|Tennessee Solid Waste Education Project|
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TNSWEP is sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Information on Solid Waste
The following articles give an overview on solid waste management today. They also explore specific aspects of solid waste management and ways individuals can get involved in their communities.
The problem is too much trash
Each year, Americans generate millions of tons of trash in the form of wrappings, bottles, boxes, cans, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, phone books, and much, much, more. Over the years, we have gotten used to "throwing it away," so it's easy to understand why now there's too much trash and not enough acceptable places to put it.
In less than 30 years, durable goods (tires, appliances, furniture) and nondurable goods (paper, certain disposable products, clothing) in the solid waste stream nearly tripled. These now account for about 75 million tons of garbage per year. At the same time, container and packaging waste rose to almost 57 million tons per year, making packaging the number one component of the nation's waste stream. Container and packaging material includes glass, aluminum, plastics, steel and other metals, and paper and paperboard. Yard trimming such as grass clippings and tree limbs are also a substantial part of what we throw away. In addition, many relatively small components of the national solid waste stream, such as household hazardous waste, add up to millions of tons. For example, even 1 percent of the nation's waste stream amounts to almost 2 million tons of trash each year.
Integrated Solid Waste Management
Integrated waste management refers to the complementary use of a variety of practices to safely and effectively handle municipal solid waste. The following is EPA's preferred hierarchy of approaches.
1. Source reduction is the design, manufacture, purchase, or use of materials (such as products and packaging) to reduce the amount or toxicity of trash generated. Source reduction can help reduce waste disposal and handling costs because it avoids the costs of recycling, municipal composting, landfilling, and combustion. It also conserves resources and reduces pollution.
2. Recycling is the process by which materials are collected and used as raw materials for new products. There are four steps in recycling: collecting the recyclable components of municipal solid waste, separating materials by type (before or after collection), processing them into reusable forms, and purchasing and using the goods made with reprocessed materials. Recycling prevents potentially useful materials from being landfilled or combusted, thus preserving our capacity for disposal. Recycling often saves energy and natural resources. Composting, a form of recycling, can play a key role in diverting organic wastes from disposal facilities.
3. Waste combustion and landfilling play a key role in managing waste that cannot be reduced or recycled. Combustion in specially designed facilities reduces the bulk of waste and provides the added benefit of energy recovery. Source reduction and recycling can remove items from the waste stream that may be difficult to burn, cause potentially harmful emissions, or make ash management problematic. Landfilling is--and will continue to be--a major component of waste management. The portion of waste requiring incineration or land disposal can be significantly reduced by examining individual contributions to garbage and by promoting the wise use and reuse of resources.
by Jack Barkenbus, Ph.D., Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Solid waste management in Tennessee today exemplifies a fairly common pattern surrounding environmental issues in general: namely, when viewed through the lens of past practices, things look pretty good; when viewed through future lenses, however, there is still much that needs to be done. Let's take a look at the good news first. About a decade ago, there were about 100 municipal solid waste landfills scattered throughout the state, most of which did not have modern liners designed to keep contaminated liquids from seeping into groundwater. Management practices at these landfills varied in quality greatly. Today, there are only 42, but this smaller number is compensated for by their larger volume and their federally-mandated liner systems. Many of the smaller, indifferently-managed, public landfills have been closed, and post-closure monitoring requirements are in place. There is a surplus of disposal capacity in Tennessee today that is working to keep disposal costs stable.
The picture with regard to collection services is even more dramatic. A decade ago, 29 of Tennessee's 95 counties offered no collection services to its citizens. Another 21 had a green-box system in place that involved siting isolated containers along roadsides. The inadequate green-box system lent itself to vandalism, scavenging and burning. With passage of the Solid Waste Management Act (SWMA) of 1991, county collection was mandated with establishment of a countywide convenience-center system determined to be a minimally-acceptable collection system. Convenience centers, consisting of fenced and attended collection containers to which citizens bring their wastes and recyclables, constitute a marked improvement over green-box systems. Since passage of the SWMA, over 400 attended convenience-centers have been constructed, while isolated green boxes along roadsides are gradually being phased out.
The SWMA was landmark legislation. Perhaps most important, it mandated long-term solid waste planning in Tennessee communities with an emphasis upon waste reduction and recycling. Solid waste managers in most communities no longer simply assume that disposal is the preferable option for our waste. Through its funding provisions--namely, a 75-85 cent surcharge on every ton of solid waste disposed of in Tennessee, and a $1 predisposal fee on new tires--the state has been able to mount an impressive collection of activities contributing to more responsible solid waste practices. This includes state sponsorship of household hazardous waste collection events across the state that are very popular; support for the shredding, collection and disposition of used tires; and funding for local communities to purchase waste reduction and recycling equipment. Virtually every Tennessean today has the opportunity to participate in the recycling of consumer goods.
While much has changed for the better, it is still fair to say that a true resource conservation ethic is still in its infancy across Tennessee. It may exist in small pockets of Tennessee but, as a rule, Tennesseans have not bought into a resource stewardship philosophy that permeates their daily life. The SWMA attempted to provide a jump start in this direction by establishing a 25 per cent waste reduction goal to be achieved by December 31, 1995. Did we achieve it? No. State officials say we came close (20 per cent), but even they will admit that the numbers on which the calculations have been based are suspect. A state-established Task Force on Waste Reduction recently advised the state to set a new baseline—the first year when scales were in place at all landfills (1995)—and begin measuring toward the 25 per cent goal again.
