ST. JOHN — Although recycling remains the right thing to do, there’s a national emergency affecting the entire garbage industry caused by a major policy shift in China.
Two top officials from Republic Services recently delivered that message to the St. John Town Council. Republic Services, one of the Region’s major garbage handlers, won the bid to collect garbage and recycling in St. John.
James Metros, former Crown Point mayor and Republic Services municipal manager, and General Manager Doug Rosenbaum gave a presentation at a St. John council meeting about what they called “the China Sword,” how it impacts their industry and how recycling habits need to change.
For decades, China has been the largest importer of the world’s recycled commodities, and the U.S. accounted for 40 percent of that “inbound stream,” Rosenbaum said.
Because China would take any kind of recyclables, “this made us all lazy recyclers,” he said, explaining that “68.3 million Americans place a nonrecyclable, contaminated item in the recycling.”
Contaminated items include cardboard pizza boxes that have sauce or other food on them and plastic milk cartons that haven’t been rinsed out and dried, Rosenbaum said.
“Now it’s more pitch it and run,” he said about how Americans recycle, adding that plastic bags and plastic disposable diapers in recycling bins are other major problems.
In 2017 Chinese leaders announced efforts to clean up their country, which included dramatic changes in what the nation would accept in imported recyclables, Rosenbaum said.
For example, China reduced the acceptable contamination levels for any recovered paper and plastic from 3 percent to 0.5 percent. China also banned all mixed paper from being imported regardless of the contamination level. Mixed paper, including newspapers, accounted for 20 percent of the recycled materials once accepted from countries around the world, Rosenbaum said.
These reductions took effect in March and have driven up costs and resulted in changes at most recycling facilities in the U.S. to meet these new standards, he explained.
Metros and Rosenbaum said the immediate impacts include slowing down the processing speeds on the sorting lines to improve the quality of sorted materials.
“It’s almost impossible to get that on the sorting line,” Rosenbaum said, adding that more staff will need to be hired to sort recyclables. In addition, the garbage industry will need to increase self-inspections to further reduce contamination.
“We need markets now in the United States (for recycled products),” Metros said.
Another issue is “the evolving ton,” Rosenbaum noted. Plastic bottles, including water bottles, used to be rigid because they contained more plastic. Now those same bottles are flexible because they contain less plastic.
“It now takes 90 percent more of those bottles to make one ton,” he said. “Where it used to take one truck to transport a ton of plastic bottles, it now takes nine trucks.”
Although the recycling business now produces less profit for garbage companies, Rosenbaum told St. John officials, “We will honor all our contracts,” which include weekly recycling as well as garbage pickup.
Only St. John, Griffith and Crown Point have weekly recycling, he said. All other Northwest Indiana communities have every-other week recycling schedules.
Rosenbaum said that may be the future for all recycling in the area.
Public education about what to recycle and how to recycle remains a critical component, he said. “It will take years to get everybody where we need to be.”
Doug Ross and Joyce Russell
VALPARAISO — The mother of a 3-year-old who drowned in a pond Monday night searched for the child at least an hour before calling police, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
Tasia Perkins, 32, of Valparaiso, was charged with felony neglect of a dependent Wednesday in Porter Superior Court.
A court hearing has been set for Thursday.
Her daughter, Tamira Billingslea, was found unresponsive in a pond near her home. She was pronounced dead at an area hospital. Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris said Wednesday morning autopsy results indicate Tamira Billingslea died of asphyxiation due to drowning.
According to charging information, several residents of the Williamsburg on the Lake apartment complex searched for one to two hours before Perkins notified police.
Neighbors told police they saw Perkins walking around the complex, apparently looking for something she lost. When they inquired, Perkins said she was looking for her daughter, the affidavit said.
Perkins told police she took her daughter to a nearby gas station so Perkins could buy a cigar, the charging information said. She used the full-service lane so she wouldn't have to get out of the car. When she returned home, she got her daughter out of the car, locked the doors manually and the girl was gone when she turned around.
The clerk on duty then told police she didn't see anyone else in the car when Perkins bought the cigar. The child safety seat was empty.
"Perkins confirmed she enlisted the help of her neighbors, and contacted long distance relatives to assist with the search, all the while neglecting to contact authorities," the affidavit said.
Valparaiso police Sgt. Michael Grennes said police are continuing to investigate the case.
Valparaiso police were dispatched at 9:26 p.m. Monday to the 2700 block of Roanoke Court, in the Willamsburg on the Lake apartment complex, after the girl was reported missing, according to a news release. A police K-9 found her unresponsive at 10:12 p.m. in a pond. Valparaiso Fire/EMS staff began medical treatment and took her to Porter Regional Hospital, where she later was pronounced dead.
Perkins gave police inconsistent statements about the amount of time her daughter had been missing before it was reported to police, Grennes said.
Perkins was arrested and booked into Porter County Jail early Tuesday. She remained in jail Wednesday, according to jail records.
HAMMOND — BP is investing $300 million in a massive project in Whiting that's creating hundreds of construction jobs.
About 250 workers are now installing a naphtha hydrotreater at the BP Whiting Refinery on Lake Michigan to mee a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate to ensure that gasoline has less than 10 parts per million of sulfur, instead of the current standard of 30 parts per million. BP Whiting Reliability Accelerator Manager Dan Hirsch said it would create about 12 permanent jobs to operate the equipment and employ as many as 500 construction workers at a time over the new few years.
"We're making one of the largest investments in refinery since the modernization project," he said. "A hydrotreater removes sulfur from our fuel. In layman's terms, it makes our gas cleaner. We've actually started the project. You might see some of the equipment moved around on the roads. We're staging our equipment, starting to bring it into the refinery. We're excited to see continued investment into our refinery."
