Greensboro weighs options for solid waste management

by Eric Ginsburg

As one of its final decisions, Greensboro’s outgoingcity council extended the city’s municipal solidwaste management contract with Republic Servicesuntil June 30. The current council will take up theissue during its Feb. 28 budget meeting, city spokesman DonnieTurlington said, but some preparations and discussions arealready underway.

Mayor Robbie Perkins said council would look at all potentialalternatives to the city’s current agreement, except for the WhiteStreet Landfill. He expects the issue to be discussed earlier at thecouncil’s Jan. 17 meeting and said the council has been in closecommunication with former mayors Keith Holliday and CarolynAllen about solid waste policy.

At-large council member Marikay Abuzuaiter said she hasbeen gathering information about how the city can reduce theamount of waste created, which she said is an important part ofthe equation.

“If you pull through a person’s trash, there’s probably 20 to30 percent of it that could be recycled if we had the appropriaterecycling facility and then maybe 15 percent that could becomposted,” Abuzuaiter said.

Community members and organizations that mobilizedagainst re-opening and expanding the White Street Landfill planto stay engaged in helping the city find an alternative, includingthe Citizens for Economic & Environmental Justice, or CEEJ,which formed to fight the landfill.

Former District 2 council member Goldie Wells, one of themost active and vocal opponents of the landfill, said CEEJdecided in early December to stay together in order to continueparticipating.

“We would like to see a task force formed that would look at aprogram that would be for a long-range recycling and managementof solid waste,” Wells said.

Other residents echoed the desire for community input,including Cheryl Hopkins, who joined the efforts to stop thelandfill reopening through the social concerns committee at NewGarden Friends Meeting and now participates through CEEJ andthe League of Women Voters.

“One reason I want to stay involved is that [in addition to analternative] there needs to be a long-term plan for White Streetso we don’t go through this agonizing process again,“ Hopkinssaid. “We really need a culture change on recycling and evencomposting. Right now we pay for recycling instead of gettingpaid. There’s a lot to accomplish.”

District 2 Councilman Jim Kee has been a vocal proponent ofturning waste into energy, and says he wants to create a processthat produces revenue for the city.

Abuzuaiter said she would like to see the city expand its recyclingoperations and make money off the process as well. LikePerkins, she said community participation would be essentialto addressing waste management, and said she supports thecreation of a task force like Wells and Hopkins want.

“It would appropriate to have some sort of community groupthat would assist with a solution,” Perkins said. “That’s somethingwe ought to take a hard look at to make sure the communityhas a voice in this solid waste discussion.”

Abuzuaiter said many community members who wereinvolved in resisting the landfill became very knowledgeableabout waste management, and including such residents as wellas people throughout the city who were interested would be anasset to the decision-making process.

In November, the Greensboro-based Fund 4 DemocraticCommunities took two vanloads of people, including CEEJmembers like Hopkins, to Catawba County to learn about itswaste management system that incentivizes recycling.

Founder and executive director of the Reuse AllianceMaryEllen Etienne, who lives inGreensboro, also went on the trip to Catawba, and said there are jobs to be had if more waste is reused.

“We really just have to take a step back and rethink what we want to do, whether it’s nationally or in Greensboro,” she said. “[The Reuse Alliance is] always looking to work with municipalities to bulk up their reuse activities.”

Perkins said Field Operations Director Dale Wyrick and his staff are working on a comprehensive evaluation of what the city can do with waste management, Wyrick was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.

One of the possible alternatives to contracting Republic Services to ship the city’s waste to a Montgomery County landfill would be creating a regional landfill in Randolph County. Marnie Thompson, co-director of the Fund 4 Democratic Communities, said she isn’t convinced this is the solution.

“I am very concerned that nobody’s done any real research about what the people of Randolph County actually want,” she said. “Wherever our trash is going, a democratic process needs to be part of the decision-making.”

Thompson sent a letter to the current city council members and sat down with some of them to discuss the need for community input and a re-conceptualization of trash in general. Like Etienne, who provided feedback on the letter before it was sent, Thompson said reduction and reuse should be a key part of the conversation as well as recycling, and that jobs can be created if the city approaches the issue appropriately.

Abuzuaiter, who responded to Thompson’s letter, said she thinks the best short-term approach is to extend the city’s contract with Republic for at least six months after June 30 to allow for more time, and then possibly pursue a regional solution in Randolph County but carefully weigh the length of the agreement.

“Five, ten years down the road there could be a technological advance that would be more cost efficient, so should we go regional, we have to think about if we want to lock ourselves in [with a long-term contract],” Abuzuaiter said.