A Greener Indiana

Everybody can do something to make a greener Indiana

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 24 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. That's a lot of waste to send to landfills when it could become useful and environmentally beneficial compost instead!

The past couple of weeks I've been doing research for a client on the composting infrastructure in Indiana, and let me tell you folks, it is sad, sad, sad. Most communities, including Indianapolis, have some sort of composting available for dry brush, wood waste and leaves. But, once you start talking about anything wet, like food waste, the options are slim-pickin's.

I'm sure that a lot of us here do some sort of backyard composting. Certainly our family generates so little trash each week because we reduce waste first (take our own grocery bags, buy in bulk, etc); then, we recycle everything we possibly can (curbside, drop off, etc); and we compost all of our food scraps in the back yard. If we didn't have to pick up pet waste from the yard and change the litter box weekly, I swear we wouldn't have to put out our 96 gallon trash container but once a quarter, if that.

It bothers me greatly that Indiana passed legislation in 1990 to encourage diversion of waste from landfills. And, since that time, the legislature has chipped away at the initial energy until municipalities have lost their enthusiasm for recycling and composting. And, this legislature, this IDEM Commissioner and this Governor have tried to drive the final nail into the coffin.

How can we turn things around? Can we collectively make it known to our elected officials here in Indiana that a lot of people genuinely care about these issues, support waste reduction efforts....because it saves energy, it creates cleaner jobs, it reduces our need to find more places to bury and burn trash, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, it extends the life of our natural resources, and (of course), it is the right thing to do.

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Comment by Julie L. Rhodes on June 5, 2009 at 9:27am
Hi Patricia: I was actually in Bloomington yesterday to speak at the Indiana Recycling Coalition annual conference, and it just so happens that I spoke about composting! I live in Indy, but have the complete list of registered compost operations across the state. Thanks for the plug for Real Compost.
Comment by Patricia C. Coleman on June 5, 2009 at 8:04am
If you are in the Bloomington, Indiana area check out Real Compost - Dave Parsons began making Real Compost in 2008 to provide quality compost in the Bloomington area.
Comment by Julie L. Rhodes on April 3, 2009 at 12:27am
Julia: I have been working for a client that manufacturers compostable food service ware, and we just completed a demonstration which I hope might be the impetus for the state to open up their composting rules. They are looking at the issue now. So, if you represent a good size Indiana company that employs a lot of people, now is probably the time to gain some movement on the issue. What a waste that so much food waste goes to landfills unnecessarily. I'd love to talk with you more about this if you are interested.
Comment by Julia Gorrell on April 2, 2009 at 12:16pm
Last summer (2008) I did an extensive search trying to find a solution for the food waste we (the company I work for) generates throughout the day. I was tasked to come up with a better solution to the disposable plates and utensils we provide employees in the kitchens. While I would love to do away with them all together the company is not ready for big of a social change.

Finally the decision was made to switch to the 100% compostable products even though we have no where to send them to compost. I know of several restaurants in the area that would jump at the idea of having somewhere to send their scraps. I would jump up and down and do cartwheels to see food waste recycling where I can send our supply of potential compost.

Julie it is depressing to learn that legislation in Indiana has back slide. Fortunately the company I work for has made a commitment to landfill diversion. Thank you for the lesson in Indiana policy!
Comment by Julie L. Rhodes on September 3, 2008 at 6:55am
Robby: I'm not sure how familiar you are with MSW issues in Indiana. I'd think that in your effort to seek MSW, you'd be going straight to the solid waste management districts across the state. You could probably best reach them collectively at www.aiswmd.org. Their executive director, Lance Hodge could probably tell you the best way....but, it might be exhibiting at their annual conference which I believe happens in October.

