The Oconee River Wins
Deborah Sheppard, Altamaha Riverkeeper
Justine Thompson, Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest, 404-659-3122
(August 5, 2005) After a year of negotiation, Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK) and S P Newsprint have reached an agreement that will reduce discharges of plastic in the Oconee River. The recycled newsprint company, located in Dublin, has agreed to construct and install new technology to reduce the plastic in its effluent. Operation of the new equipment is expected by December 31, 2005.
SP Newsprint receives newspapers from 230 suppliers and more than 7,000 recycling receptacles, located at schools and businesses in 10 states. It shreds the old newsprint to produce recycled paper. Many of the newspapers in recycling receptacles are left in plastic sleeves and in SP’s manufacturing process, the plastic is shredded and as much as six pounds can end up in the wastewater discharge in the river on any particular day.
In the summer of 2004, after following up on reports from fishermen in the area who observed the plastic in the river, the Altamaha Riverkeeper filed a sixty - day notice of intent to sue SP Newsprint under the Clean Water Act. S P and the Altamaha Riverkeeper disagree over whether the 6 pounds of plastic discharged daily in the river is legal under state and federal law. However, instead of resolving the matter in court ARK and SP have agreed to concentrate their efforts on identifying and implementing solutions to keep the plastic out of the river, as soon as possible.
In addition to installing new technologies to reduce plastic in the discharge, according to the agreement, SP will continue evaluating its operating practices and equipment for improvement and will also provide discharge information to ARK for four years. SP will also conduct two years of water quality sampling in the river for nutrients, metals, dissolved oxygen, PH and conductivity on a quarterly basis. Part of the agreement outlines a consumer education effort by the company and ARK to inform the public about the necessity for removing all plastic before discarding any paper for recycling.
According to Deborah Sheppard, Executive Director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, “Our goal is to clean up the river and we believe that this agreement is a good example of a company working with the community to achieve that goal.” “ However, citizens must be part of the solution. It is encouraging that so many of us consider recycling to be a way of life but for recycling to be successful, we must do it right,” continues Ms. Sheppard. “Plastic deposited in newspaper recycling bins all over the state ends up in the Oconee River and that has to stop. SP Newsprint has committed to removing more of the shredded plastic from its wastewater discharge with improved technologies. Citizen recyclers can make those “technical improvements” even more effective by depositing only newspapers in the recycling bins.” The Altamaha Riverkeeper encourages citizens to remove plastic and other foreign items before throwing anything in a recycling bin. “The lesson is that you never know where it will end up.”
The Altamaha Riverkeeper works to protect and restore the water quality and flow of the Altamaha River watershed which include the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Ohoopee rivers. We depend on citizens to report problems, like the plastic discharge, in the river and encourage everyone who uses our rivers to be aware of problems and report them to the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the Department of Natural Resources and to ARK. Information on how to contact EPD is available on ARK’s website.
The Altamaha Riverkeeper was represented by Justine Thompson at GreenLaw [formerly the Georgia Center for the Law in the Public Interest] and Donald D.J. Stack & Associates.