Even with the impressive growth in collection activities, we are only too aware that illegal dumping still exists. Unfortunately, some Tennesseans will continue to show disregard for the environment until legal action is taken against them.
Some individuals who are very conscientious in their personal lives do not transfer that perspective to their work lives. Exhortations to reduce and recycle need to be directed toward the commercial and industrial sectors where, in fact, the majority of solid waste is generated. State and local officials have been too timid in approaching commercial enterprises with the need to demonstrate good environmental stewardship.
There are several effective waste reduction measures being taken in other states, even in some of our neighboring states, that have yet to reach Tennessee. Two come immediately to mind. First, many localities around the country charge for waste services on the basis of waste volumes. In other words, households putting two bins of waste out for collection pay more than households putting only one out. This is really no different than charging citizens for how much electricity or water they use. Citizen stewardship responsibilities should be reinforced through financial incentives, and by differentiating monthly payments on the basis of how much waste is set out to be collected, financial gains and citizenship ethics work in tandem. No Tennessee community has yet opted for this Pay-as-you-Throw system.
Second, the majority of Americans live in states that have banned the landfilling of yard waste. The most common components of yard waste--leaves, grass, and tree and brush trimmings--provide no benefit to landfills, but rather take up valuable space. Without considerable technical sophistication these wastes can be converted to material valuable as a soil supplement for enhancing crops, landscaping public and private property, suppressing weed growth and decreasing erosion. Much of Tennessee's agricultural soil is low in organic matter and could benefit from regular doses of organic material derived, in part, from yard waste. Households can learn to create their own composting programs, teaching children basic biological principles while producing a useful gardening product. The same Task Force, mentioned above, also recommended that Tennessee adopt a ban on the landfilling of yard waste, and the issue is currently being deliberated within government circles.
Given all of this, is the glass half-full or half-empty? Personally, I think it is half-full, and that over time we will see the glass becoming entirely full. My optimism is, in part, based upon the belief that a wealthier, better-educated, population will come to embrace an ethic of sustainability. I am especially encouraged by the rather extensive educational efforts being made to reach all segments of the population. Funds from the SWMA support the K-12 age grouping through the Tennessee Solid Waste Education Program (TNSWEP). This program targets teachers and, through workshops, exposes them to educational materials and concepts that they can introduce into their classrooms. Counties are also eligible to receive SWMA funding for education with the submission of education action plans. Moreover, the SWMA funds a program that attempts to get the resource conservation message out to the non-school age population.
Results from these educational efforts are particularly encouraging. Schools across Tennessee are finding young people more than willing to participate in recycling activities, and to take the next step by integrating their efforts within the community. We need to offer as many opportunities as we can to mobilize collective activities that contribute to sustainability. The momentum is moving in the right direction and it will continue to take us where we want to go as long as we foster and support it.
by Ken Voorhis and Tom Condon, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
The bumper stickers on our vehicles often attract attention and questions. "What do you mean by Garbage Kills Bears ?" The "garbage - bear - people" conflict that has occurred in the Smokies is something many people are well aware of and many have witnessed. The cause and effect relationship between a bear's death and garbage is a very real and one that we are trying to educate visitors about. The bumper sticker is one of a number of tools we are using in that effort. The following is an excerpt from a brochure that was developed by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association to distribute to visitors. It was written by Tom Condon and explains how Garbage Kills Bears.
Protecting Black Bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Who Killed Bear #75?
In July, 1990, the sheriff of Unicoi County, Tennessee received a report of a dead bear near the rural community of Flag Pond. Responding officials found the corpse of a large male black bear. A tag attached to its ear identified it as #75, a bear first tagged in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A poacher had ended the life of one of the most remarkable bears in recent memory. But who was really responsible for the bear's death?
The saga of #75 began two years earlier in Cades Cove, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the bear became habituated to people. Its exceptional sense of smell brought it out of its natural world and into ours. The National Park Service first became aware of the bear when it ripped the siding off the John P. Cable Mill to get at the corn meal stored inside. Observation showed that the bear had lost its natural fear of people. It moved through crowds boldly and even climbed into an open car in search of food.
Park wildlife biologists decided to move the bear. This would be the first of 10 relocations by the Park Service and other wildlife management agencies. Five times #75 would return to Cades Cove, the final time resulting in its 400-mile relocation to Virginia. Bear #75 was returning to the cove when the poacher ended his life. Still, the poacher only finished what someone else had begun. Wildlife officials believe #75 first obtained human-related food from overfilled garbage cans and discarded food scraps while foraging through Cades Cove Campground or Picnic Area at night. Later, someone may have tossed a sandwich to #75 from a car in order to get a better photograph. Or maybe people approached the bear too closely and caused its fear of humans to disappear. However it began, bear #75 became habituated to humans and died as a result.
The black bear (Ursus americanus) symbolizes the wilderness qualities of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its recovery from near extinction in the Smokies to its present population of 1,000 or more is a result of the refuge offered by the park. Yet, in spite of this protection, bears are dying unnecessarily because of the improper disposal of garbage.
A bear is an opportunist by nature. In the wild it feeds on whatever is readily available. On its way to a ripe berry patch, it may stop to devour a yellow jacket nest or roll over a log to feast on termites and other insects. The bear's remarkable sense of smell also leads it to unnatural foods, such as garbage, which places these animals in immediate danger.
