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.

Rogers Road Community’s Petition for Redress

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Kirk Ross posted Neloa Jone’s request for governmental redress (“the setting right of what is wrong”) over on the Carrboro Citizen’s ‘blog:

The Rogers-Eubanks “Coalition to End Environmental Racism” (CEER)

Background

For nearly one hundred and fifty years, African-American families have lived in what is now known as the Rogers-Eubanks Community. In the late 1800s, Rogers Road was a wagon-track through black-owned family farmland and sawmills that stretched from Homestead to Eubanks and Millhouse Roads. There was once a school on Eubanks Road, Morris Grove, founded by a former slave, for black children not allowed to attend school elsewhere. As decades passed, this land was passed down to children, to grandchildren, to great-grandchildren, and in some cases, to great-great grandchildren. Some land was lost to debt, some simply sold. However, African Americans continued migrating to this community; they purchased land and established homes. Today, this community is a predominantly low-income neighborhood, but it remains socially cohesive and culturally rich in spite of the solid waste facilities that have worked to destroy it.

In 1972, when the Town of Chapel Hill decided to use 120 acres of land on Eubanks Road for the first landfill—this was a thriving community, and it was strongly opposed to having a landfill near them. However, Mayor Howard Lee convinced this community to accept the landfill for ten years, promising that afterwards no other landfills would be opened near them and a park and other basic amenities would be provided when the landfill closed.

That was 35 years ago.

And inspite of the fact that Orange County prides itself on being aggressively opposed to social and environmental injustice, it has refused to honor decades of broken promises made to the Rogers-Eubanks Community. Local governments continue to expand solid waste facilities in this area: since 1972, two municipal solid waste landfills have been opened; two industrial waste landfills have been opened. We have yard and hazardous waste collection sites, recycling and garbage drop-off centers, a Materials Recovery landfill (MRF), and let’s not forget about that toxic, smelly leachate pond (1/3 of an acre) right next to Mrs. Gertrude Nunn’s property. The newest proposed addition to these ever-expanding solid waste facilities is the transfer station. And even though some people believe that closing the landfill and building a transfer station will improve conditions in the community, WE contend that it will not. Along with the transfer station, garbage collection trucks, and 18-wheelers we will still have the vermin, the stench, more air pollutants, and more noise. We will also have increased traffic that poses increased danger to our children and other citizens.

So our question tonight is this: why are low-income communities and communities where people of color live always the most vulnerable to solid waste facilities?

The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council has concluded that “WTS are sited disproportionately in areas adjacent to poor communities and communities of color.” The New York Times recently reported that “low-income communities . . . shelter most of America’s polluting facilities”; African Americans are “79 percent more likely than whites to live in areas where air-pollution levels pose health risks.” Professor Robert Bullard of Clark Atlanta University contends that “the people who live closest” to waste facilities are those “who have the fewest resources,” but that “doesn’t mean [they] should be dumped on.”

On March 3, 2006, the Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) passed a resolution recommending that the transfer station be located on Eubanks Road. Why? Because Eubanks Road is convenient, because the County can put the transfer station here cheaply, because the County will be saved the hassle of having to search for another site, AND because there was a GOOD chance that THIS community that has been dumped on for 35 years would not object TOO LOUDLY. On March 27, 2007, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to accept this recommendation from SWAB to locate the transfer station on Eubanks Road.

What we are asking for tonight?

This community wants Orange County to stop dumping garbage and toxic waste in their backyard.

The Rogers-Eubanks “Coalition to End Environmental Racism” (CEER) supports this community in its demands for environmental justice. And these are our demands:

• We want you to eliminate immediately the Rogers-Eubanks Road Community as a site for the proposed solid waste transfer station.

• We want you to halt all solid waste activities in this community no later than November 2009.

• We want you to honor the promises made to this community over the past 35 years for having endured the negative impacts of having garbage dumped in our backyard.

• We want you to address quality of life issues immediately by providing this community with municipal water and sewer services and other community enhancements to ensure the health and safety of the residents.

All of us here tonight have a lot of work to do, and we are certain that having heard us tonight, you will do what’s right and bring environmental justice to the Rogers-Eubanks Community. Thank you.

Rogers Road Community: Honor the Promises!

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Speaking on behalf of her neighbors, Neloa Jones made an unprecedented plea to the Orange County Assembly of Governments to “honor the promises!”



Direct link to video.

I cannot do justice to Ms. Jones passionate eloquence in trying to condense her statements but if I was forced to summarize, I would simply say her and her neighbors are demanding deeds and not words.

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