Trash Terminators 2.0 Take Carrboro to Composting School

CARRBORO- Once again, a group of Chapel Hill middle schoolers looks like a sure bet to bring home the gold in a national science challenge. No matter that, we’re all winners, thanks to the work they do.

“We’re the Trash Terminators 2.0,” Rohan Deshpande announced to aldermen and spectators at Carrboro Town Hall. ”We’re working towards the Lexus Eco Challenge.”

Rohan, a student at Phillips Middle School, is the mainstay member of Trash Terminators, a group of science-minded Chapel Hill kids with a mission to protect the planet from greenhouse gas and methane emissions.

Last year, Rohan and two other students won first place in Siemens’ national “We Can Change the World” challenge. This past Tuesday night, Rohan told Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen how they did it.

“We diverted 25 percent of our trash from going to a landfill,” he reported.

This year’s team of Rohan, Vincent Chen, Elizabeth Farmer, Quentin Sieredzki and Graeme Zimmermann is keeping it going. They’ve entered into the Lexus Eco Challenge, where they’ve made it to the national section. The money they won from that so far has gone back into green initiatives at their school.

The challenge gives teams the opportunity to win up to $30,000 in grants and scholarships for the best ideas about protecting the environment.

During this school year, the Terminators have been addressing a situation created by the closing of the Orange County Landfill last summer.

“This means that trash is being transported to a location that is more than a hundred miles away,” Rohan observed. “This is also adding costs, and creates more pollution.”

The Terminators used a carbon footprint calculator to determine that for every ton of trash the city ships to the new landfill, 57 pounds of carbon dioxide will be emitted, and $55 of taxpayer money will be spent.

The kids also figured out that 55 percent of Phillips’ cafeteria trash is compostable waste. So they started a composting program at the school.

Terminator Quentin told aldermen how they did it.

“We set up composting bins in our school cafeteria,” he said, “in which students and staff dump all their compostable food items, which include food waste, food trays and napkins.”

Brooks Contractor in Goldston collects the compost twice a week. Liquid waste has been diverted from the trash, and recycling efforts have been ramped up.

“Our goal is to send only pure trash to the landfill, which will reduce carbon emission and cost,” said Quentin.

The students managed to reduce trash pickups as well, which saved Phillips School money.

Terminator Vincent Chen said it’s been a schoolwide effort, with students, teachers, administrators, staff and parents involved.

“In the lunchroom, we had parents, students and volunteers to help students with composting during lunch.”

There was a charitable component as well.

“We also started a ‘giving table’ where we keep all the uneaten and unopened food,” said Vincent.

The food is distributed to families on meal plans, and it’s available to students and staff as well.

“We diverted more than 80 percent of the trash going to a landfill by recycling and composting,” said Vincent. “We will divert 20,500 pounds of trash over 180 state days of school at Phillips.”

The plan saves about $550 in gas by reducing shipping. And it will prevent about 574 pounds of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. The kids figure that if all area middle schools adopted this initiative, there would be 41 tons less of trash in landfills over the next school year.

The Terminators spread the word with public information tables, a Time Warner infomercial, and social media outreach.

And they conducted a survey that showed how most citizens would like to see municipal composting.

Alderman Sammy Slade, like all his colleagues, was impressed.

“I would like to partner with y’all to find out how we could do this in Carrboro,” he said. “Because you have so much knowledge.”

Slade recommended that the kids approach the school board about using some of the savings on even more green initiatives.

Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell suggested that the kids look to the State Department of Environmental Resources Division of Solid Waste for a grant.

“Now more than ever, not only municipally, but in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, but in the county, we need this,” she said, “because of the landfill.”

Alderman Damon Seils had the last word, by stating what must have been on everyone’s mind.

“I was just going to make the observation that Chapel Hill and Carrboro just got schooled by the Trash Terminators,” said Seils.

Post OC Landfill, A Carrboro Perspective On Waste Disposal Solutions

CHAPEL HILL – With the closing of the Orange County landfill in June,  our local governments must develop both short-term and long-term solutions for waste disposal. The question remains as to what extent the three municipalities will collaborate in this process.

