Southern Regional Water Program

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

Waste Management in Tennessee

Nothing we use is entirely consumed. Residues are produced and we must decide how to manage them. How we choose to manage our wastes as a society will ultimately impact the quality of our environment and our lives. The waste management systems employed by any society are the result of a balance between competing interests. Environmental sustainability, economic viability and social acceptance must all be considered when determining appropriate waste management strategies for communities, industries and agricultural operations.

People generate a large volume of waste. Primary waste streams directly linked to individuals include municipal solid waste (garbage) and municipal wastewater (sewage). hill.gifIn Tennessee, landfills are the predominant disposal method for municipal solid waste. Methane gas, a product of the biological degradation process within the landfill, can be recycled and used to generate electricity, sometimes referred to as Green Power. Recycling and at-home composting have been encouraged to reduce the volume of material entering landfills. Municipal wastewaters are treated biologically and chemically at city treatment plants. Residual materials, referred to as biosolids, are applied to surrounding croplands. Biosolids can benefit surrounding cropland by increasing soil organic matter and providing some crop nutrients.

Industrial waste management varies by facility. Facilities must obtain permits to handle and store waste based on material content. A list of the permits is available from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). Persons discharging pollutants directly from point sources into surface waters of the state must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPDES).

Agricultural wastes are receiving increased attention in Tennessee. Livestock producers are responsible for preventing wastewaters from entering state waters as cow.gifpoint source pollution, but new state (Tennessee CAFO permitting requirements) and federal regulations and strategies (Proposed federal AFO regulation changes) are requiring Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and encouraging Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) to develop Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs).

Historically, manures generated at animal production facilities have been returned to the land to increase soil organic matter and replace nutrients removed during crop production. The concentration of animals on fewer farms has created manure management concerns. Increased herd sizes on static farm acreage means manure water.gifmay be applied at rates that exceed available crop nutrient needs on the farm. The over-application of manure can result in nutrients, organic matter and bacteria entering surface and ground water. This can lead to eutrophication and oxygen depletion in surface waters and pollution of ground and surface waters. Waste storage structures improperly sized, operated, or maintained can also create waste handling and odor problems. The goal of proposed regulations and CNMPs is to develop economically viable, environmentally sustainable animal waste management systems.

Resources and Programs

The University of Tennessee system provides research, education and extension resources to assist state and federal agencies, business and industry, communities and individual citizens in addressing water quality concerns. These programs are designed to provide information for specific audiences, such as farmers, homeowners and youth.

Extension Outreach

The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service develops and delivers programs designed to provide educational outreach into all counties of the state in concert with Tennessee State University. Outreach education enables the research developed at colleges and universities and from other sources throughout the world to be interpreted and delivered to the end user (e.g., families, business owners or agricultural producers). Some of the major Extension education programs addressing waste management are:

CNMP Element Writer Certification: Tennessee livestock producers are subject to increasingly diverse and complex regulations for management of animal wastes. To protect and improve water quality, many dairy, poultry and pork producers must develop and follow Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs) that specify how they will collect, store and apply animal manure and waste water on their farms. These plans must be developed by Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) staff or by certified third party providers. To meet the demands for CNMP development, the Agricultural Extension Service has entered into a partnership that has developed a certification program for CNMP element writers in Tennessee.

Extension Field Days: The Agricultural Extension Service coordinates field days to disseminate information about waste management to Tennessee livestock producers. Programs are designed to inform producers about a range of issues they should be aware of to maintain and increase the sustainability and profitability of their operations.

Extension Publications:
A variety of publications are available from the Animal Waste Management Extension Publication web site. Publications are available for download and printing.

Scientific Research

A wide range of disciplines perform scientific research in the area of waste management at the University of Tennessee. Some animal waste management research projects directed within the Biosystems Engineering and Environmental Science Department are detailed on the Animal Waste Management website. Some chick.gifindustrial and municipal waste management research projects directed through the Center for Environmental Biotechnology are detailed on their website.

College and University Education

Degree programs and continuing education are critical to develop and enhance our skills and abilities to address water quality issues. Information on environment and natural resource courses, degree programs and continuing education opportunities at The University of Tennessee are available online.

Educational curricula related to waste management are available within several departments at the University of Tennessee.

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