Food odors and garbage attract bears to campgrounds, picnic areas, residential neighborhoods, businesses, and dump sites. And while the presence of humans will keep most of them away at first (wild bears are naturally afraid of humans and human scent) ultimately the temptation will draw them in, usually at night.
A night-active bear thus begins a pattern of behavior that all too often ends with its death. The animal
loses its fear of humans as it begins to associate human scent with the reward of food. Such a bear will
soon become day-active in developed areas, putting it at still greater risk. It may panhandle along roadsides
until it is accidentally killed by a car or may injure a visitor and have to be euthanized by park rangers.
It may ingest toxic material from garbage and die. Or it may become an easy target for poachers who will
shoot a bear for its gall bladder, a valuable commodity on the Asian folk medicine market.
Unfortunately, people do not always take the time to put their trash into these special cans. Food is sometimes left unattended at campsites or cabins. Partially burned trash in fire rings and scraps of uneaten food are left behind. Even bird feed or pet food left outdoors at a cabin or chalet can start problems. Some of these things may seem insignificant, but they initiate behavior patterns which often cannot be reversed. In essence, feeding bears kills bears.
by Pat Carpenter, McDonald School
When I get accused of talking trash in my classroom I have to plead guilty. I have a reputation for having the trashiest students in the school. What's all this garbage that comes out of my mouth? You guessed it. Since this newsletter focuses on garbage, I'm talking about such things as recycling and litter control. If you don't already have your students involved in recycling, there is no time like the present to start. Saving those aluminum cans and turning them in for cash is a great way to earn money for your environmental projects. If your county gets involved with recycling plastics and steel you can get your students involved with this as well. We run recycling contests at school. My TSAP Club members are each assigned to a different classroom where they go a few minutes before the official start of the school day and pick up the recyclables that class has brought in. Newspapers and plastics receive 1 point each. Aluminum cans count as 2 points each. At the end of the contest period, the classroom that has earned the most points wins an ice cream sundae party. This is a way to get the whole school involved with recycling. Since November 15 is America Recycles Day you could base a recycling campaign around this time. This year's focus is on You're not really recycling unless you are buying recycled products. You could give points for students bringing in packaging that showed they had bought recycled products and count this toward the class's total points.
Students can get involved in a program called the Nickelodeon Big Help where they pledge a certain number of service hours to community clean-up and other public service projects. Then school ground clean-ups and roadside pick-ups and other things such as this can be done to help the community and stress the importance of picking up that garbage.
Another idea is to designate certain trash cans as being for aluminum cans only or plastics only. Then let some of your students draw pictures and write messages on the sides of the trash cans that tell why we should all recycle. There are many good books out that give all kinds of good statistics on the benefits of recycling that you can use. We use permanent magic markers or acrylic paint when we do this.
There are many ideas out there for use to get your students thinking trashy thoughts. So go ahead. Be accused of filling your students' heads full of garbage. Today's students are tomorrow's leaders. If we don't teach them who will?
by Rosalyn McKeown, Ph.D., Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, The University of Tennessee
Lately we environmental educators have heard about the "ecological footprints" we are leaving on the planet. Industrialized nations are leaving deeper footprints than developing nations.
One of the indicators of the impact of our lifestyles on the environment is the amount of garbage we produce. I've heard that we North Americans are less than 10% of the world's population. Yet, we are responsible for over 50% of the world's waste. Those of us living in North America throw away more than any other geographic region in the world. The average person disposes of approximately one ton of garbage per year. The waste we generate personally is only the "tip of the iceberg" The manufacturers who produce the goods we consume dispose of far more. I understand that for every ton of trash we generate, manufacturers produce five. Mining and other extractive industries produce 20 tons of waste to our one. That is a lot of waste!
Fortunately, the US Environmental Protection Agency has given us a hierarchy for dealing with our waste. We are to practice: source reduction, reuse, and recycling including composting. As a last resort we are to landfill with methane recovery or incinerate with energy recovery. Many education programs across the state have successfully used the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. How do I know that recycling education has been a success in Tennessee? Results from a statewide telephone survey showed that two-thirds of Tennesseans recycle. The percentage goes up to 85 for those who have curbside recycling. The percentage of people who recycle climbed from 40% in the late eighties to the current 66%. These high figures indicate to me that we have done a good job of recycling education. Perhaps, we should consider putting recycling education in a maintenance mode and concentrate more on consumer education to reduce the amount of garbage we dispose of.
Tennessee is doing rather well in managing garbage compared to some of our neighboring states. The Tennessee Solid Waste Management Act (TSWMA) forced counties or groups of counties to create a solid waste management plan and develop the infrastructure to deal with the growing garbage problem. The TSWMA also called for the education of all Tennessee citizens with respect to integrated solid waste management. Fortunately, the legislature had foresight and included a provision for funding the educational mandate. Oversight for the TSWMA was given to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. They have instituted several education programs. For example, education for K - 12 teachers and students is carried out through the TNSWEP program at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville (UTK).
It strikes me as rather odd that the countries with the highest levels of education also produce the most garbage and leave the deepest ecological footprints. It is obvious that more education is not the answer to global sustainability. The content, skills, attitudes, and perceptions of that education are essential. So once again we environmental educators are challenged to be thoughtful in our process of educating ourselves and the next generation.
by Kimberly Stetson, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
What is backyard burning?