At WCHL’s Carrboro Board of Aldermen Candidates Forum last week, moderator Aaron Keck asked hopefuls to what degree should Carrboro work with Orange County to find solutions for solid waste and recycling disposal.

The five candidates competing for three open seats on the Board include incumbents Sammy Slade, Jacquelyn Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell. The challengers are Kurt Stolka, Vice-Chair of Carrboro’s Transportation Advisory Board, and Al Vickers, a former member of the Solid Waste Advisory Board with a Ph. D. in environmental science. Vickers was absent from the Forum last Monday due to a prior engagement out of the country.

Haven-O’Donnell said she hoped to work with both Orange County and Chapel Hill to address the area’s solid waste needs. She added that the Board should reassess Carrboro’s Comprehensive Plan and update the Town’s long-term vision for waste disposal.

“The recycling is something that we need to form partnerships to solve. We cannot do recycling on our own; solid waste as well,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “I’m really hoping that we can work with the Town of Chapel Hill to find solutions that will address our issues in Southern Orange [County].”

Gist said that local elected officials should not divide solid waste responsibilities by municipality, but work as a collective unit.

“We need to remember that Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro are not separate entities,” Gist said. “Carrboro is in Orange County. Carrboro taxpayers pay Orange County taxes. It is the largest part of our tax bill. Carrboro voters vote for Orange County Commissioners, so we are really not completely separate entities. We have a lot of skin in that game.”

Stolka proposed that Carrboro look to regional collaboration and pull together resources from neighboring counties.

“In collaborating with Orange County in the future, somebody is going to have to lose for us to find a new landfill site,” Stolka said. “Maybe there are certain things that we can put on the table to convince a rural area to be open to it.”

Orange County’s recycling program is one of the top programs in North Carolina. It reached a State high rate in waste reduction with 59 percent, nearing its goal of 61 percent for the year.  Slade said this was an major accomplishment but that more could be done.

“It’s been a great collaboration. Our recycling is a leading example, and we have set a goal of 60 percent reduction, and we’ve achieved that through recycling,” Slade said. “It’s past due time to ramp that goal up toward zero waste.”

Slade added that Carrboro should explore composting.  Town residents have brown bins for yard waste collection. Slade said these bins could very easily accept other organic materials, such as kitchen waste.

Since the landfill’s closure this summer, Orange County’s solid waste is being taken to the transfer station of the Waste Disposal and Recycling Center transfer station in Durham until County Commissioners can develop a long-term solution.

June 29 was the last day that waste was accepted in the Orange County Landfill. The site’s shutdown marked the end of 41 years of activity in Orange County.

EPA Investigation Could Halt Rogers Rd Remediation

CHAPEL HILL – Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich says she’s worried that a year and a half of work by the Rogers Road Task Force might be grinding to a halt as the Environmental Protection Agency launches an investigation into claims that the county’s planning department engaged in racial discrimination.

“I’m concerned about it,” says Rich, who, along with Renee Price represents the county on the task force. “I think that we’re going to still move forward with recommendations. I think Chapel Hill and Carrboro can keep moving forward. Orange County on the other hand might have to stop.”

After decades of discussion and dozens of reports, plans, work groups and task forces, elected officials from the towns and county are on the cusp of crafting a cost-sharing plan to extend OWASA sewer service to Rogers Road, the traditionally low-income African-American neighborhood straddling Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County that’s hosted the landfill since 1972.

The sewer project is part of a landfill remediation plan that’s estimated to cost approximately six million dollars.

The Carrboro Aldermen say they’ll chip in nearly a million. The Chapel Hill Town Council wants to explore extending extraterritorial jurisdiction to the neighborhood to make it easier to spend municipal tax dollars on the Rogers Road sewer project. But Orange County Commissioners, who up until now have led the charge to make amends for the landfill, are keeping quiet.

That’s because the EPA recently declared it has jurisdiction to launch a federal investigation into allegations that the county planning department and OWASA discriminated against the largely African-American community by failing to provide water and sewer service to Rogers Road.

To read the EPA’s letter to the Orange County Planning Department, click here.

Rich says the county commissioners can’t take action on the task force’s recommendations until the investigation is concluded.

“We actually need to be very careful with how we move forward with this,” says Rich. “We know that it could take months, up to a year or more for this investigation to be complete.”

