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When it comes to being “green,” Kentucky is taking a leading role in proving that, environmentally speaking, less is really more.
Our recycling rate, for example, has doubled over the last decade, and in 2008, we passed the national average for the first time. Now, nearly a third of our recyclable materials – such things as aluminum, plastic, glass and paper – are being re-used rather than shipped off to the landfill. Altogether, it amounts to about two million tons annually that are being saved.
That helped our state post a 7 percent decline in the amount of garbage taken to landfills in 2009, though part of that was undoubtedly due to the country’s economic decline.
Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and one that state government is taking to heart.
In recent years the General Assembly has set stricter energy-saving requirements for new government buildings, and we’ve offered tax incentives to companies that produce alternative-energy equipment.
In June, the state awarded 70 grants worth $3.5 million to expand not just recycling but also drop-off options for hazardous household waste. Other grants have gone to remove waste tires, which when shredded can be used to help pave roads or make athletic fields safer. Our state government office paper recycling program in Frankfort, meanwhile, now nets about three million pounds annually.
One area where we really excel environmentally is in our schools. Education officials say Kentucky is the first state to have two school buildings designed to produce nearly as much energy over a calendar year as they use. Many others are meeting high energy-efficiency standards as well. Just a few years ago, we only had 17 schools certified by the federal Energy Star program. Now, there are more than 100.
Our commitment to conserving energy doesn’t stop there. Thanks to a federal $13 million grant, districts are adding hybrid school buses to their fleets. These buses go about twice as far on a gallon of fuel. They also can hold more students. More than 200 buses are expected to be bought with this money.
Kentucky also ranks fifth in the U.S. in the number of auto jobs producing alternative-energy vehicles. We have nearly 9,800 employees overall who qualified in this survey.
In the years ahead, we could find ourselves playing a leading role in another area: electronic waste recycling. Several weeks ago, a high-ranking official with the federal government’s procurement agency – which oversees $65 billion in purchases a year – toured a Central Kentucky company that specializes in recycling e-scrap. The federal government is estimated to scrap 10,000 computers a week, and a new rule requires that all of this equipment to be recycled properly.
It wasn’t that long ago that few saw much value in conservation or recycling, but those days are long past. Recycling alone brings in more than $200 billion annually.
That’s a lot of gold for being “green,” and Kentucky is in a good spot to capitalize on this trend. We’ve made a lot of strides in recent years, but there is reason to believe that this decade will be even better.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181.