July 28, 2009
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Chair Kingsley Murphy Treasurer Michael Schlatter
Members Erik Boe Karim Merchant Beverley Robertson Jeff Tumolo Werner Morawitz
STAFF Executive Director Craig C. Barry Education Coordinator Lisa Huttinger Youth Outreach Associate Molly Fox Office Director Lisa Horton Accountant Christy McPherson
MISSION To promote a more sustainable environment through community education, awareness and participation.
Printed on recycled paper, naturally.
Larry Schoen Tom Bowman Angenie McCleary Blaine County Commissioners Dear Blaine County Commissioners, The Environmental Resource Center (ERC) has always prided itself on focusing keenly on implementing effective sustainability solutions for our community. The political arena is not what we’re all about. But when opinion is masqueraded as fact in this arena, you, as elected officials, have a much more difficult time making sound decisions and the best interests of our community can no longer be effectively and efficiently served. Each year, proposed outreach efforts are appropriately vetted and approved by the Southern Idaho Solid Waste District (SISW). This outreach effort has embraced a multimedia strategy focusing on newspapers, online readers, direct mail, presentations and website resources to raise awareness about waste reduction and recycling. The ERC has only received favorable input on these proposals and has never been told that these proposals are not addressing the community’s needs. There is ample opportunity for new outreach ideas to be incorporated to meet the needs of the community and the ERC has stood ready to respond to such input. At last week’s Commissioners’ Budget Hearing, there were a number of incorrect and misleading statements that have cast some doubt on the effectiveness of the Environmental Resource Center’s outreach efforts. The effectiveness of the ERC’s recycling outreach efforts is supported by SISW’s own annual recycling reports. In the last two years (2007 and 2008) recycling amounts saw two of the highest increases in nearly a decade. Last year’s 19% increase was the highest increase in Blaine County’s history and was described in the SISW report as: "the largest single year increase since Southern Idaho Solid Waste (SISW) began operating the recycling center in 1995." – 2008 SISW Annual Recycling Report In 2003 SISW cited this same “percent recycling increase” statistic as proof that these outreach efforts are effective. "The 8% increase in recycling commodities, which equates to 158 more tons, is proof that this [SISW & ERC] collaborative effort has been successful." – 2003 SISW Annual Recycling Report
The strength of the relationship between outreach and recycling amounts is further demonstrated when one examines the changes since these outreach efforts began in 2003. Here is a chart that tracks annual totals in municipal solid waste against the percent changes in recycling totals. Since outreach efforts began in 2003, each year except one saw increases. In fact, last year’s recycling amounts set an all-time record (19%) despite solid waste totals leveling off or even “declining” as SISW describes. In the past 10 years, the 3 highest annual recycling increases occurred during the 6 years that the ERC has led this recycling outreach effort. MSW & Recycling Trends Source: SISW Annual Reports
ERC takes lead in recycling outreach
% Change in Recycling Tonnages
10000 -5.0% 5000
Total MSW Waste Percent Recycling Change
These facts seemed to elude SISW. Responding to Commissioner’s McCleary’s concern about not funding recycling outreach, SISW stated that recycling amounts are “more closely correlated with solid waste totals than they are with outreach efforts”, implying that current outreach efforts have been largely ineffective. This implication is clearly not supported by SISW’s own data. Yet none of these figures was mentioned by SISW. Why is this the case? If there are concerns about effectiveness why haven’t these concerns been voiced directly to the ERC? Why has feedback on the ERC’s project performance been consistently positive? Apart from an assessment done by the ERC two years ago, why hasn’t SISW undertaken its own performance evaluation if, in fact, these concerns are valid and can withstand the test of public scrutiny? The ERC believes that we and our community deserve an answer to these questions. SISW has also been concerned with costs and their opening remarks last week about Blaine County needing to “learn to get by with less – much less” further underscored this concern. These statements contrast starkly with what has not been stated now for years. If SISW is responsible for the cost-effective management of our solid waste system, why has it not been recommended
