Digital Television, Analog Waste

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Following up on tonight’s trash theme, another quick and quite thorough response, this time from Orange County’s Recycling Programs Manager Robert Taylor.

Early June, with an eye on the impending approval of a new Orange County solid waste transfer facility, I was doing some research on e-waste (electronic waste) management. I already knew Orange County’s residents, the University and businesses have worked hard to reduce, reuse and recycle – and that we’re making good progress towards our goal of %61 waste reduction (see Blair Pollock’s Chapel Hill News column).

In reviewing our county’s waste management plans, I didn’t see an explicit mention of two concerns I had: one, was the county prepared for an onslaught of analog television sets with the Feb. 17th, 2009 switchover to digital (Wired’s Oct. 28th article) and two, what due diligence does Orange County plan to take to validate that the waste facility our solid waste is shipped to will manage e-waste responsibly ( GAO 2008 report detailing U.S. e-waste export travesty [PDF]).

As the transfer site selection process progressed, I had asked the Board of Commissioners consider a site large enough to accommodate additional facilities – like commercial e-waste post-processing operations (E-WasteCenter for instance) that certified their processing complied with the highest available standards. Providing adequate on-site opportunities for these type commercial operations not only makes environmental sense but also offers an economic benefit – jobs.

Here’s my June 1st email:

I’ve been concerned for some time that we’re not handling our county’s e-waste as effectively as we can. Along those lines, are there any special preparations being made to handle the anticipated flood of old style TV’s that might occur with the 2009 switch to HDTV?

Rob’s response was not only thorough but included links for further research.

Hi Will,

Thank you for contacting the recycling program with your concerns.

I understand from your email that you have concerns about the effectiveness of Orange County’s Electronics Recycling Program. Have you experienced a particular difficulty or problem that causes your concern? If you do have a specific concern, it would be helpful to me for you to provide me with some detail so that I can attempt to address your concerns directly.

As a general response to your concern, I will attempt to describe in a broad sense why I believe that our electronics recycling program is quite effective. I will also briefly describe the County’s plans for addressing the potential consequences of the change from analog broadcasting to digital broadcasting that will happen in February 2009.

Orange County began our electronics recycling efforts in the spring of 2002. Since this time our electronics program has experienced significant growth and has also been recognized both regionally and nationally as one of the leading public electronics programs. This is true even when our program is compared to programs operating in states that were early to enact strict electronics recycling legislation such as Massachusetts and California. North Carolina did pass a law last year that requires “computer equipment manufacturers” to develop and implement recycling plans. It is important to note that NC’s legislation specifically excludes televisions, and as such there has been no real leadership on the part of our state to prepare for the transition to digital broadcast. For more information on current state legislation re electronics recycling, please see the National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse web site: http://www.ecyclingresource.org/ContentPage.aspx?Pageid=28&ParentID=0

Orange County currently accepts all electronic goods and items from Orange County businesses and citizens at no cost. We maintain six public drop-off sites for electronics recycling, and we cooperate with each of our local public works departments (Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough) to enable municipal public works departments to collect from households that choose to work through their municipality’s public works infrastructure, and then deliver that material to our program. Finally, we have a cooperative relationship with the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School System’s PTA Thrift Shops to encourage people who would like to donate their working machines to the Thrift Shops and then in return the electronic materials (computers, monitors, stereos, printers, televisions etc) that are rejected by the Thrift Shop are funneled back into our recycling program.

Our electronics recycling vendor is Synergy Recycling, based in Mayodan NC. Before deciding to work with Synergy, County staff visited, interviewed and audited at least five other vendors. Synergy is ISO 14001 2004 certified, meaning that they have achieved the highest levels of environmental standard for the management of the materials we send them including down-stream audit of the facilities that process and reclaim the commodities that come out of the back-end of the electronics recycling system.

The typical measure used to gauge an electronics recycling program’s success and effectiveness is by measuring diversion (from landfill disposal) in terms of pounds per person per year. By this measure, Orange County’s program is one of the most effective in the nation. Using our program figures from the 2006-2007 Fiscal Year and an estimated population of 121,000 for Orange County, our per-capita diversion for FY 2006-2007 was 5.9 pounds. A more common per-capita diversion rate for a mature electronics recycling program would be on the order of 3.5 lbs per year. Our program continues to improve, and I expect that we will exceed our 5.9 lbs per capita rate for our current fiscal year, FY 2007-2008. I am unaware of any public recycling effort in the nation that exceeds our per-capita diversion rate.

I appreciate your desire to know what Orange County has planned in order to manage the anticipated increase in demand for television recycling that will likely accompany the end of analog broadcast television and the change to digital broadcast.

