Planning Commission

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Sep 11

Taking Care of Stuff

Posted on September 11, 2015 at 6:01 PM by Michael Stokes

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Our lives are intertwined with stuff.  Though we are born naked, we quickly accumulate stuff soon after we breathe our first breath.  The first of many disposable diapers is slapped on us.   Then we are showered with crazy new outfits from family members we haven’t even met and other people that we may never meet.  At best we wear those outfits once, spit up on it and then quickly outgrow it.  As we grow older we amass amazing amounts of toys from birthdays and holidays.  When we become adults we still accumulate toys- they just become more expensive and sophisticated. Other stuff passes through our hands very quickly such as all of the food packaging and beverage containers and other package stuff that brings us more stuff.

Probably some of our hardest life time decisions sadly involve what to do with all of our stuff. Toss it or keep it.  And if we keep it (in many cases that would be more accurately described as hoard it), where do we put it.  It should come as no surprise that a major land use trend in the county involves storage for our stuff.

Now for the stuff that we no longer want.  Here is where local government comes in.   The stuff that we want to get rid enters the municipal waste system.  In Montgomery County that means an integrated waste management system involving a hierarchy of actions which seek to reduce the impact of our stuff on the environment.  The four steps of integrated waste management include:  source waste reduction/ reuse; recycling; resource recovery; and landfilling.

Source waste reduction and reuse basically means finding a new use for old stuff.  Surely there is someone out there that wants your bright orange pants that you wore only once (perhaps that was one time too often).  That is where thrift stores, flea markets and other reuse options can be used.  The trick is finding the right one. 

Recycling has grown into our everyday culture. We recycle at drop off centers and at the curbside each week or so on.  Businesses and various institutions also successfully recycle.  Special paper shredding events and tire collections are held to assist residents recycle additional material safely.  In 2014, we recycled about 319,220 tons of waste- enough to cover a football field - end zones and all - with more than one foot of material each day. 

With the over 600,000 tons of waste that we cannot reuse it or recycle it, the next best thing is to do is to harvest some of the natural resources or energy value in it.  That is where the Covanta Plymouth Resource Recovery Plant fits in. This large incinerator that can burn over 1200 tons per day of waste produces generating greater than 32 megawatts of electricity.  Additionally, steel is recaptured for recycling after combustion. 

In the end, there is always the landfill to receive ash from the resource recovery plant and other waste that cannot be incinerated.  Since there are no operating landfills in the county, this usually means shipping waste to eastern Bucks County or into Berks County or to other landfills located throughout Pennsylvania.  Though the waste in a landfill is basically entombed forever, gases produced by decaying waste can provide fuel for onsite electric power generators.  Liner systems and leachate collection controls in modern landfills ensure the safety of the environment around the landfill. 

All this and more is discussed in the recent draft revision to the Montgomery County Municipal Waste Plan now available for comment.

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