Tioga County Strives to be a Zero-Waste Community

By Ellen Pratt, Tioga County Materials Recovery Manager
Tioga County, like all counties in the state, has waste disposal and recycling issues which have both environmental and economic costs. These issues reduce the effectiveness of our businesses, increase pressures on the environment through greenhouse gas emissions and loss of natural resources that harms the vitality of our communities. The economic burden is amplified in Tioga County due to the lack of a landfill within the county.
Tioga County Solid Waste has partnered with Tioga County Economic Development & Planning, as well as local businesses as part of a drive for a “Zero Waste” county. “Zero Waste” means that 90% of the waste generated in Tioga County will be diverted from landfills. Achieving “Zero Waste” is included in Tioga County's current Strategic Plan.
This initiative creates a more sustainable economy, including value-added products from materials that currently end up in landfills or rot on our landscapes. Innovative and traditional approaches by businesses located in Tioga County such as Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling and Taylor Garbage as well as new businesses such as Crown Cork & Seal are presenting tremendous opportunities for sustainability with the added bonus of increased beautification of Tioga County.
One of the initial steps toward zero waste began in 2008 when Tioga County Solid Waste and Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling created an innovative tire cleanup program. Upstate Shredding-Weitsman donated $50,000 over five years to initiate “tire clean up events” within Tioga County. Through these events, the county has provided a safe and economical method for both residents and municipalities to dispose of tires. In the first five years, we safely disposed of/recycled over 400 tons of tires.
In 2012, Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling donated another $50,000 over five years to continue this successful program. Over the past 8 years, we have safely disposed of/recycled over 800 tons of tires.
Taylor Garbage, in conjunction with Tioga County Solid Waste, has a clear and simple vision: Make Tioga County a “Zero Waste” community. Through waste and hauling reductions, recycling, and eventually construction and demolition (C&D) recycling and composting, Taylor Garbage is a key partner in helping Tioga County achieve this goal. Taylor Garbage has leveraged more than three decades of experience, intellectual assets, and the ability to bridge business and government, including over $7 million in capital investments at their new complex in Apalachin. Their expertise helps Tioga County and the region build awareness of existing opportunities and the community ability to successfully implement “Zero Waste” strategies. Part of this strategy, for both Taylor Garbage and Tioga County Solid Waste, was successfully initiated in 2008 through an educational campaign aimed to change residents' attitudes toward waste and to support the “Zero Waste” plan in Tioga County.
Tioga County Economic Development & Planning has supported business growth and development through value-added commodities and new product development; fostering talent and entrepreneurship; and workforce development. They are assisting with a potential major expansion of Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling in the construction of a reinforcing steel manufacturing operation using scrap metal that has been processed in the Southern Tier Region and beyond. This project will leverage millions of dollars in private investment and wages and would create over 400 jobs. This expansion would re-invigorate the local manufacturing sector, provide manufacturing opportunities for our displaced workforce, and create new businesses by reusing, reprocessing and remanufacturing items that would have otherwise been exported out of the region or country, been abandoned on our landscape or placed in a landfill.
Tioga County Economic Development & Planning has also brought new businesses to the area. For example Crown Cork & Seal is building a high-speed beverage can manufacturing facility in Tioga County. This facility will be a commercial energy efficiency project which enhances the sustainability of the project. Crown Cork & Seal's mantra is “Metal Recycles Forever." To their consumers, they promote the inherent recyclability of their packaging as well as encourage recycling of these products, which supports both Crown Cork & Seal's and Tioga County's sustainability efforts.
Historically, the Southern Tier was New York State's manufacturing belt. This Zero Waste initiative has encouraged re-identification of Tioga County as a remanufacturing, value-added sector, taking waste products and creating marketable products. By developing partnerships with local businesses, County will be able to promote research & development using green remanufacturing. It will identify the current recycling/reuse markets in the Southern Tier; address challenges for recycling/reuse in the Southern Tier such as market value, most volatile markets, materials transported great distances, hard-to-recycle/manage materials; and promote locally-made recycled, repurposed, and remanufactured products. This will host reuse and recycling manufacturing industries using materials generated right here in Tioga County and beyond. This initiative moves Tioga County towards “Zero Waste.” We want to increase the region's use of recycled materials, and support recycling/remanufacturing businesses that are looking to start-up or expand in the Southern Tier.
While this article primarily talks about local businesses with respect to “Zero Waste” efforts in Tioga County, it cannot be just one sector to be a “Zero Waste” community. Waste and recycling is not just an environmental issue, it is also an economic and philosophical issue. From county programs and intentions to businesses and residents, we must work together to conserve our natural resources and change the paradigm.