One of the things we new Legislators are working on during these first months on the job is getting to know the 30+ County departments and the people who run them. Four months in, we have almost completed this task, which is enabling us to understand more about what each department faces. A few months back, we sat down with Barb Eckstrom, Director of Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management Center (TCRMMC). But today, Leo Riley, Assistant Director, and Nancy W., Waste Reduction and Recycling Specialist, led us on a tour of the facility. It was great to get up close and personal with Tompkins County's Recycling and Solid Waste Center (RSWC), where about 13,000 visitors stop by each year to drop their waste.
Of particular interest to me is the food waste program. You may remember that back in April, the TC Legislature voted to support Governor Cuomo's proposed Legislation, and urge the State Legislature to enact a statewide ban on food scraps entering the waste stream. It's unsure what the outcome will be at the state level, but if the state can't get it together, I support a local ban. This means that large producers of food waste--restaurants, grocery stores, colleges, the hospital, etc.-- would be required by law to keep food waste out of the trash.
Think about that can of beans you bought last week to make tacos. Think about all the water, fossil fuels, and human energy that went into growing, harvesting, shipping, and packaging them, then shipping them again. Then you spent your hard-earned money at the grocery store for those beans, drove them home, ate a few tacos, and the rest is growing a smelly green fuzz in the back of the fridge. If those fuzzy beans go into a plastic bag and out to the curb and get shipped to a landfill (using more fossil fuels), they will produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas much more potent that carbon dioxide. Now image your one can of beans multiplied by hundreds, by thousands, and all the energy expended to deal with such vast quantities of green fuzz. Food waste is exactly that, wasteful. We could be saving money, time, and so much energy if that food waste is simple taken out of the stream altogether.
Cayuga Compost in Trumansburg deals with large amounts of food waste, with Tompkins County's help. Residents can bring food waste to the Recycling Center, or there are regular food drop locations all over the county every month. The collected scraps are hauled to Cayuga Compost to be recycled into food for the soil! A much better outcome than trapped in a landfill for all of eternity.
Once things enter the landfill, they are there forever. Period.
The mission of the TCRMM is to prevent as many things as possible from going to the landfill to begin with. And Tompkins County is ahead of the curve here. Our Center accepts far more than I ever knew. Here are a small few of the items you can recycle:
-Button and rechargeable batteries, regular AA and AAA batteries go in the landfill stream
-Used cooking oils and fats, which is purchased by Buffalo Biodiesel
-Plastic films, such as bread and veggie grocery bags
-Electronics, from blenders to cell phones to fax machines
-Propane tanks, large ones for your grill or small ones you use for camping
Check out the full list here.
The facility is pretty damn cool. The hopper, the conveyor belts, the sorting machines, the giant spools of wire to tie bales together, the massive machines driving all over the place. We humans are so incredibly ingenious and inventive. We have used our smarts to build all this. Surely was can use those same smarts to create ways to stop the excess waste we produce and protect this one and only planet we have to live on.
Clearly, I could ramble on about garbage for some time. I may have missed my true calling. I am happy to say that as a member of Tompkins County's Environmental Management Council, I am a part of the newly formed subcommittee on waste reduction, aka Zero Waste. We plan to tackle the local plastic bag ban. Beyond that we're looking at food waste and microplastics.
One of my goals in my time on the Legislature is to work on encouraging our residents bring less eventual garbage items into their homes, put less in the landfill stream, and put more into reuse and recycle piles. But I'm only scratching the surface. It's folks like Leo, Nancy, Barb, and all the others who work at TCRMMC who are real leaders in the field, getting their hands dirty to make change in our County. I'm learning from them. My hope is that my support on the policy side of things can be of some help along their way.