The Federal Communications Commission has a web site dedicated to providing public information about the transition from analog broadcasting to digital broadcasting. Here is a link to the site: http://www.dtv.gov/index.html

While we have anticipated an increase in the amount of material we will manage, it is my opinion that the transition to digital television will not impact Orange County to the extent that it will impact other communities. I feel this way for three main reasons:

1 – The impending transition to broadcasting only in digital will primarily impact people who watch broadcast television. This means that it will not impact those households who receive their primary television signal through cable or satellite subscription services. Because of the relative affluence of our community, and because of the wide availability of both cable and satellite television service in our area, it will not be necessary for most households to upgrade their television or to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box;

2 – While we have not conducted a scientific survey, I generally believe that many households in Orange County have already purchased televisions that are equipped with internal digital tuners and have already recycled their outdated television sets; and finally

3- Orange County’s electronics recycling program began accepting televisions in the summer of 2003. Since that time we have recycled more than 15,500 end of life televisions. Because of our early commitment to electronics recycling, we already have a robust infrastructure for recycling televisions in place. With this in mind, in order to be ready for the transition to broadcast television we simply need to ensure that our current system is ready for the influx of additional units. In comparison to communities without an active electronics recycling program that accepts televisions, much of the groundwork here has already been completed.

That being said, Orange County is definitely taking several steps to ensure that we are ready for the transition. County staff are preparing language to enable the Board of County Commissioners to add Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs, the lead-bearing glass picture tube found in televisions and computer monitors) to the items banned from disposal at the Orange County Landfill. If the BOCC approves this proposed ban, it is contemplated that this ban would become effective in January 2008, or about 45 days before the end of analog broadcast. The Department of Solid Waste Management is also preparing to reallocate resources so that there are more staff members available to assist with the handling and processing of the electronics that we receive, and our proposed budget for FY 2008-2009 includes funds to cover the anticipated recycling costs for managing the additional televisions we anticipate receiving.

I hope this information helps address the concerns you raised in your email. I would be glad to answer any specific questions you may have, or to further discuss our electronics recycling program with you. Feel free to email me or to call me at 969-2072.

Sincerely,
Rob

So, the reason for the transfer site omission was straight-forward: Orange County already contracts with Synergy Recycling, a company verified to manage e-waste competently.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasant opportunity to meet folks that quietly and competently perform their job on our community’s behalf.

When I worked at Northern Telecom and, subsequently, as an operating officer at Blast, Inc. (CTO) and Reged.com (CIO/CTO), I liked to present folks that performed beyond their duties a “spot award” as an immediate acknowledgment of a “job well done”. Unfortunately, all I can do here is recognize another effort – like Harv’s – to respond to a citizen’s concern.

Thanks Rob.

Gearing of Garbage Trucks and Fuel Usage

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I’ve pushed for not only greater transparency in our governance but greater inclusiveness. Chapel Hill has an incredibly talented community well worth listening to, that is why I’ll be asking Council, again, to reconstitute the citizen budget advisory board to assist in identifying efficiencies and spending reductions to get us through next year.

Listening to a concern without following through, investigating deeper, doesn’t make sense.

The other night at the Preserve Rural Orange meeting a gentleman that used to work for our Town suggested someone look into the potential increased fuel costs associated with shipping Chapel Hill’s waste to Hillsborough or Highway 54. He told me that the garbage trucks of his era had been geared in such a way that long-haul operations were , when compared to in-town service, inefficient by a factor of two or more.

Great concern.

I ask a lot of questions, frequently seek out expertise, to better understand the issues before our Town. I find that Council and advisory board minutes, attending numerous meetings and doing my own research doesn’t necessarily reveal underlying problems or solutions – reaching out for input is part of my process.

In some cases, like getting records documenting our Town’s energy and water usage, years go by without any response.

Many times, though, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County and University staff turn an answer around immediately. I appreciate the time and effort they take to answer citizen concerns – even when the concern is moot.

For instance, Harv Howard, Chapel Hill’s Superintendent Solid Waste/Fleet Maintenance Services, took on the issue of garbage truck gearing:

Mr. Howard,

At a community meeting I attended this evening, a fellow citizen told me that Chapel Hill’s garbage trucks were geared in such a fashion that they could operate effectively on hills but would have terrible mileage running long hauls. His comment came from his concern about siting the new solid waste transfer site. I had asked the Town several years ago about any additional fuel costs associated with trucking waste out-of-town. My understanding that the trucks were roughly as efficient in long and short hauls. Has there been an evaluation of that cost? Is it true we will be burning double the diesel running these trucks up to Hillsborough or out to Hwy 54?

Will Raymond

Harv responded within hours:

Dear Mr. Raymond,

Chapel Hill’s Solid Waste Fleet used to be “geared” as your fellow citizen informed you. However, they have not been so beginning with the 2000 fleet replacements. The current fleet is able to efficiently operate in town or over the road. Your understanding that the trucks are roughly as efficient in long and short hauls is correct to some extent.

