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Let's Talk Trash
By Robert Kravitz, President AlturaSolutions
Published: 03/19/2018

Prison e Today in the U.S., we have about 2.3 million adults housed in approximately 5,000 correctional facilities. To house all these people cost U.S. taxpayers more than $80 billion annually.

Along with labor costs, a significant contributor to these expenses is providing three meals per day to these inmates. But another cost that is getting more and more attention lately is waste. Vast amounts of waste are generated in correctional facilities every day, and finding ways to dispose of this waste is proving to be very costly, both in terms of dollars and cents, as well as having a major impact on the environment.

A great deal of this is food waste. In most cases, food that is prepared but not consumed in a correctional facility, is merely tossed away. There are too many concerns about food spoilage to refrigerate or freeze leftovers, allowing for them to be used at a later date. In a larger facility with about 4,000 inmates, this can amount to as much as 2,000 pounds of food waste every day.

But right behind food waste is a more traditional waste, the same type of waste generated in almost all types of facilities. This waste includes materials such as paper, glass, or plastic. Some of these materials may be recycled or re-used, but vast amounts are merely treated as trash and tossed away.

As to where all this waste goes, some correctional facilities have large garbage disposal systems that liquify much of the food waste. But these systems are dependent on vast volumes of water. In water-stressed states such as California, they are used sparingly or not at all.

So this means the bulk of the waste goes to landfill sites. Most landfills have a disposal charge. While this can vary from state to state, if 2,000 pounds of garbage are delivered daily to a landfill site, you can imagine these charges can be substantial.

Once in the landfill, the food waste may decompose relatively quickly, but the other items - the more traditional waste mentioned earlier – can take years, even decades. This is especially true in the case of plastic. In the process of decomposing, all of this waste can produce greenhouse gasses, harmful to the environment. And we should not forget, hauling thousands of pounds of waste each day to landfills – typically on a daily basis – also releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This also negatively impacts the environment and contributes to greenhouse gasses.

So what can we do about all this waste?

Not surprisingly, technologies have been developed, with even more coming online, that can help address this challenge. For instance, one of the best ways to reduce food waste is to install what is referred to as “enclosed bio-digesters.” These are available from different manufacturers, giving correctional administrators a range of systems to select from.

Food waste is placed into the enclosed unit where it is essentially digested in about 24 hours. These units leave little if any waste that must be collected or hauled to landfills. So they can be a cost saver in both waste reduction and in reducing those landfill disposal rates discussed earlier.

Another waste minimizing method addresses the problem of plastic waste. Often overlooked when talking about plastic waste are the large plastic trash liners used to collect trash in a correctional location. These liners are rarely made from recycled materials nor are they recyclable. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program does not even require the use of recycled plastic liners in facilities seeking LEED certification.

This is because those that are made from recycled materials or are recyclable, do not meet necessary performance standards.

However, once again, technology has stepped up to the plate. One manufacturer in the professional cleaning industry, Kaivac, has developed a system that reduces the volume of trash in plastic liners full of garbage by as much as one-half.

A wand from one of their cleaning systems is placed into the trash bag, the vacuum system is turned on, and the bag, along with its contents, is compacted. It’s a surprise no one came up with this technology sooner. It allows for more trash to be added to each trash liner, reducing the use of plastic significantly.

Another waste reduction strategy is waste prevention. Waste prevention involves many components from stepping up recycling and material re-use programs, both of which we mentioned earlier, to working directly with manufacturers, asking them to design and develop materials that can be recycled or re-used, instead of tossed away.

This is something that organizations throughout the country are now doing. Companies such as Apple, Walmart, and Colgate-Palmolive, to name just a few, are all working with their suppliers, developing materials that can be not only recycled or reused, but made from sustainable materials and have a reduced impact on the environment. Correctional administrators are urged to do the same.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the correctional industry.


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