This fact sheet is about burning wastes (including household trash, leaves and yard trimmings) in your backyard. This practice is also known as open burning because pollutants are emitted directly into the atmosphere at ground level, instead of first passing through a smoke stack.
Why do people burn waste?
Historically, Tennesseans burned trash because there were few other options. However, people continue to burn waste because:
What are the effects of open burning?
When it comes to neighbors burning trash or yard debris, most people complain about the smell and smoke that disrupt their enjoyment of the outdoors. But many people don't know that backyard burning has more serious impacts on human and environmental health.
Backyard burning is a problem for two major reasons. First, because waste is burned at ground level, smoke tends to linger in the area where it is produced. Smoke from open burning can cause breathing difficulties, particularly to those suffering from asthma and other respiratory problems.
Second, given the same amount and composition of waste, the emissions from backyard burning can be several times greater than those from a waste to energy incinerator. Open burning produces temperatures of about 400 - 500°F, while municipal incinerators operate at temperatures over 1800°F. Because of lower temperatures, wastes that you burn in your backyard do not burn completely, and more pollutants are released into the atmosphere. The table below compares some emissions from backyard burning and incineration. (These statistics are based on burning of one day's worth of household trash for a family of four. The waste is made up of paper, plastics, food, textiles/leather, wood, glass/ceramics, and metals. Source: Evaluation of Emissions from the Open Burning of Household Waste in Barrels. USEPA, March 1998. Publication #600/SR-97/134.) PAHs include carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds. VOCs are the primary component of smog. Backyard burning also releases pollutants such as carbon dioxide (the predominant greenhouse gas), carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde, and nitric oxide (NO). Backyard burning, when compared to incineration produces 30 times the amount of carbon dioxide.
Finally, ash from backyard burning contains heavy metals such as chromium, lead, and cadmium, which can eventually be picked up by rain water and leach into our ground water and surface water systems. This ash should never be spread in gardens or used in compost piles.
What if I only burn leaves and yard trimmings?
The burning of organic materials such as leaves and yard trimmings adds significant amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Organic materials also release methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides, PAHs, chlorinated dioxins and airborne particles when burned. (See http://burningissues.org/fact-sheet.htm.) Particulates are very fine particles of dust, smoke and fumes. Particulates are harmful to people because they can remain in the air for days and penetrate deep into the lungs. Particulates can cause eye irritation, increase and aggravate respiratory disease, and reduce visibility (Source: 1997 Annual Report. Department of Air Pollution Control, Knox County).
Is backyard burning legal?
Open burning is regulated in the state of Tennessee. In all counties, except for Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton, and Knox, you can burn vegetation (grown on the property), paper and cardboard without permit at your residence if waste collection service is not available and if a public nuisance is not created by burning these wastes. Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton, and Knox counties have their own local air programs and regulations. If you are considering burning wastes and you live in one of these counties, contact your County Air Pollution Control Agency first.
Doesn't burning my trash reduce the amount sent to the landfill?
Burning waste doesn't make it disappear. When you burn waste, you are simply converting one type of pollution (solid waste) to another (air pollution and ash). After reuse, recycling and composting, municipal landfills and waste to energy incinerators are the safest way to deal with trash.
What are the alternatives to backyard burning?
There are many healthy alternatives to backyard burning. First, buy products that are made out of recyclable materials and avoid products with excess packaging so there is less garbage in the first place. Take your recyclables and waste to the nearest convenience center and recycle as much as you can. To find out where your nearest convenience center is located, contact Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) at 1-888-891-8332.
Compost your organic wastes, including leaves, yard trimmings, and appropriate food wastes. Composting is the acceleration of the natural decay process, turning organic wastes into nutrient-rich humus. Composting requires little effort and can improve soil texture, increases the ability of the soil to absorb air and water, and reduce the need to apply commercial soil additives. For more information, visit the master composter web site at http://www.mastercomposter.com/.
If you must burn, consider the following:
by Ron Cleminson, The University of Memphis
Here are five Environmental Education related web sites that may serve your interest and/or those of your students to locate information, identify teaching/learning resources, or serve as a point of reference. I have also made some comments about them that may be both interesting and helpful—and in some cases not helpful! Check them out, or better yet have your students check them out.
This EPA site features a Kids’ page which contains “The Adventure of the Garbage Gremlin,” an offer to join the Planet Protectors Club, an "Environaut Mission to Earth," and many more resources. Kids, as well as undergraduate students, enjoyed the site, as well as using the resources. This is a great classroom resource.
Speaking of garbage and EPA, here’s a second site entitled “Garbage and Recycling” that is equally good for the classroom. Students and teachers are offered an invitation to enter the Art Room, Science Room, Game Room, and the Trophy Case. This site offers Waste No Words Crossword Puzzle and Recycle City--an interactive storybook that shows a community practicing the 3Rs. Again, students at all levels can use the resource. Go for it!
As a teacher, do you need answers to content questions, activities, or ideas for your classroom? This is your site. Again, EPA has provided a huge collection of resources and activities for teachers of students of all ages. Students, too, can find many ideas for upcoming science fair proects and Olympiad events. All one would ever want to know about solid waste, garbage, and other environmental issues (e.g., water, air, and ecosystems). Bookmark it!
Keep America Beautiful has a site with many opportunities for students and teachers to enjoy. Garbage Pizza, Landfill Lounge, and Compost Office entertain and educate. Information on the organization, teaching materials, littering, and waste management tips are only a few of the links available. If you wanted to work on a community project with your class this would be a good place to start.
