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December 08, 2016
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Sullivan farmers and newsprint; One person’s waste may be an animal’s bedding

Free news print for farmers was a topic for discussion at the government center on January 17.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

With Sullivan County Legisl ators keeping a careful eye these days, Ed McAndrew thought that they should consider a county policy of since the late 1990s of allowing farmers to walk away with newsprint to be used for bedding for cattle or cows.

McAndrew, deputy commissioner of the Division of Public Works, said he did not have an exact figure about how much newsprint the farmers were taking, but he estimated “it’s in the neighborhood of 200 tons per year, and you’re looking at about $20,000 a year of newsprint that isn’t being marketed.”

The price of newsprint, which is sold in bulk to the highest bidder whenever the county collects a sufficient amount to make a load, varies greatly and has sold for anywhere from $56 per ton to $145 per ton in 2011.

Recycling coordinator Bill Cutler said that about five or six farmers were benefitting from the program.

Legislator Kitty Vetter asked if the newsprint could be sold to the farmers at a discount.

McAndrew answered that it was a legal question, and he wasn’t sure if the farmers could become vendors or how such an arrangement might work. He added that an alternative system might be for “Cornell Cooperative Extension to collect newspaper separate from us, and we could be out of it.”

It’s not as easy as it used to be to measure exactly how much newsprint is coming into the county recycling system, because newsprint is now being handled two different ways. Since the county switched to the single-stream system last year, some of the newsprint is being mixed with other recyclables and some is still being collected separately from residents who separate it from the other recyclables. The separated newsprint is marketed independently from the single-stream recycling.

Legislator Gene Benson asked his colleagues, “Are we going to complain about $20,000 of revenue a year or are we going to do a good public relations thing and a good service to the community by letting the farmers continue to take newspapers?”

Legislator Cindy Gieger, a farmer, said, “I agree, but to be the devil’s advocate, if we’re going to do it for the farmers, who else is going to want it for free?”

Asked if someone complained, McAndrew said, “I got it from one of my field guys, and I brought it to the legislature because it was a question.”

Lawmaker Alan Sorensen said, “We have budgetary constraints, once you make an exception for one group…”

Gieger said, “Because of the economic spinoff from our local dairy farmers, I’m advocating an agricultural exemption so they can have paper, for which they’ve already purchased the equipment. And they’ve probably been getting the paper since the 1990s.”

At the request of a couple of legislators, McAndrew said he could track the amount of newsprint that is leaving the transfer stations to get a more precise figure for how much is involved.

A question of compostables

In a separate discussion, Cutler gave a presentation about compostable materials in the county waste stream.

Cutler said the easy-to-recycle materials, such as newspaper, corrugated cardboard and plastic containers, are starting to level out across the country in terms of the private sector’s ability to reclaim it. However, he said, “The difficult to recycle and recover in the waste stream, I call it my dirty diaper example, is an untapped resource and the compostable materials of which those dirty diapers actually make up a little percentage represents an untapped percentage of the waste stream that we don’t collect for recycling.”

Along with dirty diapers, compostable materials include food waste, leaves, grass clippings and other organic material. Those kinds of materials make up about 30% of the waste stream and, at some unspecified point in the future, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is going to want the county to address removing at least some of those materials from the waste stream.

Cutler said that the county waste system collected and exported 57,000 tons of waste last year, and 300,000 gallons of fuel were used to truck that waste to the landfill in Seneca Meadows. If all 17,000 tons of compostable material could be removed from the waste stream, 89,000 gallons of fuel could be saved.

McAndrew noted that that would require 100% participation from county residents and businesses, and that certainly won’t happen. But whether making greater use of backyard composting setups or by employing more elaborate technology, eventually the county is going to have to come up with a plan.