We have not concluded our full evaluations of the pending transfer station proposed locations.

The fleet would start and end each day at the TOC. It’s everything in the middle that has to be evaluated. What makes perfect sense as a route starting point now, could change depending on location of the transfer station.

Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

Harv Howard
Superintendent Solid Waste/Fleet Maintenance Services
Public Works Department

Thanks Harv. Good to know, one, that the trucks won’t cost twice as much to operate and, two, that you plan to follow up with a cost analysis once the solid waste transfer site is selected.

Trash Talk: Commissioner Gordon, “No Plan B”

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

After this evening’s solid waste transfer site meeting, I took a second to ask Alice why she said delaying the final site selection would lead to “garbage piling up”. She had made that statement earlier, in an effort to encourage her colleagues to make a decision by mid-November.

Orange County’s landfill is slated to close in 2011 (Trash Talk: The Ticking Clock). Our solid waste management folks say it’ll take 18 months to get the new transfer site up and running. The BOCC has to figure out the financial impacts, find the revenue and let the contracts sometime early next year to make that date.

But if the County doesn’t make that date, will trash really pile up?

No, as Alice should know. Even though the local municipalities supposedly balked at shipping their waste to Durham’s transfer station ($42/ton + fuel), I’m fairly sure that Orange County can negotiate a temporary use of that facility while a new one in Orange County is built. If a delay of a few months buys community consensus and confidence, the temporary financial inconvenience will be well worth it.

Trash Talk: Will We Stand United?

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

Aesop, 6th Century BC

Had an opportunity tonight to listen in on a group of concerned Hillsborough and southwest Orange County citizens discuss the potential siting of the trash transfer facility in their neighborhoods (Eno River Economic Zone – 2 sites and Hwy. 54 corridor – 3 sites).

A number of issues were raised at the meeting: apparent bias in site selection, the “surprise” announcement of the sites on Hwy. 54 and the Hillsborough zone, weighting of access to water and sewer hookups sans cost of making those connections, inadequate traffic studies, confusing or misapplied scoring of technical criteria, whether the BOCC would implement the more costly enclosed transfer site design previously proposed for Eubanks or shave some costs by going with an open pavilion, concern that Chapel Hill’s/Carrboro’s increased transportation costs were improperly used to justify removing Durham County’s transfer site from consideration, underestimation of water use (500 gals. a day!), possible “hidden” reasons for acquiring 82 acres ($7.5 million the current asking price) instead of a smaller tract, if incineration and ultimate in-county disposal got due attention and a slew of others which I’m sure the Rogers Road community are well acquainted with.

Nathan Robinson, the environmental engineer I wrote about Sept. 16th, a founding member of Orange County Community Awareness, gave the clearest deconstruction of the current solid waste transfer site selection mess that I’ve seen. Orange County’s consultant, Olver, should review his presentation to improve their own dog-n-pony show.

Nathan quickly out-lined the dimensions of the issue, discussing what a solid waste transfer site does, how it is laid out, managed and maintained before launching into an analysis, from his professional viewpoint as an environmental engineer, of the problems associated with the current siting process.

Nathan’s concerns mirror a number of mine, especially in terms of the weighting of the selection criteria, the incredibly confusing community criteria feedback procedure, biased scoring of the technical criteria, analysis of environmental consequences and the evaluation of Orange County’s waste creation “center of gravity” (my Mar. 9th, 2007 post on that issue: 2035 Orange County’s Garbage Center of Gravity? ).

As folks that have read my ‘blog know (or have heard me whinge on about local issues elsewhere), I promote reality-based decision-making using measurable criteria. Not all issues are amenable to this approach. Sometimes you have to make a subjective call – say as to the weighting of the importance of environmental justice in the current transfer site process. As I noted a couple years ago, the previous decision by Orange County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board to plop this new facility back on Eubanks sorely lacked rigor, objectivity and transparency.

I questioned SWAB’s ability to make a sound decision because they didn’t generally use objective, understandable, measurable criteria – technical or otherwise – and what criteria they did use were inequitably evaluated differently depending on context and perceived necessity.

Because of that disconnect, I lobbied the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) to create a more thoughtful process grounded by sound engineering principles, guided by community standards. I was encouraged by the process they adopted, but, just as the BOCC themselves admitted on return from their summer break, greatly concerned by Olver’s implementation.

The folks of Rogers Road shared my concerns and expressed their uneasiness at the BOCC’s Sept. 16th meeting.

Of the concerns expressed and the comments made at the meeting, two need serious highlighting.

First is the statements by Hillsborough’s elective folks – like Mayor Stevens and Commissioner Gering – to this community that “they didn’t know” about the process or potential siting of the solid waste facility near Hillsborough. I attended several Assembly of Orange County Governments meetings where these issues got a thorough airing. As a quick Google of minutes of these meetings document, Hillsborough’s reps had to know that these sites were in-play.

