Green Business Forum Explores Rhode Island's Solid Waste Management Plan 

Michael O'Connell, executive director of Resource Recovery Rhode Island.

Michael O'Connell, executive director of Resource Recovery Rhode Island.

 

Rhode Island has a garbage problem.

The state’s central landfill has been given an expiration date that residents are not prepared to meet, according to Michael O’Connell, executive director of Rhode Island Recovery Corporation.

“The landfill will be full in 25 years and it is not going to be replicated,” O’Connell said. “After 25 years, as our organization sees it, that’s pretty much the end of the space that’s available.”

O’Connell spoke at Rhode Island College’s fall 2013 Green Business Forum, which focused on the state’s solid waste management system.

Rhode Island Recovery Corporation, which was founded in 1974, manages the state’s solid waste and recycling programs. The organization is in the process of developing a 20-year plan that, O’Connell said, will address what can be done to either extend the life of the central landfill or reduce the amount of trash Rhode Islanders produce.

“There are things that need to be explored now,” O’Connell said. “Twenty-five years can go by quickly.”

O’Connell said there are about 750,000 tons of waste disposed in the central landfill each year, after recyclables are separated from trash, and some solid waste is shipped out of state.

Trash could be reduced to about 400,000 to 500,000 tons per year if more qualifying products – including food waste, paper, wood and electronics – were recycled, O’Connell said.

Funds would be needed for programs to encourage and manage increased recycling. Reduced trash and landfill usage also could result in increased disposal fees for residents, since Rhode Island Recovery Corporation is an independent organization that seeks to remain financially self sufficient.

As O’Connell explained, if the organization disposes of less trash – thus bringing in less fees – it will not be able to stay financially stable.

The organization has a working group that will produce a Solid Waste Management Plan update by December 2014. O’Connell said public comments and ideas are welcome.

O’Connell said that there should be a concrete plan for compensating for the landfill’s eventual closing by 2016. Further he said there should be programs in place by 2019 to divert materials from disposal.

“We want to make Rhode Island a greener and healthier place to live,” O’Connell said. “We don’t know what the answer is yet. We need to implement changes. If we don’t, we’ve wasted our time.”

RIC’s Green Business Forum series is designed to provide conversations around the link between sustainability efforts and business best practices.