Public should have input on future of waste

As members of the Rutherford County chapter of SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment), we are deeply concerned with the issue of solid waste and have been tracking the situation closely for years. Despite regularly attending public meetings, the choices made by the county often catch us off guard. It’s not because we aren’t paying attention, it’s because the meetings aren’t where the discussion is happening.

Instead of having an open discussion with the community over what to do, the city and county together spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a consulting group whose recommendation was to expand the landfill. Thankfully,the county commission unanimously voted against this idea, but the money was still spent. It’s clear that many decisions about the direction of solid waste disposal in Rutherford County are being made outside of the public’s –and on occasion, even the commissioners’ –view.

With the impending closure of Middle Point landfill, we need to find new methods for handling our garbage, and our local officials are working out the next steps. We know that county officials discuss solid waste at meetings, and we hear that they take trips to different waste processing facilities all over the country (the latest is in Las Vegas), but that’s all we know. One would think that the citizens of Rutherford County should be a part of that process, yet we have a serious problem with communication and transparency. It’s time for Rutherford County to make a change: a new approach to solid waste, and transparency in how decisions are being made.

In contrast, Nashville has already figured out their next steps: they committed to a Zero Waste policy and have a website filled with documents explaining the issue and laying out their plans (zerowaste.nashville.gov).

They’ve held multiple meetings to solicit input from the public. Nashville has the same problem we do: with rapid growth, non-stop construction, and a landfill that’s closing in a few years, they need a new approach to solid waste. The difference in how these two communities have tackled the problem couldn’t be starker.

One outlines a plan and requests public input to help drive the process. The other is an opaque morass of backroom decisions made without considering input from the public.

Nashville’s choices aren’t always right for Rutherford County, but in this case we should follow their planning model. Cities across the U.S. have adopted Zero Waste goals, and many have successfully diverted more than 60 percent of their solid waste with recycling and composting. San Francisco has already achieved an 80 percent diversion rate, and believes they can hit 90 percent with more work. Why should Rutherford County citizens have to live with a sub-par solid waste program?

It’s 2019, we have a new county mayor, and it’s time for a new approach to both solid waste and government transparency.

Julie Burns is a member of the Rutherford County SOCM chapter and a former President of the Board.

This article was also printed in the Murfreesboro Post.