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When it comes to being “green,” Kentucky is taking a leading role in proving that, environmentally speaking, less is really more.
Our recycling rate, for example, has doubled over the last decade, and in 2008, we passed the national average for the first time. Now, nearly a third of our recyclable materials – such things as aluminum, plastic, glass and paper – are being re-used rather than shipped off to the landfill. Altogether, it amounts to about two million tons annually that are being saved.
That helped our state post a seven percent decline in the amount of garbage taken to landfills in 2009, though part of that was undoubtedly due to the country’s economic decline.
Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and one that state government is taking to heart.
In recent years the General Assembly has set stricter energy-saving requirements for new government buildings, and we’ve offered tax incentives to companies that produce alternative-energy equipment.
In June, the state awarded 70 grants worth $3.5 million to expand not just recycling but also drop-off options for hazardous household waste. Other grants have gone to remove waste tires, which when shredded can be used to help pave roads or make athletic fields safer. Our state government office paper recycling program in Frankfort, meanwhile, now nets about three million pounds annually.
One area where we really excel environmentally is in our schools. Education officials say Kentucky is the first state to have two designed to produce nearly as much energy over a calendar year as they use.
Many others are meeting high energy efficiency standards as well. It was just a few years ago that we only had 17 schools certified by the federal Energy Star program. Now, there are more than 100.
That commitment to conserving energy doesn’t stop at the school door, either. Thanks to a federal $13 million grant, districts are adding hybrid school buses to their fleets. These buses go about twice as far on a gallon of fuel and can hold more students as well. More than 200 buses are expected to be bought with this money.
Not surprisingly, our postsecondary schools are taking similar steps to conserve energy and recycle more. Western Kentucky University, for one, is ramping up efforts to limit how much waste it generates. Over the next five years it will try to increase its recycling rate from 13 percent to at least 35 percent.
Berea College is helping some of its students become fully immersed in its conservation efforts. Its Ecovillage contains 50 apartments, and in addition to relying in part on alternative energy sources like wind and solar, this complex is cutting its per-person use of water by three-fourths, recycling or composting up to 50 percent of its waste and largely treating sewage on-site.
Incidentally, the city of Berea gets high marks in another area environmentally: It has the world’s largest facility dedicated solely to recycling aluminum cans. It’s only fitting Kentucky is home to this, since we lead the nation in aluminum production.
Kentucky also ranks highly in the number of auto jobs that produce alternative energy vehicles. We have nearly 9,800 employees overall who qualified in this survey, putting us fifth among the states.
In the years ahead, we could find ourselves playing a leading role in another area: electronic waste recycling. Several weeks ago, a high-ranking official with the federal government’s procurement agency – which oversees $65 billion in purchases a year – toured a Central Kentucky company that specializes in recycling e-scrap. It’s estimated that the federal government goes through 10,000 computers a week, and a new rule requires that all of this equipment be recycled properly. As electronic gadgets continue working their way into our lives – and seemingly become obsolete the day after they’re bought – it’s easy to see how much growth is in this field.
It wasn’t that long ago that few saw much value in conservation or recycling, but those days are long past. Recycling alone brings in more than $200 billion annually.
That’s a lot of gold for being “green,” and Kentucky is in a good spot to capitalize on this trend. We’ve made a lot of strides in recent years, but there is reason to believe that this decade will be even better.
If you have any suggestions or questions regarding this issue, or any other involving the state, please let me know. I hope to hear from you soon.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.