to the Blaine County Commissioners to eliminate the outdated “buy back” program which amounts to nothing more than a corporate kickback. The initial purpose of this policy was to provide an incentive to commercial haulers to bring recyclables to the Recycling Center. Yet most of the municipalities require that haulers already bring recyclables to the Recycling Center. Therefore the circumstances that once justified this policy expired years ago. This lack of sound advice from SISW to Blaine County officials has cost more than $52,000 over five years – an amount that the ERC feels should be paid back to the County in support of waste reduction and recycling efforts. With a simple cursory look at a 9-line expense sheet, the ERC was able to identify this needless spending and quickly bring it to the Commissioners’ attention, prompting them to eliminate this kickback. The ERC has pointed out this very same issue to SISW in the past, yet no action was ever taken. It makes the ERC question whether there is other such wastefulness in the nearly $2.2 million solid waste budget. Since recycling is often criticized as not being cost effective by SISW, the ERC is asking why such squandering is being overlooked and what can be done to keep this from happening again in the future? The ERC firmly believes that we, as a community, will only succeed in addressing the sustainability challenges that lay ahead if we have the best information before us to make and implement the best decisions possible. Yet over the past several years, the ERC has openly voiced its concerns (i.e., the lack of a solid waste management plan) and actively tried to improve this SISW and ERC partnership (see the ERC’s November 9, 2007 letter to the County). The ERC has clearly stated that if matters did not change then the ERC would step away from this partnership, concluding that it can no longer advance a sustainable solid waste program. After witnessing the level of misinformation perpetuated by SISW to the County’s elected officials, the ERC firmly believes that a sustainable solid waste program that protects and preserves our public health and safety, our resources, and our environment is not possible in partnership with SISW without significant reforms. SISW has openly professed over the years that its interest in waste reduction and recycling extends no further than providing “opportunities to recycle”. In 2004, SISW alerted Blaine County Commissioners that they wanted “to step back from its role of operating the Recycling Center” citing that they “place a higher value on developing solid waste management programs that are cost-effective” (interestingly, the payout that same year for the “buy back” subsidy was $20,662 or 16% of the total recycling budget). In a meeting with Blaine County officials and SISW on December 12, 2007, SISW was asked directly what incentives are before SISW to run the Recycling Center. They could identify none apart from having been asked to run the Recycling Center by Blaine County. Clearly SISW has no mission-related reason or interest to address the waste reduction and recycling needs of our community. In fact, their revenue model is based on landfilling – the more that’s buried the more money that is made. This model is carried through to Blaine County which profits, on average, roughly $300,000 per year on trash being landfilled.
As such the ERC has concluded that, unless there are significant reforms, these mission-related obstacles and “perverse incentives” have and will continue to undermine our community’s waste reduction and recycling efforts and is not in the long-term economic or environmental interest of our community. The ERC has acted in “good-faith” to make this partnership a success. We have stated that the continued dysfunction of this partnership is negatively impacting our community’s waste reduction and recycling efforts to such a degree that the ERC would elect to step away from this partnership and any related funding. Regardless of the funding recommendations made by SISW, it is clear that, unless there are significant changes, the ERC can no longer advance sustainable solid waste management in partnership with SISW. In summary, the ERC believes that: • SISW statements questioning the effectiveness of its outreach program are patently incorrect and not at all supported by SISW’s own reports; • SISW’s oversight of the Blaine County recycling efforts has been lax, costing the community directly over $52,000; • In its current form, SISW does not have the mission-related directives to assist Blaine County in strengthening its sustainability efforts through responsible solid waste management; • Significant solid waste reforms are needed to: o increase transparency, accountability and strategic planning efforts so that they are commensurate with the nearly $2.2 million that this community spends annually on solid waste; o address the perverse incentives that undermine waste reduction and recycling and work against the community’s long-term economic and environmental interests; • The community deserves answers to the many questions that are raised in this letter. Sincerely, Kingsley Murphy Environmental Resource Center Chair
Beverley Robertson ERC Board member
Eric Boe ERC Board member
Michael Schlatter ERC Board Treasurer
Karim Merchant ERC Board member
Jeff Tumolo ERC Board member
Werner Morawitz ERC Board member CC: Derek Voss, County Administrator Terry Schultz, Executive Director SISW