Second, and really the most encouraging of all the comments, was Nathan’s call to adopt a united and collaborative approach in dealing with these outstanding issues.

He said, clearly, that he has come to understand the depth of Rogers Roads concerns, their 36 year struggle to simply have promises made – promises completed. He said, clearly, that equitable environmental justice was a relevant criteria and that this was not a battle between neighbors. When a few comments from the folks assembled veered into the “us versus them” realm, Nathan and some of the other organizers rose to say that their emphasis was on the overall process – their focus to get an reliably objective analysis within the established criteria and remove the confusion around the more subjective components of Olver’s mission.

Finally, and the most heartening of all, Nathan said he was meeting with Rogers Road resident (and champion) Rev. Campbell today to see how they could work together. I well remember the landfill expansion fight – which pitted neighbor against neighbor. An attempt to avoid that rancor from the outset gives hope the community won’t fracture. Interestingly, the folks around the county starting to deal with UNC’s new airport authority, already recognize that a united approach is a better approach.

My hope? That the BOCC improves the process. That they realize that the solid waste transfer decision is a beginning. And they work knowing how these issues are resolved will set the template for the new landfill selection process.

If you’re just stumbling upon my site and want some background, here’s a few posts and links to get you up to speed:

Additional posts on the issue are available by doing a search on “trash” from the sidebar.

Tracey Coleman on Rogers Road: Most Popular Video To Date

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

At 1460 hits, this video is by and far the most popular one I’ve posted on youTube. No surprise to me as Tracey did an incredibly eloquent presentation on the flawed Solid Waste Advisory Board’s search for a new trash transfer site.



Rogers Road: Unify the Community with a Back To School Bash

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

There’s a thread over on OrangePolitics (“Historic Rogers Road Community Enhancement Plan Development and Monitoring Task Force “) covering the historic ills and vexations of the Rogers Road community.

I plan to discuss some of the comments in a future post but couldn’t pass up this request by Rev. Robert Campbell (who, thankfully, has recently joined that forum to bring his 34 years of Rogers Road experience to the local ‘blog-o-spheres attention).

The Faith Tabernacle Church will have its Back to School Bash on 08-11-07. We give out school supplies to school age children on this date. Drop off your donations at 8005 Rogers Road to show your support to unify this community as well as Orange County for this back to [school] bash is for [all] no matter where you are from.

Love can go far.

Robert Campbell
919-933-6210

As this recent Carrboro Citizen article (” Be it further resolved”) by Taylor Sisk reveals, Rev. Campbell is neither a stranger to the Rogers Road community

The sanctuary of the Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love Church is certainly no refuge for Robert Campbell. Outreach is his calling. For 34 years, Rev. Campbell has been ministering to the needs of a finely knit community on and around Rogers Road of, as Campbell observes, “many faces, many skills.”

or a weak advocate for their cause

Campbell quickly became active in the community. He recalls that things “really escalated in the latter part of the ‘80s, right on into the middle part of the ‘90s, when they really began to start searching for another place to put a landfill, and we spent countless hours negotiating with the politicians—right here in this sanctuary. We had it set up where you had community members that were part of a fact-finding group that came up with ideas, that came up with things that the neighborhood wanted done.”

Tonight, responding to a series of comments, Rev. Campbell provided some context and then suggested how the Chapel Hill/Carrboro community can pitch in to help their neighbors (Rev. Campbell is new to this, I edited his comments slightly for clarity):

We do many things out on Rogers Road promoting the good will of this community. We do not sit back and do nothing.

The good neighbor program has not worked for this part of Chapel Hill. Rather all government agents have over looked this area when it comes to enhancement. Took pave roads some twenty plus years to come to this community. Municipal water – I will go as far as to say the municipality dropped the ball when Robert’s Assocation did the first development in this community.

Someone looked the other way – no water, no sewage, no sidewalks, no real insight for the future. And we are still making excuses. Let us do the right thing now. Let us help make Orange County a better place.

We are to be our brother keeper. Let us look one another in deed, let us be doers of the word and not just hearers and talkers. Let us work together.

With this said, the Faith Tabernacle Church will have its Back to School Bash on 08-11-07. We give out school supplies to school age children on this date. Drop off your donations at 8005 Rogers Road to show your support to unify this community as well as Orange County for this back to [school] bash is for [all] no matter where you are from.

Love can go far.

Robert Campbell
919 -933-6210
1711 Purefoy Dr.
Chapel Hill N.C. ,27516

Simple. Straightforward. Practical. I like it and, after a quick check with Robert to see what is needed most (the results I’ll post here), will be dropping some supplies by soon.

Unedited version follows:
(more…)

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