While I'm a proponent for burning those difficult to recycle wastes (or those where the economics just cannot work without indefinite government subsidies), I typically worry about waste to energy drawing the more valuable, but higher Btu (wood fiber and plastics) materials out of the recycling stream and burned (which means that all that embodied energy and resources is gone forever). I don't personally consider MSW a renewable resource since the materials are finite. I believe there is an important place for waste-to-energy, but don't want to see Indiana communities defaulting to diversion of all MSW to energy in lieu of value-added resource conservation through recycling.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor. Please let me know if I can assist further. - Julie
Comment by Robby Richards on August 21, 2008 at 1:24pm
I just came across your blog after a search on Google. I would like to introduce myself and my company, Copernicus Energy. I am just getting started in the process of developing several renewable energy generating power plants across Indiana. As an integral part of my renewable energy power plant design, I will be seeking long term contracts for a variety of biomass, including MSW, agricultural waste streams, and other types of biomass.

I would value any input from your community on where and how I can source these types of waste streams. I would be happy to accept all of the wet waste and other difficult to recycle waste steams for my anaerobic digester systems. We can take just about anything and compost it, digest, etc. and convert these biological wastes into methane that we clean burn to generate renewable electricity.

Thanks for providing a forum for people to spread the word. There are lots of people like you guys that want to recycle and there are companies like mine that want the waste streams. We just need to get connected, organized and work together so that we can divert thousands of tons of waste from landfills across the State of Indiana.
Comment by Indiana Living Green on March 4, 2008 at 8:03am
Wow, Julie, thanks for the clear and detailed explanation. I was aware of some of these actions, but not the behind the scenes reasons for them. That clarifies the "whys" of it. Thanks for taking the time to clarify.
Comment by Julie L. Rhodes on March 3, 2008 at 10:41pm
Okay, I"ll try to make this brief (relatively speaking) but there is a lot of history here. Back in the late 1980's, early 1990's, many midwestern states' were following suit with the east and west coasts and started enacting recycling-related legislation. Driven by the fear of running out of landfill space, Indiana basically adopted legislation (much like Ohio's in some ways, and unique in other ways) that set forth goals for waste diversion from landfills. The goals were 35% reduction by 1996 and 50% reduction by 2001. Well, Indiana never came up with good methodology for measurement, so that was the first problem...no one has ever had faith in what is being reported as diversion (which would include waste reduction as well as recycling and composting). Basically, Indiana never required private sector reporting of recycling. Oh, and Indianapolis got themselves exempted from any requirement because they fought that the incinerator was their waste reduction plan. So, across the state, solid waste districts were set up, they had to submit 20-year waste management plans for approval that demonstrated how they would help the state meet the goals. At the same time, they placed a $.50/ton tipping fee on each ton of trash disposed of in Indiana and 1/2 went for community grants for recycling, the other half for recycling market development. At this time, companies started investing in recycling and composting infrastructure in a big way anticipating a groundswell of activity -- but, many of those businesses are gone today or have changed their business model to survive.

From here, I cannot tell you the dates of things...but, there was soon thereafter, composting legislation passed requiring that yard waste not be disposed of in landfills, but almost as soon as it was passed, parts of it were rescinded. Then, the private sector haulers were upset that local municipalities were doing recycling services (mainly driven by their ability to do it in a more cost-effective way, or in a way that gleaned more result -- more committed to recycling that trash hauling). So, then, legislation was passed that required local governments to make sure there was no private sector interest in offering services before they got a grant from the solid waste management fund; oh, and they also had to not have much money in their own coffers (see, those solid waste districts that had landfills, were able to make additional tipping fees that went straight to them, so they tended to be well funded, while those without landfills generally had to cover their costs through other general taxing methods -- not very popular with the country commissioners, of course.

So, we missed the 35% goal and there was no penalty. Some local governments realized that there was no penalty and started reducing their support for recycling/composting/waste reduction programs, and some even shifted their recycling dollars to road projects -- again, without penalty of any kind. That attitude has sort of been with many communities since. Then, we missed the goal of 50% and again, no penalty, and by that time, legislation had been introduced to do away with solid waste districts. Since then, every year almost, there is some legislation introduced that further cripples recycling efforts. There has also been efforts to reduce or do away with a separate waste tire fund that is a $.25/new tire fee that pays for cleaning up old tire piles and funds ways of using those tires (roads, playground mulch, tire-derived fuel, rubber products, etc).