This site, entitled Rotten Truth (About Garbage), takes an in-depth look at the complex issues surrounding municipal solid waste. This on-line exhibition is organized into four major sections: What Is Garbage?, There's No “Away,” Nature Recycles, and Making Choices.
“What Is Garbage?” looks at how we define garbage, and why it consists of more than what we throw away. “There’s No ‘Away’” explores how burying, burning, and recycling garbage doesn't really get rid of it, and that reducing what we use is the only real solution to the garbage problem. “Nature Recycles” shows how the natural process of decay makes new life possible by recycling the limited number of nutrients present in the environment. Finally, “Making Choices” provides some helpful hints on how we can all create less garbage. This is an excellent resource.
by Karen Hargrove, Middle Tennessee State University
N.I.M.B.Y.—Not In My Backyard—[the common response to locating a landfill] can have new meaning when the landfill is REALLY in your face and in your SPACE!!!
Scene: a classroom
Characters: a teacher, 20-30 students
Props: the one typically small trash can, lots of everyday “throwaways,” a large cardboard box
Action: student poised over trash can, trash in hand
Teacher: Today, we are going to find out what happens when there is no longer a place called “AWAY” as in “I'm going to throw that away.” For the next week (month, year) we’re going to throw away our trash right here in our very own landfill (produces the large cardboard box). I’d like for us to talk about what would make it easier for us to keep our landfill in good shape.
Discussion follows on what happens when half-empty coke cans are put in the landfill (leaking—does the landfill need dirt or a liner?), what could be recycled (this must be done in the classroom—old paper into new?). Is there a market for this? Can we reduce the amount of trash we have to throw away? How?
The N.I.M.B.Y. classroom landfill can stay in the room as long as the teacher deems necessary to “get” the idea of reduction, reuse, and recycling. Class members can report on the results—poster, bulletin board, written report, skit, or radio or TV-type presentation (this could be done as a school announcement daily on the “condition” of the landfill).
Whaaaaat? Wiggles? With WHAT?
WHRT-TV’s latest MTSU connection pairs garbage with worms and comes up smelling…like a rose??? That’s right—Channel 27’s Carol Fowler gets “down and dirty” with the MTSU Center for Environmental Education’s Dr. Cindi Smith-Walters and Karen Hargrove.
“Vermicomposting—using worms to speed up the process of a breakdown of nutrients in nature—is hardly new, and having a worm box is really easy and not smelly at all,” says Hargrove. “The worms will consume materials like vegetable and fruit peelings, and turn it into a rich fertilizer that makes plants shoot right up!” Adding too much scrap material is about the only thing someone could do wrong with a worm box. In fact, this is one ‘pet’ that actually can stand ‘benign neglect.’”
“You can’t use meat, fat, or cooked food in a box this size,” Hargrove adds. “That would attract flies and their larvae, and create smells.”
“With your eyes closed, a whiff of this box should smell just like a walk over freshly turned earth, or a walk in the fall woods,” adds Dr. Smith-Walters. “Through the Center, we’ve provided materials and expertise to area teachers who want to start a worm box for their classrooms. Kids love it, and it’s an easy project for a teacher to supervise.”
Worm boxes are just one aspect of educational programs the Center promotes. As a consultant for solid waste education in the region, Hargrove talks “trash” to organizations in Middle Tennessee, highlighting other solid waste concerns such as reuse and recycling. Smith-Walters adds, “In addition to this, we schedule at least four after-school workshops a year on various topics. We ‘build’ programs for schools on request as well—just give us a topic! Maybe making a worm box would be a great workshop!” For more information about the Center and its programs, call (615) 898-5449.
Worm Box Recipe
Box—3-2-1 Ratio (3' long, 2' wide, 1' deep) or 2'x 2'x1'; can use plastic tote box (wash well before using) with vent holes, old metal garbage can, other containers
Bedding—2.5 pounds for each cubic foot of space (best depth is no more than 1'); shredded newspaper, shredded corrugated cardboard, peat moss, shredded leaves, aged manure
1-4 cups of soil from yard—provides microorganisms and grit to help worms digest food
Water—3 times the weight of the bedding
Worms—about ¼ pound for every cubic foot of space
Bedding to Container Ratio
Types of Waste Fed to Worms
Setting Up the Bin
by Rosalyn McKeown and Catherine Wilt, Co-Directors, Tennessee
Solid Waste Education Project, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Tennesseans daily face such environmental issues as “dirty” air and impure water. Some environmental problems concern specific localities. For example, haze shrouds Knoxville and the foothills of the Smokies during much of the summer. Others, such as garbage, plague every county in Tennessee. Today, Tennesseans produce about 5.1 million tons of municipal solid waste yearly. That is roughly equivalent to filling Neyland Stadium (home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers) to the brim, every two weeks. That’s a lot of garbage!
Garbage and Tennessee
Historically, Tennesseans disposed of their garbage by burning it in the back yard or throwing it down hillsides, into creeks, or into unofficial and city dumps. As the population increased during the 1960s and 1970s, city administrators struggled to keep up with garbage by constructing landfills. Disposable and short-lived products and attractive, convenient packaging filled the market place and choked our landfills. We became a “consumer society,” and solid waste burgeoned.
