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Millions for a MRF?

Or Work Harder to Teach How to Recycle and Compost?


Personally, I am disappointed that the supervisors have approved to pay a consultant $275,000 to help negotiate a deal for the construction of the proposed Material Resource Recovery Facility (MRF) at Tajiguas. And the dismissive attitude shown those who attended the meeting to oppose this effort is also disappointing. Opponents’ logic is sound — why would the county agree to pay $140 million to private developers with no experience with the design and construction of a MRF? (Many pronounce MRF as “mirf.”)

Briefly, a MRF is a technology-driven sorting facility that sifts through trash and can capture wayward bits and pieces of valuable materials and properly route them for reuse or recycling rather than ending up in the landfill. The goal is to reduce the amount of trash going in by removing errant objects of value. Less trash buried will extend the life of Tajiguas.

I honestly can’t say that I’ve researched all the facts associated with government-run projects, but I would hazard a guess that most run over budget. This development will no doubt do the same. Is Santa Barbara County so financially stable that it can commit millions to such a project? The public should know how this investment will “pencil out”: how long before we, meaning the taxpayers, will see a return on our investment and what form will it take?

Truly, if this project were a moneymaker, I’m quite sure this fact would be advertised in big, bold announcements. But as it is, I think this project will end up costing the residents of this county more money in terms of public service fees.

Like any commodity, recyclable materials are driven by the market; the price per ton will fluctuate. Another factor is the quality of the material recovered. Much of our recyclables are contaminated because consumers do not know how to properly sort waste materials. This fact drives down the price per ton value and eliminates some buyers altogether. Then there’s the issue of longevity. When the landfill closes, will the MRF be shuttered too or will it continue to operate?

A MRF is a worthwhile investment if it is strategically built, the associated expense is shared by other counties or private haulers, and if its central location is accessible to all for years to come. It’s less valuable when it’s tied to a landfill that is slated to close in 15-20 years.

I suggest that the supervisors withdraw the consultant contract. Pull out your calculators and ask some questions to those within the government who are proposing this project be built. Consider how those millions could be better spent. We could, with some effort, teach consumers how to accurately sort their waste from recyclables at the front end, contract with our hauler to add food scraps collection to residential neighborhoods, and work harder at eliminating food waste all together for a lot less than constructing and maintaining a MRF.

That’s my 2¢.



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