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Around the Region

Posted on: February 6, 2020

What to Do About Nashville’s Growing Trash Problem

Really, it’s astounding to think about.

Every day, before the first rays of the sun tickle the eastern edges of the county, scores of trucks rumble to a start and fan across the county, dutifully picking up canfuls of refuse. On a rotating schedule all throughout Davidson County, every home and business gets its trash picked up every week. Once a truck is full, it goes to Republic Services’ transfer facility off Lebanon Road near Fesslers Lane, and from there, it heads to a landfill.

Garbage collection is such a part of the routine that we seldom think much about it. It’s like any other utility in that way. Hardly anyone ever thinks about where the water from the tap comes from and how it gets to the faucet, or where it goes once it goes down the drain. The same is true with garbage collection. As long as it gets picked up, most everyone is more than happy to haul their cans out to the roadside once a week.

Nashville makes a lot of trash. Metro Public Works and its contractors collected 228,000 tons of it in fiscal year 2019 — nearly two pounds per person per day. That doesn’t count garbage picked up by private haulers — utilized by many businesses, apartment complexes and condominiums, for example — or construction waste. Add that in, and the overall tonnage pushes up into the millions, according to a 2016 study.

Only one-quarter is recycled or composted — a low number compared even to the paltry 35 percent national average — so that means the rest goes to a landfill.

Burying trash isn’t a new idea. It’s as old as civilization itself, in fact. Without buried trash, archaeologists and anthropologists would have very little information about the everyday lives of those who came before. What’s perhaps most concerning is that in 3,000 centuries of human civilization, no one’s come up with anything better than digging a hole and dumping trash into it, and the existential question of how much the species has really advanced in all that time is a troubling one to consider. 

Let’s leave that question to the socialists and philosophers, because there’s a bigger, more immediate problem for Nashvillians: In as little as five years, all that trash may have nowhere to go....

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