In the mid-1980s, it became evident that municipalities and county governments across the state managed their garbage in significantly different ways. Some cities and counties shouldered the large fiscal responsibility for collecting, hauling, and disposing of garbage in state-of-the-art landfills, while others provide no form of garbage collection. At the same time, the federal government prescribed more stringent regulations for landfill construction and operation.
In addition, the Tennessee state legislature passed the Tennessee Solid Waste Management Act (TSWMA) of 1991, which compelled local governments to plan for solid-waste management needs and create the corresponding infrastructure. To emphasize the importance of source reduction, the TSWMA established a 25-percent waste-reduction goal for 1995 and provided grant funding to local governments for planning, recycling, and waste education. To meet these requirements, all counties across the state designed solid-waste-management plans that would provide residential garbage collection or convenience centers; recycling; disposal of special wastes such as used motor oil, household hazardous wastes, and used tires; and solid-waste-management education for Tennesseans.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is in charge of implementing the TSWMA. TDEC’s Division of Solid Waste Assistance (DSWA) leads this effort. DSWA prepares local governments to meet the strict federal requirements for constructing and operating landfills; administers grants programs to local governments or consortia of local governments to help them carry out their solid-waste plans; provides technical assistance to local government recycling programs; finds buyers for collected recyclable materials; and helps communities deal with special wastes.
To pay for the services required by the TSWMA, the state assesses an 80-cent fee or surcharge for every ton of garbage sent to landfills and a $1 pre-disposal fee on the purchase of every new tire. This money is returned to local governments through a granting process, which helps to implement the mandates of the TSWMA.
To find out what Tennesseans know about garbage, what they do with it, and what their attitudes are toward recycling, we (researchers at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville [UTK]) commissioned UTK’s Social Science Research Institute to conduct a telephone survey. In June 1997, pollsters randomly dialed Tennesseans living all across the state and asked more than 800 heads of households to answer a series of questions related to garbage. The following is a summary of our findings about Tennesseans and their trash.
Attitudes and Behavior
When pollsters asked respondents how important recycling is to them, 48 percent said very important, 42 percent said somewhat important, 9 percent said it was not important, and 1 percent were not sure. Respondents were also asked, “Would you be willing to pay extra for a recycling program in your community if it could not pay for itself?” Sixty-five percent said they would be willing to pay. These positive attitudes toward recycling translate into environmentally responsible actions across Tennessee. The telephone survey revealed that many Tennesseans also engage in “green practices” related to managing garbage.
When asked if they recycle, 67 percent of those surveyed responded affirmatively; this is a significant gain over a similar telephone survey in 1989 in which 40 percent of those surveyed said they recycled. Yet, nearly a third of Tennesseans still choose not to recycle.
We looked at the demographics of nay-sayers: 39 percent live in rural areas, 31 percent live in suburban settings, and 24 percent live in urban areas. We were somewhat surprised at this distribution of non-recyclers. Conventional thinking holds that citizens in suburban areas recycle partially because it is convenient, that urban dwellers generally do not recycle, and that rural residents do not recycle because of the distance to the recycling convenience center. The nay-sayers were spread fairly equally across Tennessee’s three grand divisions: 38 percent in West Tennessee, 32 percent in East Tennessee, and 30 percent in Middle Tennessee.
Recycling at curbside is easy compared to loading recyclables and driving them to the nearest recycling center. The survey asked, “Does your neighborhood have curbside recycling?” Twenty-nine percent said yes, 68 percent said no, and 3 percent were unsure. Only 15 percent of those respondents who have curbside recycling service do not recycle.
The distance to the recycling center makes a difference in the participation rate of recycling. As you might imagine, those living closer to a recycling center have a higher rate of participation than those who live farther away. Ninety percent of those living less than a mile from a recycling center recycle. This percentage drops to 64 percent when the distance increases to more than five miles. Twenty-three percent of respondents did not know the distance to the nearest recycling center; participation in this group dropped to 50 percent.
Yard waste, such as leaves and grass clippings, makes up about 14 percent of the waste stream nationally. Some cities have taken measures to reduce this amount. For example, Knoxville has a municipal composting facility, and Oak Ridge has a city-wide autumn leaf pick up. Other cities have encouraged citizens to compost their own yard wastes and kitchen scraps. The survey revealed that 46 percent of respondents compost their yard waste, 50 percent do not, and the remainder were unsure or do not have yard waste.
Household Hazardous Waste
Household wastes that are hazardous, toxic, or flammable should not be sent with regular trash to the landfill or incinerator. Such wastes as paint, drain cleaner, furniture polish, or batteries should go to a hazardous-waste collection site to be disposed of by experts. The state holds hazardous-waste roundups at specific sites to help Tennesseans dispose of these special wastes free of charge. To learn what Tennesseans do with their household hazardous waste, we asked respondents if they separate hazardous, toxic, or flammable wastes from the rest of their trash. Fifty-two percent said they separate the hazardous waste, 42 percent include it with their regular trash, and 6 percent were not sure.
Dead batteries are a common hazardous wastes generated by households. Batteries are considered hazardous waste because mercury (or other heavy metals) may leak from the battery and contaminate water or soil. Responsible Tennesseans dispose of batteries in a household hazardous-waste roundup or buy rechargeable batteries, such as Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd) rechargeables, which also can be recycled. The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation operates an automated information line (1-800-8BATTERY), which tells consumers where to take old Ni-Cd batteries for recycling. The survey indicated that 60 percent of Tennesseans throw old batteries in the trash, 32 percent take them to a household hazardous-waste roundup, and 8 percent were not sure.
