Incentivizing infrastructure for sustainable waste solutions

To what lengths are jurisdictions willing to go to encourage the sort of infrastructure they need to secure the future of waste management and recycling in America? This is a question local governments and waste authorities need to be asking themselves right now.

In the July-August 2018 issue of this magazine, I mentioned that sustainable business parks were a way the waste management marketplace could transition to become more integrated—a way waste processing, recycling and energy recovery technologies could complement each other and help the waste-to-energy industry reinvent itself in the process. My belief in this remains firm.

The news cycle in 2018 was inundated by Amazon’s search for the location of its second headquarters, known as “HQ2.” After a national search, Amazon decided upon a split plan where it would establish a two-location HQ2 in New York City (now withdrawn) and Arlington, Virginia. In November 2018, Amazon promised 25,000 jobs would come to Arlington, the populous metropolitan suburb of Washington, D.C. The tax incentives approved by Arlington County in March of this year were approximately $23 million, and the county estimated that the tax benefit from the Amazon move could be worth approximately $160 million over the next 12 years.

No side seems to argue against the fact that Amazon’s impact will be significant, that the tax incentive package from Arlington is substantial and that the topic is controversial. After observing how the Amazon headquarters search went—which was the opposite of what the waste industry is accustomed to (the jurisdictions proposed to the business and not the other way around)—it begs the imagination to apply the same scenario to the less flashy, but still very important, waste management industry and ask, “What if municipalities and public agencies pursued, and were willing to develop, an incentive program for the siting of an advanced material recovery facility?”

Similarly, can you think of what it would look like if entire cities rallied to bring sustainable business parks, where the circular economy is realized locally with waste processing, energy recovery, recycling and manufacturing of new products, to their underutilized industrial areas? What if these cities went out of their way to bid to establish an advanced composting facility to utilize their former brownfields?

On page 80 of this issue, “Building something sustainable” takes a look at how Kent County, Michigan, is working to make the sustainable business park a reality. The park’s estimated economic impact is approximately $130 million. For waste processing, sorting and fuel production alone, this project is estimated to have the potential to bring an additional 150 jobs to the area. Not only does this plan have major economic implications but also significant expected environmental benefits, as the park could help divert 90 percent of the community’s waste stream, extend the life of its landfill and move the community towards a more sustainable way of waste management for generations to come.

Much like the Amazon HQ2 deal, a waste management infrastructure project has potential to help diversify reliance on less sustainable resources and aging infrastructures, achieve significant economic impacts and establish complementary businesses.

A challenge now to the reader is to consider how the models of advanced waste management showcased within the pages of this issue could benefit your community and how your local government might consider the use of incentives, such as Arlington did with Amazon, to generate the long-term tax benefits (and environmental benefits) they can provide.

Where there is a will, there is a way—we just need more willingness to shine light on the creative solutions that abound for municipalities when new waste management alternatives are considered.

April 2019
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