Vol. IV, No. 1, Summer 1990

A Waste Management Challenge

An OzarksNote by Tracy Mehan,

Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Photos by Missouri Department of Natural Resources

The variety of natural resources found in Missouri provides a source of ceaseless amazement--the rich farmland, the mighty Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and the rugged tree-covered hills of the Ozarks all remind us of the blessings we have living in this part of the United States.

During the time I have travelled throughout Missouri as director of the agency that is the state's chief steward of the environment, it has become increasingly obvious to me that far sighted-policies are needed to balance the protection of our natural resources and the economic needs of our citizens.

In light of the booming population growth found in many cities and counties in the Ozarks and other parts of the state, we are facing a struggle to keep that natural beauty unspoiled--a struggle whose outcome will be determined in large part by how we manage the vast amounts of solid waste we produce each day.

Putting our trash on the curbside for pickup--or far worse, dumping it along a deserted country road--brings to mind the old adage, "Out of sight, out of mind." But our concern about solid waste should not end when the trash truck drives down to the next block. Bringing this problem to a manageable size is going to require a waste-reduction policy on the part of every household in the state.

I am issuing a waste reduction and recycling challenge to all Missourians: how can each of us reduce the solid waste produced in our day-to-day activities and how can we help increase the manufacturing and purchase of Missouri products made from recycled materials? State agencies are implementing programs that respond to these questions, but government is not the whole answer. We need the help and input of every citizen.

An anecdote related to my family's move to Jefferson City may illustrate, on a very small scale, the difficulty--and the benefits--these changes are bringing to us all. I had to clean the garage of our former home just before moving day. While gazing upon the clean garage--an achievement that had eluded me for many years of occupancy there--I spied a solitary open can of motor oil on the shelf.

The former city dump (now closed) of an Ozarks community. The problems with "dumps" i.e., smell,, vermin, fires (note smoke in the background) have been largely eliminated with use of sanitary landfills.


As the newly appointed director of the state's natural resources agency, I knew I could not throw this impertinent vessel in the trash. But what was I to do with it? In terms of waste management solutions, this was where the battle had to be fought and won. Here was this accusing, oozing can of motor oil that had to be confronted. At that moment I came to appreciate, very keenly, one of the greatest challenges facing today's society--proper management of our wastes.

Positive changes protecting the environment have occurred in our thinking and actions. I believe Missourians strongly support recycling of solid waste, as demonstrated by the fact that recycling collection centers have increased 15-fold in the last 19 years. In addition, an increasing number of communities--including Springfield, Columbia, Chillicothe, and West Plains--have started curbside sorting of waste.

However, the common conception of recycling often refers only to the collection of materials; there is little or no understanding of what happens to the material once it is dropped off at the neighborhood collection center or what it takes to make a recycling effort succeed.

Recycling is a system of activities that, like a wheel, rolls smoothly only if all components remain strong. We must expand our support for recycling to include the entire system: purchasing for recycling, collecting for recycling, processing for recycling, manufacturing for recycling, and selling for recycling. In this way, we can ensure that materials collected for recycling will not be disposed of in increasingly scarce landfill space, but instead transformed into new products to be purchased by Missourians.

The State of Missouri strongly supports all steps of the recycling system so we can build a strong recycling future. The benefits are many. A strong recycling program weans us from an excessive dependence on landfills and incinerators, creates new jobs for Missourians in industries that manufacture products from recovered materials, and supports local collection programs by creating new markets for recycled materials.

A call for a 40 percent reduction in our solid waste stream by the end of the decade is con-rained within Gov. Ashcroft's policy on resource recovery. The policy underpins statewide efforts in support of recycling, not only among state agencies but also with local governments and businesses. The underlying goal of the governor's policy is to make waste reduction and resource recovery into significant and routine habits both at work and home. The policy outlines the following route to a less wasteful lifestyle:

First--reduce the amount of solid waste created.
Second--reuse, recycle, and compost.
Third--recover and use energy from solid waste.
Fourth-use incineration and sanitary landfills only for materials that cannot be recycled.

State agencies are incorporating resource recovery considerations into purchasing decisions, industrial development plans, capital improvement projects, and other appropriate areas.

The drive to reduce solid waste in Missouri reached a milestone this year with the passage and signing of Senate Bill 530, a comprehensive solid waste bill that includes a ban on certain types of waste from landfills. Under the law, major appliances, tires, batteries, and waste oil will be banned from Missouri landfills beginning January 1, 1991; a ban on yard waste will take effect January 1, 1992. The bans are designed to encourage recycling and composting projects to use these wastes in a more productive manner.

Implementation of waste reduction legislation and state recycling programs has put government in a leadership position. But in order to be effective, this type of thinking has to extend to the private sector as well, with private citizens and business joining the effort by finding ways to reduce waste and use recycled materials in their daily activities. Solid waste management is no longer the responsibility of only the public works officials or solid waste contractors in our communities; the responsibility to reduce the waste we create, to recycle, and to support recycling efforts through our purchasing power falls upon each of us.

Although this is a properly managed sanitary landfill, concerns about shrinking availability of landfill space and possible effects on groundwater (particularly because of Ozarks topography) make waste reduction a top priority in Missorui.


Much like handling the can of leaking motor oil in my garage, the solution to our solid waste problem lies within ourselves. Perhaps I should not have bought the oil in the first place, knowing I would not use all of it. Perhaps I could have found a way to reuse it or to recover its energy. Perhaps I could even have found a new use for it. But one thing is certain: for me this simple experience was a kind of "epiphany" revealing the significance of the crisis and the role each of us must play in our daily lives to deal with it.

The difficulties and challenges surrounding waste management issues present new opportunities for all of us. I look forward to continuing to work with the legislature, environmental groups, and all Missourians as we act together to manage our solid waste in an environmentally sound manner.

Where does trash go when it leaves your curb?
Tracy Mehan was appointed director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources January, 1989. For more information about what you can do to recycle and reduce waste, call the Department of Natural Resources toll-free at 1-800-334-6946.


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