Bury waste, bury jobs

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: December 28 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:20 am in
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By Stacie Johnson

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The better half of my career has been spent working to divert materials from landfills in an effort to support those seeing the value in materials others deemed garbage. According to the most recent waste characterization study, conducted for the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, there is more work to do.

The characterization verified close to 60 percent of materials landfilled was paper, plastic, metal or organics such as food waste. In Linn County alone, in one year, the value of that potential recycled content feedstock was conservatively more than $5 million.

Those are lost resources, folks, buried forever.

While I was working for the Solid Waste Agency as education coordinator in 2009, Fiberight approached and offered to partner for landfill diversion. Fast-forward to 2014 and Craig Stuart-Paul, Fiberight’s chief executive officer, continues his mission and search for partners who believe, as he does, that mixed-bin waste can and should be captured, sorted and returned to the economy to create new products.

Mixed-bin waste is defined as unwanted material, including recyclables and organics placed in garbage cans by choice and destined for landfills. He has found a partner with Marion and, potentially, Iowa City. Fiberight retained my services to secure end markets for difficult-to-recycle items coming off the Marion Resource Recovery Facility sorting lines.

LOOK AT THE FACTS

With perceived change come whisper campaigns thriving on misinformation. When not addressed quickly those whispers become reality. So here are the facts, folks:

l There are no plans or intent to reverse co-mingled, source-separate recycling programs. If you recycle, you can continue to recycle. If you compost, you can continue to compost. It is, and will continue to be, your choice.

l Collection and transportation infrastructure stays the same, and no collection jobs, municipal or otherwise, are impacted. Resources delivered to Fiberight will be collected and transported by existing solid-waste hauling companies.

l Paper, plastics and metal processed at Marion’s Resource Recovery Facility will be recycled. The organic fraction recovered becomes feedstock for renewable fuels. Once natural, bio-processes are complete, the spent organic fraction will be composted.

l It’s a proven fact when you bury waste, you bury jobs. For every job created by burying waste, 10 jobs are created through recycling and 25 jobs are created with recycled feedstock.

Here is a good example, using the Solid Waste Agency and its 2010 employment data: Administration/management positions supported seven jobs. Employees directly involved with landfill operations supported 16 jobs and buried 189,000 non-food tons of mixed-bin waste.

Landfilling equaled one job for every 11,800 tons buried. Employees directly involved with recycling and composting operations supported 14 jobs to divert 36,980 tons from the landfill. Recycling equaled one job for every 2,641 tons collected and transported to end-markets. That is roughly 80 percent less material being managed by recycling programs with almost an equal number of employees. Landfill diversion is an economic engine.

l Iowa companies and their employees depend on our decisions to recycle. For the past 47 years, City Carton in Cedar Rapids/Iowa City has sorted and sold our co-mingled recyclables. International Paper in Cedar Rapids makes new cardboard from old. Re-Wall in Des Moines makes building materials from old milk cartons. The Iowa City Landfill produces and quickly sells out of quality compost made from yard waste and food scrap.

MORE JOBS

Jobs are created, not lost, when viable recycling end-markets are developed. Fiberight, anticipates 30 permanent jobs initially created to operate the Marion facility and renewable fuel biorefinery.

Fiberight is pushing boundaries. They are thinking big but starting small in terms of the waste world.

They are investing more than $40 million in Eastern Iowa as they demonstrate, to an entire nation, how mixed-bin waste, once destined for landfills, equals jobs, secures feedstock for manufacturing new products out of old, and moves us closer to a zero-waste reality.

I’m finding it difficult to see the downside to Fiberight’s vision for the future. However, if it does not work out, I find comfort in the fact the solid waste collection infrastructure is staying the same, which means we can seamlessly return to the status quo and just dump.

Stacie Johnson, self-employed, is a contractor with the Iowa Stormwater Education Program, an organization she co-founded in 2004. From 2007-2010, she was the education coordinator with the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency. In November, she was subcontracted with Fiberight’s Marion Resource Recovery Facility to research and secure end-markets for certain materials. Comments: soilcycle@aol.com

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