Every year, an estimated 8 million to 9 million tons of construction and demolition waste is dumped in Tennessee.
Tennessee is the leading landfill state in America. We are the only state to count landfilled construction waste as “recycled.” Construction waste is the easiest waste to recycle; yet, this loophole increased construction-waste landfills from 12 in 1994 to 80 today.
Multinational landfill companies extract $1.4 billion annually from our state to collect, process, haul and landfill solid waste at a cost of $160 a ton; $1.4 billion is nearly the total budget of Metro Nashville. Solid waste is transported 12 million miles a year to landfills in Tennessee.
At 9 a.m. Aug. 7, on the 17th floor of the L&C Tower, the state Solid Waste Disposal Control Board will vote on proposed regulations that would perpetuate Tennessee’s landfill-dominated system. However, BURNT — a small environmental group — is lined up against the multinational corporations, because we need jobs for Tennessee.
Tennessee has empty real estate on Main Streets across the state. People once worked and earned money in these now-vacant shells. Landfilling 8 million to 9 million tons of solid waste (the numbers are fuzzy) generates one job per 10,000 tons landfilled, for 800-900 jobs. A study by the College of Charleston determined that recycling 1,000 tons creates 1.7 jobs, an aggregate $79,000 in personal income, and $3,600 in state revenue. If Tennessee composted and recycled 4 million tons (about half of what is now landfilled), we would create 6,280 jobs and significant personal income and government revenue. Six thousand jobs would be big for Tennessee.
This is so sensible. Why doesn’t it happen? Because local governments are overwhelmed with schools, roads, health and jails. The siren song of multinational corporations to collect, transport and landfill solid waste out of county with citizens and businesses paying the tab is irresistible. BURNT proposes an incremental system in the largest 10 to 15 counties, focusing on construction waste and food waste from commercial generators.
The General Assembly has led the way with legislation, resolutions and hearings on this issue. These elected officials see firsthand the economic need for jobs and the devastation caused by landfills. On July 10-11, the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, in conjunction with its House counterpart, heard testimony on diverting solid waste from landfills. Major business interests and the Southeast Recycling Development Council testified that Tennessee can create jobs by recycling (view this hearing at www.capitol.tn.gov; search “Senate” then “Energy Committee” then “Video”).
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation subsidizes landfills by not enforcing laws requiring landfill owners to clean polluted groundwater up to original quality. Local recycling reports are radically inflated with loopholes. TDEC writes laws, and this regulation, to support landfills. Yet, TDEC managers and staff understand that wholesale, indiscriminate landfills are outdated and outmoded. They know that recycling and composting are necessities, not luxuries. BURNT works to create the support TDEC needs to move away from wholesale landfilling.
Write our governor at email@example.com, the TDEC commissioner at firstname.lastname@example.org and the chair of the state solid-waste board at email@example.com to say “reject these regulations,” “we need recycling, not landfills,” “jobs and business NOT landfills” — or use your own words.