LLC, and has invested in other “green energy” companies such as Harvest Power, Terrabon and Enerkem. Muir says his company’s investment in and commitment to green technologies and organics recycling includes landfill gas capture. “A well-controlled landfill can achieve at least 85 percent or greater methane collection efficiency and it’s in our best interest, both environmentally and economically, to capture any and all landfill gas. We are continuously investigating environmental monitoring technologies such as cavity ring down lasers that measure emissions from landfills, and we’re partnering with U.S. EPA to test this technology at a number of our active and closed landfill sites across the country to further capture any fugitive emissions.” A special report in the May 2010 issue of BioCycle entitled “Putting the Landfill Energy Myth to Rest,” disputed the rate-of-efficacy claims for landfill gas capture and ultimately questioned the logic of purposely placing organics in landfills to produce biogas.

Dougherty says it all boils down to dollars and cents and a grab for limited resources. Trash volumes are down with a sluggish economy, she says, leaving Florida’s waste-to-energy plants and landfill operators competing with each other – and the organics recycling industry – for materials.
“When Waste Management bought majority interest in Garick and started a compost facility in Orlando, I thought ‘Great, they finally got the picture and understand the value of organics recycling,'” she says. “With the overturn of the landfill ban, the reality is that they’re not taking in yard waste for the methane, they’re taking it for the tipping fees. The ban was legislated in the ’80s, and it should raise a red flag and sound an alarm to the citizens of Florida when their legislature is lobbied to reverse and end a long-term successful organics diversion program. I think Waste Management talks out of both sides of its mouth, and I think they only really care about the bottom line. For them it’s all about economics. This should serve as a wakeup call that we as an industry have got to get serious.”
When the Florida legislature initially passed HB 569, the U.S. Composting Council (USCC) ponied up for a lobbyist and also sent a packet of educational materials to Crist’s office. That packet included the May 2010 BioCycle news story “Bad News, Good News On Yard Trimmings Disposal Bans” and special report “Putting the Landfill Energy Myth to Rest.” Industry insiders say that both the packet and lobbying were instrumental in successfully recruiting the veto.
David Hill of CycleLogic, a Sarasota, Fla.-based marketing and consulting firm that works as a conduit for businesses that handle organic recyclables, was the USCC-member point person on that legislation and has since officially been hired as the council’s Manager of Legislative and Environmental Affairs. “Given the fact that [Crist] went from a Republican governorship to running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, he didn’t make friends on either side of the aisle,” says Hill. “This was all about rebuke and retribution.”
Hill says the USCC didn’t learn about the possibility of a veto of HB 569 until November 3, immediately following the midterm election, and that “it was several days later before we heard a special session was going to take place on November 16th.” Considering the overwhelming support in both the House and Senate – 114-5 and 39-0, respectively – to overturning the veto, he continues, “I don’t know if any amount of letter writing or campaigning would have changed the outcome, given the short timeframe. If the vote was anywhere near close, maybe we would have had a chance.”
Hill adds that the organics recycling industry needs to be very proactive in getting its messaging out in front of state legislatures before a ban repeal bill is proposed. “The other lesson is that we need to build up our war chest and get letters of endorsement and support in place in a file and ready to go out as soon as we sniff something in the wind. We need to be much more prepared should an incident arise.”

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