Namely Senator Bev Gard (but there are others that follow her line of thinking) has had issue with the money that is supporting recycling and what she perceives as lack of success. But, how can people have success when there has been such a lack of support on so many levels. About three years ago, the legislature decided that mercury switch bounty payment would come out of the solid waste fund (and while we all want to keep mercury out of the environment, studies showed how other model states were dealing with it in a way to not raid other funds -- but, Indiana saw this pot of money and decided to go after that. Also, over the years, every time there is any state budget crisis, that fund is raided, even though it was set aside as a dedicated fund to be used only for recycling/waste reduction/composting activities. So, last year, Gard introduced legislation to change the definition of recycling to include waste-to-energy (in support of Daniel's Home Grown Energy Plan with heavy support of Easterly/IDEM and the Indiana State Chamber), and met heavy opposition by the Indiana Recycling Coalition, Hoosier Environmental Council and others. It appears that Easterly sees no value in recycling and therefore sees this pot of money as an easy target to fund other pet projects. With so many other things working against recycling in Indiana (such an uneven playing field to disposal which is not voluntary or market-driven, but instead regulation driven), for recycling to have to compete with waste-to-energy for the same fund would have dramatically changed recycling as we know it in Indiana. Well, since EPA and every other state in the U.S. defines recycling above final disposal methods (of which waste to energy is one final disposal method), they backed down. But, again, this year, they worked hard (like very, very hard -- like what is the special interest that is pushing this so hard) to not change the definition, but to open up the fund to waste-to-energy, with tire-derived-fuel (burning tires for fuel) to have first dibs over other projects. Again, we fought it tooth and nail and it passed out of the Senate, but died in the Environmental Committee of the House.

I could go on and on comparing Indiana's fledgling program to how other states have been successful through commitment (and I don't just mean more funding...I mean commitment at a high level of state leadership that drives it forward). So, people wonder why it's harder to recycle in Indiana than in California or Minnesota or even Ohio; and, it's because of this slow chipping away of support and resources over the past 18 years. So, everyone who is accomplishing recycling success, is doing so out of their own motivation and ingenuity -- and there are some shining examples of those. Whew, I hope that helps!

I'll try to address your final question here, but will also give it more thought. I do see high level leadership as important. I also see having some sort of penalty for not having real efforts to divert waste. But, mainly, I think what got the legislation passed to begin with was a real grassroots effort saying that they wanted and needed recycling (and, when I say recycling, I continue to mean waste reduction, composting, reuse, etc, but use "recycling" as a catch-all). One thing that has been obvious as we battle these issues in the legislature is that there is not a perception that a lot of people care about the issue...it's just a small, fringe group of tree-huggers. So, having people speaking to their local and state elected officials about how important having access to comprehensive programs are, -- that would be a huge boost! But, with property taxes and education and health care and.....this really does fall down the ladder for most people. That is why it is important that those who do care, speak up (and it doesn't have to be an adversarial message -- it can be positive based on all the resources saved, the jobs created, the GHG emissions reductions and so on. And, really, the best way to drive high waste reduction and recycling is to go to volume-based services..."pay-as-you-throw" or you pay for how much waste you generate per household and get to recycle as much as you want for free. This has, time and time again, proven to be the most effective driver of all.
Comment by Indiana Living Green on March 3, 2008 at 9:37pm
Julie, I would love to know more about this statement..."It bothers me greatly that Indiana passed legislation in 1990 to encourage diversion of waste from landfills. And, since that time, the legislature has chipped away at the initial energy until municipalities have lost their enthusiasm for recycling and composting. And, this legislature, this IDEM Commissioner and this Governor have tried to drive the final nail into the coffin."
Can you elaborate on the original legislation, and the more recent activity by Daniels and Easterly?
Besides a new governor, what other proposals do you see as reasonable first steps back up the ladder?
Comment by Eric Stallsmith on March 1, 2008 at 10:53am
I am eager to learn about all of this stuff. I have a lot more questions than answers. I am hoping to get things organized on the site so that the knowledge of the group can bubble up and we can all learn about where the biggest problems lie for Indiana.

You would think that large scale composting would be embraced more readily considering that Indiana is a farming state so the end product would be easy to use. And it would be cheaper to compost than it is to entomb yard trimmings I would imagine.

It seems like large scale composting would be a win-win and a money maker rather than a money coster.

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