At stake could be a federal grant of $1.3 million awarded to bring sewer service to the Efland and Buckhorn communities in western Orange County.

The complaint filed by the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA, alleges that the county’s failure to apply for similar grants to fund the Rogers Road sewer extension amounts to intentional discrimination.

The Efland-Buckhorn sewer grant was awarded to the county in December 2010. At that time, there was not a concerted effort underway by the towns and county to bring sewer service to Rogers Road. The current task force didn’t get its start until 2012, when the county commissioners’ decision to close the landfill spurred action on a remediation plan.

The EPA’s announcement that it was launching the investigation this June took many by surprise, including those who originally filed the complaint against the county in 2007. That complaint was expanded in 2011, following the allocation of the Efland-Buckhorn grant money.

Up until recently, Mark Dorosin was the lead attorney representing RENA. He says the federal agency took so long to respond to the allegations that RENA leaders thought the complaint had been abandoned.

“The EPA complaint was just sort of out there for a long time without any sort of information or feedback about what was happening,” says Dorosin. “They collected some information and then folks just didn’t hear anything.”

In the meantime, Dorosin was elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners, one of the three local governments responsible for funding the sewer extension.

At the board’s last meeting in June, Dorosin put forward a resolution pledging the county to provide funding for the yet-to-be determined sewer plan.

The motion failed in a 5-2 vote, in part because other commissioners were wary of taking action during the on-going investigation. Speaking at that June meeting, Commissioner Alice Gordon argued against the resolution.

“The county attorney has advised the commissioners to exercise significant restraint when authorizing expenditures in this area,” warned Gordon. “I think we’re in a much better position if we just let [the task force] go forward.”

Since then, Dorosin says he’s decided to recuse himself from deliberations that involve the EPA’s investigation. He says he’s also stepped away from his role as RENA’s legal counsel.

“I have now withdrawn as legal representative of RENA with regards to that complaint, because obviously I would have a conflict representing RENA and being on the county commission,” says Dorosin. “I’ve also recused myself from the commission on any discussion or matters or any meetings related to that, so there can’t be any concerns about actual or potential conflicts of interest.”

But Dorosin hopes the work of the current Rogers Road task force can continue.

“It is good public policy for us provide those promised services and benefits to that community,” says Dorosin. “I hope that I can continue to be an advocate for that. I think it is not just in the best interests of Rogers Road, it is in the best interests of all Orange County that we honor those commitments and address the harms and impacts that that community has suffered.”

The task force is set to meet on Wednesday. It’s the next to the last meeting of the group, and elected officials are hoping to come up with solid recommendations to take back to each governing body in the fall.

While Chapel Hill and Carrboro may be ready to take action after the summer break, Orange County leaders could have their hands tied for the foreseeable future.

Penny Rich has served on the task force first as a Chapel Hill Town Council member and now as a county commissioner. She says she also wants to make sure that the remediation efforts don’t lose momentum while the EPA conducts its investigation.

“We can talk and talk and talk, but its not until we take action that it feels like it is really happening. My hope is that the investigation goes quickly and we can move forward with some action to help the neighborhood that has not been helped for so many years.”

The task force meets at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday July 18 at the Solid Waste Administration Center on Eubanks Road.

Orange County Landfill Closing Beginning of July

CHAPEL HILL – The Orange County landfill will close at the end of June and the county’s Solid Waste Department is working to inform the public about this change.

Gayle Wilson, solid waste management department director for Orange County, says the county has pushed for other landfill and waste treatment options locally for years now, but those efforts were always met with resistance.

Wilson contrasts this with feedback from Orange County locals who believe that they should not ship their garbage outside the county.

“That’s good in theory, but it hasn’t been able to be implemented because of severe resistance to sighting facilities,” Wilson said.

In the meantime, Wilson and the rest of the solid waste department are telling residents what other available dumps they can use, including two transfer stations inside Durham County and a landfill near Roxboro.

Although the Orange County landfill itself will be closed, the property it is on has other solid waste-related facilities that will stay in use, including the convenience center, which collects hazardous waste, compost, old clothes and other reusable wastes.

