To truly embrace sustainability, Nashville must look beyond recycling | Opinion

Our collective power through the cities in which we live and work can and should be harnessed to improve our environment instead of becoming a strain on it.

Forrest Porterfield
Guest Columnist
  • Forrest Porterfield is president of Stircor, a Nashville-based wastewater treatment partner.

Many of us have heard the arguments that individual contributions make little dent in solving the climate change challenges we’re facing, and we know the majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from a small number of corporations and state-owned companies. Knowing this, it’s easy to recognize collective change is what’s needed to solve the climate-related problems on our planet.  

While Nashville experienced a serious hiccup in individual recycling this year, the fact remains that even if individual recycling were 100% adopted by all citizens and was carried out perfectly, there would still be a large amount of waste and pollution contributing to landfills and putting continued strain on our environment.

What then, can cities and municipalities do beyond providing (or not providing) recycling services to enable all their citizens to contribute positively and conveniently to solving environmental issues? I’ll share a few possibilities.  

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Compost and Food Waste  

In tourism-focused cities like Nashville, the restaurant options are seemingly endless, which is an added bonus for locals. However, with great restaurants, there can also come great food waste.  

The good thing about most food waste is that it doesn’t have to be waste or go to the landfill. With simple composting and adoption methods, already created by excellent organizations like Urban Green Lab and the National Resources Defense Council, our cities can put these policies to practice, feed those in need and prevent millions of pounds of waste in landfills.  

We should all be asking where the leftovers go at any restaurant we visit. There are also at-home composting options like Compost Nashville to allow for individual contributions.  

Wastewater Treatment  

In the U.S., wastewater treatment facilities process up to 34 billion gallons per day with the primary purpose of returning clean water back to the surface water system. Part of this process is to separate the sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, from the liquid. It’s estimated that U.S. municipal wastewater facilities produce 46 million wet tons of biosolids per year.

Per the EPA, 51% of these biosolids are land applied as a soil amendment, 38% are sent to a landfill or incinerated, and the remainder are disposed of via other management practices. Many municipalities send these biosolids to land application sites, including agricultural lands, or landfills without any treatment to eliminate potentially harmful pollutants and pathogens. 

Further heightening concern over biosolid disposal practices are recent discoveries, in Maine, of levels of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are alarming to health officials.  

It’s time for our cities to adopt solutions that provide alternatives to simply treating water. My company, Stircor, offers the option to dry these biosolids; resulting in an end-product that meets the highest EPA standard for safe disposal. The biosolids can then be responsibly repurposed for agricultural uses. In short, new techniques create a win-win for municipalities and the environment.  

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Green Building Investments 

A final leg in this stool that municipalities can offer to collectively help our environment is investment or requirements around green building. Nashville’s neighborhoods have benefitted from construction with the requirement for developers to add larger, new sidewalks and more green space.

Additional requirements for more energy efficient homes and buildings to reduce carbon footprint have also proven to be impactful for helping our environment while still allowing progress and change.   

As we all know, there is no one way to solve climate change and positively impact the environment when there are so many contributing factors. Also, it’s seemingly impossible for individuals to make an impact on their own.

I encourage our city leaders and those across the country to look at solutions that positively affect our environment while improving the lives of our citizens. These solutions can coincidentally have little to no cost and even become a revenue stream.  

Our collective power through the cities in which we live and work can and should be harnessed to improve our environment instead of becoming a strain on it.  

Forrest Porterfield is president of Stircor, a Nashville-based wastewater treatment partner.