These results reveal an apparent discrepancy between the percentage of respondents who say they take batteries to a household hazardous-waste roundup (32 percent) and those who say they have participated in a hazardous-waste roundup (13 percent). Further scrutiny of the telephone survey results identified a discrepancy between the respondents who say they have participated in a hazardous-waste roundup (13 percent) and those who say they separate hazardous waste from their trash (52 percent) which leads us to question what the other 39 percent do with the hazardous wastes they separate from their trash. Part of this discrepancy can be accounted for by other outlets in the state, such as convenience centers that accept motor oil for recycle. In addition, some households try to reduce their hazardous waste by “using up” paint, lawn chemicals, and cleaners. Alan Ball of the DSWA claims that “People who come [to hazardous-waste roundups] once don’t tend to come again.” That's because they learn about and use safe alternative products.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that Americans reduce the amount of garbage they generate. One way to protect the environment and reduce the amount of waste is to be a responsible shopper. Some of the environmentally friendly approaches to smart shopping include buying recycled and biodegradable products, purchasing products with little or no packaging, using durable cloth goods (instead of disposable paper products), and avoiding products that are considered hazardous. As shown in the table, the survey found that many Tennesseans are making an effort to be green shoppers.
Collecting, transporting, and disposing of trash is expensive. In fact, the adage “there is no free lunch” might have been coined by a frustrated city administrator trying to finance waste management. The cost of disposing a ton of garbage in a Tennessee landfill is $30 to $35 per ton according to the Division of Solid Waste Management at TDEC. Other costs for trash collection include purchase and maintenance of trucks, fuel, and wages for collectors, drivers, and office staff.
In some communities, trash collection is financed by tax revenues; in others, private hauling firms collect the trash from residents for a fee. In some rural areas, residential trash collection is not offered, and citizens must dispose of trash themselves. In these areas, local governments provide convenience centers.
When asked what they pay for trash collection, 28 percent of respondents said they pay nothing. An additional 28 percent said the cost was included in their property tax or rent, 29 percent said they paid $1 to $30 per month, and 15 percent said they didn't know.
Special Wastes—Old Tires
Used tires pose special disposal problems for waste managers. Even when tires are buried deeply in a landfill, they float to the surface over time; water collects inside exposed tires and poses a health hazard because the stagnant pools provide a breeding place for mosquitoes. The TSWMA instituted an automatic $1 pre-disposal fee on the sale of every new tire in Tennessee. The money collected by the state is used for shredding and the general management of scrap tires. The most widely used technology for tire disposal is the production of energy from incinerating old tires. However, the state continues to look for innovative uses and disposal methods; for example, shredded tires may be reprocessed into pads for brake pedals or used as a component in asphalt.
When asked if they pay a disposal fee when they buy new tires, 44 percent of respondents said yes, 27 percent said no, and 29 percent were unsure or did not answer.
Tennessee’s DSWA, which began holding periodical household hazardous-waste roundups across the state in 1993, held 62 roundups in 51 counties in fiscal year 1997. In that year alone, Tennesseans brought in more than a million pounds of such hazardous wastes as batteries, unused paints, pesticides, drain cleaners, and paint thinner for safe disposal. In addition to the roundups, Knoxville has a permanent collection site, and Nashville and Chattanooga are scheduled to open permanent sites in 1998.
When asked if their community or county had a household hazardous-waste roundup, 26 percent of respondents said yes, 55 percent said no, and 19 percent were unsure. The survey also revealed that only 13 percent of households participated in the roundup.
In Tennessee, over 90 percent of the municipal solid waste is destined for one of the 64 landfills located across the state. Tennessee also has two incinerators—one in Nashville and one in Sumner County. The landfilling and incineration come after 22% has been diverted from the waste stream through recycling and other source reduction techniques which were encouraged and mandated by the 25% waste reduction goal of the TSWMA.
When asked how most solid waste in their community is disposed, half of the respondents said garbage is taken to a landfill, six percent said it is incinerated, but a whopping 30 percent had no idea where the garbage ended up. Suburbanites were most likely to be clueless in terms of the fate of their trash. The survey indicated that 35 percent of suburban residents, 31 percent of urban residents, and 25 percent of rural residents do not know where their garbage goes. The geographic setting seemed to make little difference. Thirty-one percent of East Tennesseans, 28 percent of Middle Tennesseans, and 33 percent of West Tennesseans did not know where their garbage went.
Nearly half of the respondents knew the state had a waste-reduction goal (i.e., 25% reduction by the end of 1995), but 31 percent were not sure, and 21 percent did not know.
Making a Difference
Many Tennesseans are trying to do their part to lessen the trash burden by recycling, using “green” shopping practices, separating hazardous waste from the rest of their trash, and disposing of their trash properly. We should be encouraged by these positive behaviors but note that many citizens remain unaware of proper disposal for household hazardous waste and techniques for source reduction.
The garbage issue is one environmental challenge that can be addressed by citizens in all walks of life. Our daily behaviors can reduce the magnitude of the problem in communities statewide and we can make a difference one trash can at a time.
For more information contact Rosalyn McKeown or Catherine Wilt at the University of Tennessee’s Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, 311 Conference Center Building, Knoxville, TN 37996-4134 (phone 865-974-4251).
What are they Exactly?
