Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Alabama Waste Management

We produce huge volumes of waste products in Alabama each year. Without proper trash2.gifmanagement, some of these wastes can lead to excessive water pollution. Our primary waste sources are: domestic and municipal sewage, animal enterprises, food processing industries, pulp and paper mills, other industrial enterprises, municipal refuse (includes lawn, yard and garden wastes), and household garbage. Wastewater is one of our biggest potential pollutants, much of this (about 70%) is routed to wastewater treatment plants for processing to reduce pollution. But at least 30 percent of Alabama's citizens rely on onsite wastewater treatment systems, 98 percent of which are septic tank systems. We have numerous commercial septic tank systems, too. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and other animal feeding operations (AFOs) produce over 4.0 million tons of animal wastes annually in Alabama (at least 1.6 million tons from the broiler industry alone). These wastes must be stored, handled and utilized correctly to prevent water pollution from nutrient-rich runoff. Another 3.0 million tons of waste products generally classified as solid wastes are produced annually in Alabama. Many of these solid waste materials, if not disposed of properly can also pollute water. Examples of solid waste include household garbage, sewage sludge and industrial waste.

cow2.gifWastes from animal operations and from onsite septic systems are considered high-priority contributors to non-point source pollution in our state's surface water systems according to Alabama's 305(b) reports to Congress. It is important that we have environmentally safe and economically practical methods for the use and disposal of all waste products to prevent damage to our water resources. Federal environmental statutes, passed since the creation of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, do in fact, help control the impacts of wastes and waste by-products. These statutes include the Clean Air Act; Clean Water Act; Resource Conservation and Recovery Act with Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or Superfund; Pollution Prevention Act; and Toxic Substances Control Act. The disposal of wastes and even the production of extremely hazardous products, which could result in the generation of toxic non-degradable waste materials, have become more restrictive. Many environmentally unsafe landfills have closed and the costs for shipping and disposal in EPA-approved landfills, especially hazardous wastes landfills, has increased tremendously. There is only one hazardous waste landfill in our state is in Sumter County at Emelle.

By helping Alabama's citizens better understand how wastes can lead to water quality problems, and the roles they can play in better waste management, we will help protect our land and water resources from further degradation. The USDA and its associated land-grant universities, which includes Alabama A&M, Auburn and Tuskegee Universities in Alabama, have extension, research and education programs which address waste management.

Waste Management in Your Watershed

Waste products may come in many shapes, sizes and forms, and from almost anywhere there are people in your watershed. They may be solids, slurries, liquids or gases. They may be classified as physical, chemical, biological or radiological. They may be degradable or non-biodegradable. They may come from natural or man-made products. They may be toxic or non-toxic. They may be concentrated or widespread throughout the watershed.

To determine if waste management is adequate in your watershed, you must first make some sort of assessment as to the type, volume and distribution of wastes generated within your watershed. You must then determine if these wastes are being properly managed to reduce potential environmental impacts. A basic knowledge of proper waste pretreatment, utilization and disposal processes will help you make your assessment. Pretreatment may include--storage; drying; composting; incineration; shredding or grinding to reduce volume; or sorting to facilitate recycling--depending on the type of waste. Use and disposal processes generally include: recycling, burying in an appropriate landfill, further incineration, or biodegradation through land application or other processes to reclaim nutrients or other useful products.

Resources and Programs

Many resources are now available on waste impacts and how to manage them to prevent water pollution.

Extension Outreach

Auburn University is the home of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), which develops and delivers programs designed to provide science-based outreach education into all counties of the state. ACES has the capacity to interpret waste management research, which has been developed at colleges, universities or from other sources, and use it in education, training and demonstration programs to solve or prevent local problems related to waste management. Target audiences may range from homeowners and agricultural producers to business owners and managers to policy makers.

The ACES and Auburn University College of Agriculture has a website devoted to animal waste management in Alabama.

CAFO training typically is provided by the Alabama Waste Management Education Team. This team is comprised of representatives from the ACES and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. Cooperating agencies include the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Organizations such as the Alabama Farmers Dederation and the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association have also provided assistance. For more information on CAFO training, contact your local Extension County Office or your local NRCS office.

The Agricultural Engineering Department offers online information on waste management.

Scientific Research

A primary mission of scientific research at Alabama's Land Grant Universities is to develop new and better ways of providing the agricultural needs of Alabama's citizens, while protecting our natural resources for long-term sustainability.

The Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station participates in research related to waste management.

The Auburn University Department of Biosystems Engineering researches innovative agricultural waste management methods.

The Auburn University Department of Civil Engineering is involved in ongoing research related to wastewater management.

College and University Education

Courses offered at Auburn University related to Waste and Wastewater Managment may be found in the following departments:

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