The right to remain silent

A lot of folks like to talk trash, but hardly anybody wants to talk about it. Or so it appears.

A mere three people submitted written comments on the Buncombe County Solid Waste Management Plan by the Sept. 20 deadline, reports Solid Waste Planner Ron Townley of the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, which prepared the draft report for the county.

Once adopted, the plan — required by the state — will guide the county’s Solid Waste Department for the next 10 years (with updates every three years).

“We interpret the lack of numerous comments to the fact that the solid-waste plan and program in general is fairly well-managed — and the fact that solid waste and recycling is not as hot an issue as it was in the ’80s,” observes Townley, adding, “If we were siting a landfill, there would be thousands of people screaming.”

The lengthiest feedback came from frequent county-government critic Don Yelton, who once worked as the county’s waste-reduction specialist before his job was eliminated during a work-force reduction. Citing an office recycling program called the “Lonely Trash Can” that he championed while on the county payroll, Yelton maintains that the county should be doing more to remove mixed paper from the commercial waste stream. He’d also like to see the county move ahead with plans to recycle construction and demolition waste, and push the public schools to both start composting food waste and distribute compost bins in the community.

Yelton’s former supervisor, county General Services Department Director Bob Hunter, declined to say much about Yelton’s suggestions.

“I read his report, and I appreciate comments, and we’re currently looking at recycling … construction and demolition [material],” said Hunter.

In county offices, mixed paper, cardboard, plastic and aluminum are collected for recycling — though not in the same way as was done under the Lonely Trash Can program, says Denese Ballew, the county’s solid-waste environmental manager. As with residential recyclables (including mixed paper), the county office’s recyclables are collected by GDS and trucked to Uwharrie, N.C. (northeast of Charlotte) for processing.

“Were assured that none of it is landfilled,” offers Ballew.

In addition, a Charlotte company called Iron Mountain shreds the county’s files and buys the shredded paper from the county for 2 cents a pound, according to the county’s General Services Department.

But since the county doesn’t regulate the commercial waste stream through a franchise system, it can’t control whether businesses recycle mixed paper, Hunter says. For his part, Yelton says the county could institute such a franchise system that would require commercial recycling — though he suggests that the county wouldn’t want to divert more trash from the landfill because it would collect less money in tip fees.

Meanwhile, notes the solid-waste plan, the construction-and-demolition landfill reached its capacity back in February. The county has already built a new facility (next to the main county landfill) but hasn’t yet received a permit yet to use it, Hunter explains. In the interim, such debris is being temporarily stored in a lined cell at the landfill.

Last spring, county officials began discussions with about creating a public/private partnership to recycle construction-and-demolition wastes, says Hunter, adding that those talks are still continuing. According to the plan, the county hopes to work with Materials Reclamation, a subsidiary of D.H. Griffin and Associates, to create a regional program.

And though the county had considered building a central composting facility at one point, it didn’t turn out to be economically feasible, says Hunter.

“We do try to do what’s right, but you only have so much money,” he observes.

Other comments on the plan came from Leicester resident Alan Ditmore, who regularly comments on county issues at commissioners’ meetings. He recommends a system in which each resident would be issued a “trash voucher” allowing them to dispose of only a limited amount of garbage. That would equitably address each person’s “right” to pollute and help the county meet its trash-reduction goals, he posits.

“Businesses and rich polluters could then buy the vouchers from residents on the free market, or ship their trash out of the county,” suggested Ditmore.

City of Asheville Solid Waste Manager Richard Grant, meanwhile, spotted an error in the plan, which Townley plans to correct. The report mistakenly lists the unincorporated areas of Buncombe County as having recycled 18,660 tons of residential trash in fiscal year 2000-01. That figure, says Townley, is actually an estimate of the combined commercial and residential recycling. The correct residential recycling totals, he notes, should be somewhere between 5,592 tons and 7,592 tons (the combined totals for glass, aluminum, plastic, newspapers and an estimate for corrugated cardboard).

These public comments will be included in the final revision of the plan, which the governments of the affected municipalities and Buncombe County will vote on in October, explains Land-of-Sky planning assistant Holly Bowen.

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