To put it simply, household hazardous wastes, or HHW, are the residues of potentially harmful substances that you use in your home. If disposed of improperly, HHW can be harmful to the environment, to pets and other wildlife, and to other people. They usually have one or more of the following characteristics; they can be:
Many everyday products used in your home are potentially hazardous. Some examples of hazardous wastes you may find around your house include:
You can't treat hazardous wastes like other kinds of garbage. Wastes can clog storm sewers and over-burden septic systems. Septic tanks and sewage treatment facilities can be damaged by corrosive chemicals. Incinerating HHW may simply distribute them over a larger area. Pouring HHW on the ground can contaminate soil and water.
Products labeled as corrosive, flammable, reactive or toxic should be disposed of at a HHW Collection Event. Even if they don't have warning labels, it's safe to assume that products like paint, motor oil and old propane tanks are household hazardous wastes.
Do I Really Need to Use This?
Be a smart shopper! There are several questions that you can ask yourself when you're shopping to reduce the amount of HHW that your family produces:
Find out when the HHW Collection Event is scheduled in your county and watch for special collection days. In the meantime store your collection of hazardous wastes out of the reach of small children and pets.
Hazardous household wastes don't have to be a long-term disposal problem. The next time you have to buy a potentially hazardous product, look for the type that has been recycled. Re-refined motor oil is a good example.
Above text is adapted from an Environment Canada Publications Site.
by Tami Coleman
Project CENTS (Conservation Education Now for Tennessee Students) exists as a partnership between the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Housed in Curriculum and Instruction at the Department of Education, Project CENTS is working to enhance the delivery of environmental education to all K-12 students. By coordinating training for educators in the use of national environmental education programs; raising awareness about action-based, school-wide environmental education initiatives; and developing a clearinghouse of environmental education opportunities for all Tennesseans, Project CENTS offers educators a theme around which to organize curriculum.
Some call it Place-based education (Sobel) or Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning (Lieberman & Hoody), or John Dewey's method of educating a child about the world around her. By whatever name, this commonsense approach to education has received more and more attention in recent years due to the high quality education it yields. A report issued by the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF) in 2000 reviewed schools that adopted environmental education as the central focus of their academic programs. Results of this study include the following:
Project CENTS offers support for educators who are integrating environmental education into their existing curriculum by offering teacher training in environmental education programs including Project Learning Tree, Project WILD/WILD Aquatic, Project WET and Project Flying WILD. Project Learning Tree uses the forest as a window on the world to increase student’s understanding of environmental relationships. Project WILD, WILD Aquatic and Flying WILD are conservation and environmental education programs emphasizing wildlife. Project WET is a comprehensive water education program. All of these programs are interdisciplinary and applicable to grades K-12. Educator training workshops are offered periodically at nature centers, parks, and museums across the state.
Educator training in these programs is also available upon request and free of charge to groups of 24 or more Tennessee educators from public and private schools as well as scout leaders and other non-formal educators. Many of the lessons in these programs are already correlated to Tennessee K-8 Curriculum Standards in science, social studies, language arts and mathematics. Many other lessons correlate to standards in Biology I, Ecology and Environmental Science. K-8 Correlations are available online at www.state.tn.us/education/projectcents
Action-based, school wide environmental education initiatives endorsed by Project CENTS include the TP3 Green Schools program, TNSWEP, Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign, and Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools. Complete explanations as well as contact information for each of these initiatives are distributed at all Project CENTS Educator Workshops.
The Project CENTS office is also serving as point of contact between Tennessee Environmental Education Association (TEEA) and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) in sponsoring www.eeintennessee.org. This new website is a clearinghouse of environmental education opportunities for all Tennesseans. Teachers may use the website to locate field trip destinations, guest speakers, and other environmental education resources such as professional development opportunities. Parents and others may consult it to see what activities are scheduled at various state, municipal, and private parks in their area.
To schedule a workshop or for more information about any of the Project CENTS initiatives, call (615) 741-6055 or contact Tamara.Coleman@state.tn.us
by Cynthia Rohrbach
The Green Schools Program is an initiative of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation/Office of Environmental Assistance. It is an incentive and recognition program that encourages member schools, both public and private, K-12 and higher education, to accomplish projects in the areas of clean air, energy conservation, hazardous materials reduction, land and water conservation, and solid waste reduction. Each project must have an educational component so that students receive environmental lessons in the classroom. The Green Schools Program is structured in levels, with the top level earning a green flag to fly at the school.
The vast majority of Green Schools become active in the program based on their Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle projects, which have become a way of life in many Tennessee schools. Mixed paper and cardboard comprise the greatest percentage of recyclable school waste streams, followed by steel cans and glass from the cafeteria, and plastic and aluminum drink containers. Many schools have initiated cafeteria-composting programs that use the product in school garden projects. Vegetable and wildflower gardens have become increasingly popular as outdoor classrooms in Tennessee schools and can serve as Land and Water Conservation projects in the Green Schools Program.
TNSWEP provides excellent educational resources for Green School projects in the Solid Waste Reduction category. The three consultants can visit schools in the three grand divisions of Tennessee, engaging students in solid waste activities in the classroom, at school and community festivals, and other venues.
For more information on the Green Schools Program, please visit www.tdec.net/ea/tp3.
Research topics for 2009-2010:
TNSWEP, The University of Tennessee, 311 Conference Center Bldg, Knoxville, TN 37996-4134