Environment

Halfway into its first year, Louisville city officials and residents say a plastic bag ban for yard waste has been met with a surprisingly positive reception.

While some initially fought its implementation and many were resistant, the change has gone smoothly, officials say.

Leaflets explaining the change were dropped at 20,000 homes early this year, said Sarah Lynn Cunningham, environmental activist and solid waste advisory board member. In the last yard waste collection, only 356 homes were still using plastic bags for yard waste disposal.

The ban was prompted by what some saw as a deceptive environmental practice. A yard waste landfill ban went into effect in Louisville during the 1990s to separate organic material from trash, but the material was so contaminated by plastic that no composting facilities would purchase it.

“[We were shocked that] everything that went into a City of Louisville yard waste truck was going to the landfill,” Cunningham said.

Although residents placed their mowings and clippings outside to be collected for compost, nearly all bags were instead taken with all other solid waste and were used by Waste Management as daily cover.

Daily cover, used by most landfills, is a layer of soil or organic material that is laid on top of garbage to reduce odors and allow vehicles to drive over the waste.

Waste Management benefited because it did not have to purchase daily cover, and workers’ jobs were simplified and cost was reduced because they did not have to separate the plastic bagging from yard waste.

But residents and environmental proponents were outraged. Waste Management, which handles the city’s garbage, said it could not compost yard waste if it was picked up in a traditional plastic bag. Activists joined the Solid Waste Advisory Board to work on a ban of plastic bags, so that when yard waste was placed outside for pickup, it was guaranteed to be composted and not taken to a landfill.

Since the ban began on Jan. 1, more than 4 million pounds have been composted at Smith Creek, a facility where the waste is turned into animal bedding, fuel pellets, and dirt that are then sold to different companies. No yard waste is currently being used as daily cover.

Public Education Coordinator Angela Kessans said the results have been “amazing” and that compliance is even better than expected because of publicity surrounding the issue and educational efforts.

Kessans said this is the biggest solid waste initiative the city has undertake in recent years, but she is also exploring a voluntary compost system that would combine yard waste and smaller household decomposable materials such as food waste.

Though the compliance rates have been high so far, the real test of the city’s new ban will be during late summer and the fall—when Metro Government sees a peak in yard waste pickups.