As trucks relentlessly dump 3500 tons of garbage each day at the Central Landfill in Johnston, the drafting of a new trash plan for Rhode Island remains stalled. Environmentalists say the new plan is a key to extending the landfillís life and avoiding costly and environmentally damaging alternatives, including the construction of a waste incinerator or the establishment of a new dump.
Meanwhile, the landfillís owner, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, awaits the issuing of a permit to expand the landfill another 32 acres to accommodate the stateís trash until 2011. The Phase V expansion would last even longer, environmentalists insist, if Rhode Island got more serious about recycling. And the most important element to that, they say, is revising the stateís waste management plan.
The Solid Waste Management Plan Working Group, created in March 2003, includes representatives of business, environmental groups, Resource Recovery, and the state Department of Environmental Management. Subcommittees were formed, information gathered, and discussion of the final report was scheduled for February 2004. The process, reports Sarah Kite, associate regional representative of the Sierra Club, was "very good," at least until January. The February meeting was canceled, however, as were subsequent meetings in March and April, and no meetings have been held since. "Iím not quite sure what the hold up is," says Kite, who represents the Sierra Club on the working group.
Dante Ionata, the consultant leading the working group, declined to talk with the Phoenix, referring questions to James Allam, deputy executive director of Resource Recovery. Allam says the draft of the final report is being "modified internally at Resource Recovery," although he insists that the working group will make the final decisions. A working group meeting should be held within a month, he says.
Resource Recovery currently preserves precious landfill space by recycling, as it proudly boasts in commercials on WRNI AM. But the stateís recycling record is spotty at best. Warwick "is achieving some great numbers," Allam says, recycling 24.8 percent of its residential trash, but other communities lag far behind. Providence, Central Falls, and Woonsocket have the worst records, recycling only about nine percent of their residential waste, according to Resource Recovery records.
Environmentalists, including Kite, say recycling would increase if municipalities implemented a "Pay As You Throw" (PAYT) system that charges residents for every bag of trash. The system has proven successful. When North Kingstown implemented a curbside PAYT system in 1999, for example, recycling rose from 17 percent to 28 percent. The problem, Allam says, is the fee. "Itís very political, but [Resource Recovery] would encourage it," he says.
Business recycling also needs improvement. Although state law requires companies to recycle, most do not, instead dumping their waste paper, bottles, and cans into the trash. Resource Recovery can do little to solve the problem, Allam says, because DEM is responsible for enforcing the law. DEM, however, points the finger at the legislature and governor, saying it does not have enough funds for enforcement staff.
If such problems are not effectively addressed in the new plan, Rhode Island will face some unpleasant choices, says Kite, as Phase V fills up. Some states accept out of state trash, but trucking costs are expensive. The state law banning trash incineration could also be repealed, she adds, but air quality would suffer. Lastly, the Central Landfill could be expanded again, or a new dump opened, perhaps in South County.
The final option is not realistic, Kite says, commenting, "With all the effort being put into preserving open space, there simply isnít any community that is going to want to dedicate 30 acres to a landfill."
Issue Date: July 2 - 8, 2004
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