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Waste management evolving to meet new regulations in clean energy

Posted at 5:46 AM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 09:14:44-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — It’s a dirty job, but a necessary one. Landfills and waste management act as the often overlooked industry vital to our daily lives.

“You’re going to see waste become a commodity utilized in different ways and a much better way than just putting it into the ground," said Chuck Magee, Kern County Publics Work Manager. Magee says the way we think about trash is changing with new regulations coming out of Sacramento pushing for clean energy, and staffing shortages brought on by the pandemic.

Magee says the next several years we’ll see an evolution in the role of solid waste.

“There’s a lot that’s going to happen in a regulatory and educational venue. A change in focus from disposal first, recycle second to recycle first, diversion second,” he said. “We’re not just burying trash and moving on, we’re looking at ways that we can change the way things work.”

Magee believes we’ll see waste management become a bigger factor in other industries like energy, technology, and ag. Taking solid and green waste materials and transforming them into material that can be used almost as a replacement to cement and other building material. This transformation done so using a special conversion method without giving off harsh emissions.

“They make a generator that’s powered off of this thing, and it feeds it back to the grid. So it takes waste product like tree branches and organic material, burns it, and produces no smoke or emissions," Magee said. "We tested it and got a full permit for the air board, so no we're working with PG&E to hook it to the grid and we just burn material and it makes electricity."

We’ve already seen it start with Senate Bill 1383 looking to reduce the disposal of organic waste by 75 percent over the next four years. This change not only increasing land use fees for Kern County residents, but increasing the workload for landfill workers.

“We saw traffic spikes double what we would normally see on a day to day," Magee said. He also mentioned that like other industries, public works has seen their workforce decrease with the pandemic. “Approximately 50 people doing this at all our sites, we have 14 sites, and with the 17 vacancies we have to move people back in forth…that’s a lot of shortages.”

Unlike other industries, waste management doesn't stop when there's still work to be done.

“That’s why we are desperately trying to find ways to do it easier, faster, and cheaper, because that number is going to keep going up," said Magee.

Now a big part to easing the burden put on our landfill workers is actually done right at home, making sure when you dispose of things you do so properly. For example things like cardboard should be recycled unless it's contaminated by grease or food.

For a full list of how to properly dispose of solid and green waste, see here.