Smart Growth Begins With Smart Plan
On December 13, 2000, Mayor Bill Purcell announced that the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County would initiate a set of programs under Nashville’s "Clean, Green, Lean" Waste Management Plan. The city will achieve this by
- improving its collection of wastes from homes and businesses,
- recycling those materials that are practical,
- reviewing its equipment,
- providing useful and timely information to the community about its programs, and
- revising its accounting so managers can be accountable.
Nashville and Davidson County have a vibrant downtown where tourists and conventioneers come to visit, and commercial businesses, such as Dell Computers, are making Nashville their new home. People from all areas of the world are coming to Nashville for work, higher education, leisure, and the arts. There are more than 550,000 people who now live within our community. These people demand an infrastructure that can support such growth and commerce in an efficient manner.
The specific circumstances of Nashville illustrate the larger challenges facing managers of all urban centers. The challenge has come upon us at an increasing rate over the last 100 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, only 43 cities in the world were as large as Nashville is now (500,000-plus), but by 1990, more than 800 cities topped that mark, with 14 of them providing a home for greater than 10 million people each. In his recent book Something New Under the Sun, J.R. McNeill puts this population explosion in perspective when he writes that over the past 4 billion years of human history, one-fifth of all human life-years took place in the 20th century.
One-fifth of all human years lived in an ever denser urban world demands a pragmatic environmental management system. Nashville faced this reality head-on and asked: What is an affordable cost for disposal? What is the proper kind of recycling program for this area’s social, logistical, and economic context? What do we want our city to look like for our children and visitors? How do we inform the community about these issues and project implementation? How as a society do we want to live?
These questions are being answered in an intensive study of our area’s waste management practices. We have taken a comprehensive look at the disposal, collection, and recycling operations and have broken up the cost by program. What we have found is a curbside recycling program with costs in excess of $300/ton, a recycling rate of only 8%, a refuse disposal cost of $70/ton and escalating, collection equipment that costs more to maintain in a year than if it were replaced, a waste-to-energy plant that operated less than 80% of the time (when the industry average is at 93%), a WTE plant that was poorly maintained and requires a minimum of $15 million worth of equipment repairs, a WTE plant that has less than 50% of the waste needed to operate the plant as a cost-efficient business, and a municipal waste management department without the accounting and equipment tools that would allow managers to manage well. All of these are unacceptable.
Recycling will be a major element of Nashville’s services. The city will leap from its present 8% recycling to 25%. The major programs to do this will be (1) effective yardwaste collection, compost/mulching, and marketing and (2) curbside recycling of all fiber material on a once-a-month basis for 130,000 homes.
Fiber is approximately 40% of the wastestream, and its market dynamic and density can help offset and diminish the collection cost. We are routing our collection service to accommodate new automated vehicles. We are implementing a uniform collection system of carts for recyclables. We are educating the public on litter prevention, recycling, and all environmental services provided by our government.
Nashville has done a lot in the 14 months since it started analyzing the waste system, but it has much left to do. Presently a request for proposals for 300,000 carts, transfer and disposal of MSW, a district heating and cooling facility to replace Nashville Thermals Transfer Corporation, a public relations proposal to assist with education, and a request for bids for the collection vehicles are all being undertaken. We will soon present firm contract proposals to Nashville’s 40-member council for its consideration. With the council’s concurrence, Nashville will move toward a comprehensive waste management that will raise the level of recycling while lowering overall cost–"green and lean."
Waste management is one of the primary functions of city government. City administrators and political leaders must view their waste management system in a pragmatic, comprehensive, and full-cost methodology. The costs are too great, the services too necessary, and the environmental impact too powerful to do otherwise.
Author's Bio: Writer Chace Anderson is also vice president of Gershman, Brickner & Bratton Inc.