A Useful Diversion

When McCarthy first started working at the Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division, its waste diversion rate was 40 percent. In other words, 60 percent of the solid waste in Tompkins County ended up in a landfill. Since then, those numbers have been reversed, and division’s current waste diversion rate is 60 percent. The division’s goal, McCarthy says, is to reach 75 percent in the next four years and 85 percent by 2031.

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the average diversion rate for county waste facilities in New York is 20 percent. Other counties across the state routinely call Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division to ask for advice, and the staff is often invited to state conferences to share its best practices.

So how did the division get so successful?

“One reason is the financing of the division,” McCarthy explains. “Our revenues—which come from an annual fee, disposal fees, and money from the sale of recyclables—fund our programs. If you look at other areas of the state, you’ll find that some county programs are funded solely by recycling revenues. So fluctuations in the economy affect the program.”

Because county residents have to purchase a trash tag for each bag of garbage they set out to be hauled to a landfill, the more they throw away, the more they have to pay. In the long run, people realize that it’s cheaper to keep as many things out of the waste stream as they can.

The waste management division also partners with community organizations, including Finger Lakes ReUse, which gives new life to old junk. Finger Lakes ReUse accepts discarded computers that are then data wiped, refurbished, and resold. The organization offers a program in its eCenter that teaches students basic computer repair and troubleshooting skills. When the program ends, students get to keep the computers they’ve worked on.

Although some Tompkins County residents are constantly on the lookout for creative ways to be sustainable, people don’t have to be green in everything they do, explains Stephanie Egan-Engels ’06, who until this past August worked with McCarthy implementing and promoting recycling and reuse programs at the solid waste management division.

“Just find one thing about the sustainability effort that resonates with you, focus on that to the best of your ability, and you’ve done your part,” she says.

Wasteland continues with:

Christopher Bodkin '11 and his business that recycles hospital surgical tape

Shams-il Arefin Islam '06 who is helping garbage grow the economy


– Keith Davis