“We are currently in the preliminary design stage of a process that will improve that center and modernize it,” Wilson said. “Similar to the one we just finished constructing on Walnut Grove Church Road north of Hillsborough.”

Orange County currently has an agreement with Durham County to use its landfills for the next five years, at which point the county will have to explore new waste treatment options.

“The cost of long-hauling to out-of-county facilities, over time, will become fairly significant, so I believe they will have to face the transfer station at some point,” Wilson said. “It may be five years from now, but at some point I think they’ll have to look at it.”

But, Wilson says he’s highly skeptical the county will sight a transfer station or landfill before that time runs out.

“I would say the likelihood of finding a new landfill sight in Orange County is as close to nil as you can get,” Wilson said.

After its closure, the landfill property will still be accepting construction and demolition waste, as well as a center to take and recycle old mattresses and box springs.

Carolina North Adds Gas-Converting Generator To Plan

CHAPEL HILL- UNC’s Carolina North project is one step closer to being completed, now that a generator has been installed at the site to convert landfill methane gas into electricity.

“This is kind of a partnership with Orange County,” says UNC Director of Energy Service Phil Barner. “Methane is a big greenhouse gas, and it has some value, if there’s enough of it, to put in an engine and make electricity. We did a feasibility analysis, and it looked like it had some promise.”

The project will use leftover methane gas from the Orange County landfill, which is set to close on June 30. The undertaking is part of a larger plan to eliminate UNC’s carbon footprint over the next several decades.

In order to obtain the gas, Barner says his team used a process involving wells.

“We put in a system of wells in both the north and south landfill, we cleaned it up by getting the moisture out of it, and we can flare what we don’t use,” he says.

Orange County Solid Waste Management Director Gayle Wilson says this project will be particularly useful once Carolina North’s buildings are actually constructed.

“At some point in the future, whenever there’s a building constructed on the Horace Williams track, that power will be used to power the facilities there.”

For now, the electricity is being sold to Duke Energy.

Upon its completion, the Carolina North project will span over 250 acres near the Horace Williams Airport site, two miles away from UNC’s main campus; it’s slated to be used for both academic and research purposes.

Barner says the generator portion of the project will cost between $1 million and $3 million.

One Month Away From OC Landfill Shutdown

CHAPEL HILL – We are a month away from the closing of the Orange County Municipal Solid Waste Landfill—an event neighbors close to it will likely rejoice over. But closing a landfill that’s been open for about 40 years isn’t an easy task.

Gayle Wilson is the Orange County Solid Waste Management Director. He’s in charge of over-seeing the process of shutting the landfill down. It’s located on the south side of Eubanks Road

“I think most people who don’t think about it very much probably just assume it’s just a matter of closing a gate—but it’s much more complicated than that,” Wilson said.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners decided in October 2011 to not pursue an option that could extend the life of the landfill—thus ensuring its closure this summer.

“It was going to reach capacity at some point anyway,” Wilson said. “Could the county have utilized it for another three or four years—yes, that’s probably true.”

Wilson says after it’s closed, current environmental regulations require that a cover system be placed on the landfill that is impervious to water.

Soil will be placed on top of a synthetic liner material. Then vegetation will be planted on the surface. The process will cost the county about $3.2 million and won’t be completed until the spring of 2014.

Wilson says they also have to get the landfill’s closure plan approved by the state.

Another component to the process is that about three years ago, UNC and the county signed an agreement entitling the university to the methane gas generated by the landfill. The university installed gas wells and pipes on the property—and then the gas in piped an electricity generator off Homestead Road. The synthetic liner will also be sealed around those gas wells.

“It’s a fairly sophisticated and highly engineered system. Then it will be made a little more complicated by the fact that we currently have a series of landfill gas extraction wells located around the surface of the landfill,” Wilson said.

Last day waste is accepted at the landfill is Saturday, June 29. Wilson says June 30 is the official closure day, though, originally set by the CountyCommissioners.

“Most people will not notice a difference. Most people who currently deliver their waste to convenience centers will see no change,” he said.

Wilson also notes that closing the landfill does not result in dramatic job losses for workers. Six positions will and have already been eliminated— three are currently staffed. He says they hope to find work within the department for those workers.