A group of Middle Tennessee residents are trying to form a regional waste authority that would be run by citizens, not the government.
Steve Baughman of Murfreesboro is one of the organizers. He helped lead the second of a planned series of community meetings last Wednesday. Interested citizens, including several county commissioners and Murfreesboro council members, filled the dining room at Patterson Park Community Center for the forum.
Baughman said afterwards he thought the meeting went well. Baughman has business experience in producing corrugated cardboard products, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“I want to have a citizens advisory committee that controls solid waste,” Baughman told the Murfreesboro Post. “I want to get it out of the government and run by citizens,” and said the state has regulations on how that could be done.
County Commissioner Robert Stevens, one of the public officials who attended, said afterwards that he does not know if there is a mechanism for a citizen-led committee, but that it is critical to have citizens’ input in the process.
The purpose of these public meetings is to raise awareness and to gather like-minded citizens to form the advisory committee to run Rutherford County’s solid waste efforts, Baughman said. He said he has the ability to form a business plan and can make it financially feasible. He said he hopes to launch the group in 2020.
The next citizens meeting should be held in October in La Vergne, Baughman said.
Following is a summary of some of the speakers from Wednesday’s meeting as well as one citizen’s concerns:
Jeremy Jernigan, the new general manager of Middle Point Landfill for Republic Services Inc., was one of two speakers representing the company. He said that while he is new to his role at Middle Point, he is no stranger to that landfill – he previously worked there from 1995 to 2014.
Dan Jameson, vice president for government and regulatory affairs, also represented Republic.
Jameson said Republic did not always do the right thing at the landfill but has made positive changes and is now trying to do the right thing.
“We’re a big organization, and sometimes a big organization loses its way, and I’d be the first to admit … we didn’t always do the right thing, we didn’t always have the right people doing the right things.”
“If there was a magic bullet right now to stop the waste that comes out every day … us or one of our competitors would be doing it,” Jameson said.
Seema Prasad is the owner of Miel Restaurant in Nashville. The restaurant’s website says it is a “leader of sustainable practices in the greater Nashville area.” Miel grows vegetables in a rooftop garden which it says absorbs heat and reduces electricity use. The restaurant also composts and recycles cardboard.
Prasad spoke on behalf of a project she is trying to launch called a dry anaerobic digester. She said she wants to operate it in Rutherford County and has been working on funding. According to the project’s website at resourcecapture.com, the system “converts organics waste into renewable energy & nutrient-rich compost. All organics waste is transferred and received in completely enclosed containers. This respects the environment of both the facility workers and anyone nearby.”
The digester would basically take organic waste that people throw away, such as uneaten food, she said. Prasad said she has spoken to large institutional users such as nursing homes that throw away large quantities of food and they have shown interest. Those companies, along with schools and universities, would pay for some of the cost of operating such a system, which is expensive, she said.
Prasad said the system would be available for residential users as a recycling service for a monthly fee. Several people in the audience expressed skepticism about paying for such a service on top of garbage collection fees.
The digester facility would have a minimal community impact, Prasad said. The building would be enclosed and fully automated, making it safe and preventing seepage into the environment, she said.
The digester system would operate as a nonprofit, she said. If it was located in Rutherford County, local businesses and residents would pay half the cost charged to customers from outside the county, she said. She does not want to wait for the government “to catch up to us” in starting this, she said.
Pam Furlong, manager of the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center at Murfreesboro, said she was interested in finding jobs for disabled people in working in the recycling industry earning fair wages (meaning at least minimum wage). The center teaches job skills and helps clients create resumes, she said.
Jeremy Aber said he is the chairman of the Rutherford County chapter of the Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment advocacy organization, commonly known as SOCM. The group’s interest in the solid waste debate is to advocate for “zero waste,” he said. SOCM is not interested in promoting any one particular company, although it supports a regional waste authority.
Jerry Brown, of Murfreesboro, spoke with the Murfreesboro Post prior to the meeting. Although the meeting was not operated by the City of Murfreesboro and did not include the city’s garbage collection fees as a subject, he expressed concern about those mandatory fees.
“It’s beyond absurd,” Brown said, adding that his property taxes used to pay for the service and, “now we’re told it’s not enough.” He said he wants to know where the money is going, and where has the money gone that has been paid by other counties that dump their garbage at Middle Point Landfill.