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Our View: Find ways to reduce local waste

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 11:36 p.m. CDT

Although the county landfill may have opened to expanded trash dumping this month, at least two of DeKalb County’s largest local governments are talking about conservation.

Both the city of DeKalb and DeKalb County this week have been talking about ways to reduce waste. At the county level, a new zero waste policy has been proposed, which aims to cut down on the amount of trash going into the DeKalb County Landfill south of Cortland.

Meanwhile, a draft of the city of DeKalb’s sustainability plan is now available online through the city’s website.

The county’s plan does not contain any monumental proposals, but that’s one of the encouraging things about it. Its three key proposals – keeping so-called organics (food waste and compostable material) out of landfills, expanding access to recycling for apartment-dwellers and expanding access to recycling for those in rural areas – all are issues that have been addressed in other communities and could be here.

In other words, there are ways to address all of these issues, and most people agree in principle with the idea of cutting down waste. It’s simply a matter of whether enough people have the will – read: money – to do it.

For example, the county’s zero waste proposal calls for expanding access to recycling services both at apartment complexes and for people in rural areas.

Access to recycling has long been an issue for apartment dwellers, many of whom, if they want to recycle, have to save their used newspapers, cans and bottles and take them to a recycling center somewhere.

But that problem has been confronted by other communities, such as the city of Champaign, a college town which implemented a recycling program for apartments with five or more units, as well as group housing (fraternity and sorority houses). The city funds the program through a monthly fee on landlords of $2.60 on each rental unit.

On the rural front, Peoria County awards rural recycling grants each year of up to $25,000 to subsidize recycling in rural communities. DeKalb County could launch a similar effort.

As far as “harvesting organics,” adding a third bin beside the familiar trash and recycling receptacles in public places is not a new concept. But what's the cost to install them? Who shares that cost? And will people mind if there are more flies around?

DeKalb’s sustainability plan is longer and perhaps more ambitious, calling for in-depth study of how city government functions, cutting down on paper use, instituting “no-idle” rules for city-owned nonemergency vehicles and more.

The city’s plan also calls for aligning and coordinating guidelines with the county’s zero waste plan, particularly in providing recycling at apartment buildings.

It talks of creating a permanent facility for collecting materials that can’t be recycled curbside, such as polystyrene and household hazardous waste, along with a composting facility. Water conservation, stormwater management, transportation and other areas are covered in its plan.

With the DeKalb County landfill set to accept as much as 800 tons of trash a day, it is a good time for our local governments – and all residents – to think about cost-effective ways that they can contribute less to the growing mound of trash.

In 2012, DeKalb County generated more than 82,000 tons of waste – more than 4 pounds for every person in the county, according to a report from the DeKalb County Health Department.

The means employed to reduce that number must make sense and be cost-effective, as well. But the landfill at Cortland is not in some faraway place – it is our own backyard. It makes sense that we should view reducing our own local contribution to the trash heap as a priority.

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