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Managing our Regional Waste Stream, by John Broughton, chairman, Green Waste/Recycling sub-committee of the GWRC Green Government Commission. For Viewpoints
This seemingly dated phrase is just as important today as when it was first coined. The Fredericksburg region has seen significant population growth over the past 20 years--growth that has also generated more waste.
It is estimated that the average person generates 4 to 5 pounds of trash a day. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 75 percent of our waste is recyclable, well beyond what you toss into your recycling bin at home. Recycling serves three purposes:
1. It recovers valuable material so it can be reused in other forms and not wasted.
2. By diverting materials from the landfill, recycling conserves landfill capacity for
3. Recycling prevents hazardous materials and toxic chemicals--such as lead and mercury--that can contaminate soil and seep into our drinking water from ending up in landfills.
Often we ignore where our waste goes once we discard our trash, as well as the differences in how each community handles trash and recyclable material. Our region now has three active landfills. The Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board--the "R-Board"--expects to continue to take city and Stafford County trash at the Stafford landfill for about 40 years. Spotsylvania County projects its landfill to last at least another 75 years, and the privately operated landfill in King George County expects to operate another 18-19 years.
By recycling more of our waste, we can increase the longevity of these landfills. It all starts with making a conscious effort to recycle. Don't use the excuse that your homeowners' association or refuse hauler doesn't offer curbside recycling, or that recycling is not convenient. Every local government in our region has one or more recycling facilities, and some private haulers offer residential recycling service.
This region has done a good job at implementing recycling programs. When Virginia legislators mandated the development of solid-waste management plans in 1989, they also set a minimum goal of achieving a 25 percent recycling rate by 1995. Since then, localities have implemented programs to reach and exceed the minimum rate. Our region collectively recycles roughly 38 percent of its waste.
The environmental benefits are tremendous. Recycling reduces air and water pollutants and greenhouse-gas emissions, and it saves energy and natural resources. Research indicates that overall manufacturing emissions are lower from use of recovered materials than from virgin materials.
Recycling also creates jobs. A recent study concluded that in the northeastern and southern states, recycling-related activities employ more than 2.5 percent
The goal of the Green Waste/Recycling Subcommittee is to increase public awareness of recycling. As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world." We all can be agents of change: Let's make every day an Earth Day!