The unit should be up and running by 2020, Hirsch said. It will include two reactors and exchangers that will be located near the center of the refinery.
"It's substantial," Hirsch said. "It will take all different trades to build: electricians, ironworkers, and pipefitters. It'll be different trades as it goes along."
Hirsch updated a crowd of hundreds of business people on the project at a Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Dynasty Banquets in Hammond Wednesday. Mark Finley, general manager of Global Energy Markets and U.S. Economics at BP, gave BP's annual Energy Outlook, a compilation of data about the global energy market that dates back 67 years and precedes even the U.S. Department of Energy.
Global energy demand rose by 3 percent last year, and coal mounted a slight comeback because of increased demand in India and a drought that caused a temporary decline in hydroelectric power production in China, Finley said.
But Finley said in the long term coal would continue to decline because of cheap and abundant natural gas and environmental concerns across the globe. China, for instance, relied heavily on coal as it built up its industrial might over the last few decades, but has been trying to switch to cleaner sources of energy, going so far as to post signs saying, "if you burn coal, you go to jail."
"When countries are poor, they'll use whatever source of energy is cheapest," Finley said. "They'll burn dung inside their huts. But as they get richer, priorities start to shift. They don't want their kids to be sick all year and don't want to wear a mask to go out of the house. China's policy trend is going to continue to shift away from coal. They were a signatory to the Paris climate change agreement."
Oil has been declining for 40 years but remains the world's largest source of energy, Finley said. Even if electric cars become more popular, they won't threaten oil's dominance for at least 20 years.
"You don't buy a new car every year," he said. "It takes time for the stock to move over. It's a slow-moving system."
Renewable sources of energy like wind and solar have been gaining ground.
"Renewables are growing fast, but from a very small base," he said. "Renewables have been punching above their weight."
A group consisting of representatives of Northwest Indiana law enforcement agencies, community organizations and churches has formed to try to tackle one of the prevailing issues of our time.
The Opioid Working Group meets monthly to discuss how to solve the opioid epidemic, which takes the lives of an average of 115 Americans each day and several Northwest Indiana residents a month.
"It's not an urban problem. It's not a rural problem. It's something that touches all of us," North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan said.
"What we're trying to do is very simply bring all the communities together, inventory our assets and pull together to be able to help people."
The Opioid Working Group, which has about 68 members and started in April, is auditing the treatment options available in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton and Jasper counties, so it can create a centralized database and point contact for people looking for help with substance abuse disorder. The organization is part of the Northwest Indiana Information Sharing and Security Alliance.
The group also has representation from the health care, education and drug treatment sectors, and is looking to recruit more members, particularly those from LaPorte, Newton and Jasper counties.
"This has been unlike any epidemic in the past 25 years," said Bishop Tavis Grant, of Greater First Baptist Church in East Chicago, who had the idea for the Opioid Working Group.
"People are overdosing every day, and they're overdosing in clusters. It's a systemic epidemic that is just grinding and eating lives up every day, and people are tired and want to do something about it."
He often has people walk into his church looking for help from opioid addiction. He doesn't know where to send them.
For many, fight is a personal crusade
Many of the group members have had family members who were addicted to opioids. Grant's sister was addicted to heroin for 20 years.
"It has taken its toll on this family," he said. "That's the personal side, the skin in the game, seeing how this robbed us as a family of the best years of our sister's life. At this point, she's clean, she's stable, and every day she's clean is a day we get back."
Northwest Indiana had a record number of drug overdoses last year, most of them from opioids, including fentanyl, a particularly dangerous painkiller that is often mixed in with heroin. In 2017, Lake County had 196 drug overdose deaths, Porter County had 50 and LaPorte County had 26 (compared to 120, 34 and 32, respectively, the year before).
At a recent meeting, the group discussed how it could get grant funding, insurance obstacles to drug treatment and transportation barriers for people trying to get help. The individuals broke up into subcommittees that touched on prevention, treatment and faith-based initiatives, among other topics.
"It's an increasingly urgent problem, and I think that a lot of people are really starting to focus in, and their ears are perking up that this is something we need to address," said Cara Jones, the United Against Opioids coordinator for United Way of Porter County.
"A lot of people are doing work in this area. Our goal is not to redo that work. Our goal is to identify who's doing what and find out how we can help make connections to do collaborative work that has a greater impact."
The group's main objective: saving lives.
"You look into the eyes of a family that loses a child or loses someone, and these meetings are going to be vital," Mrvan said. "Because very often people don't know where to turn."
CHESTERTON — Even before the town cut the ceremonial ribbon launching its high-speed fiber optics lines Wednesday at Thomas Centennial Park, more than 40 businesses had signed contracts to utilize the service.
"It means that people are desperate for high-speed broadband internet service," said Tom Carroll, senior vice president for NITCO, which has a 25-year contract with the city to manage and operate the system.
The idea to have a municipally-owned fiber optics system began five years ago. The groundbreaking was held in January.
The system is dubbed the Chesterton Fiber Optics Network or CFON.
Duneland School Corp. became the town's first customer, utilizing two gigabytes of fiber, said Tom Carroll, adding 44 companies have signed contracts.
The more than 15 miles of fiber cost the town $1.5 million to construct.
Carroll said 330 companies are being reached by the fiber optics systems and the cable is run through all the main areas of the town. It runs through the town's entire tax increment finance district.
"Part of the Redevelopment Commission's long-term goal was to bring in high-speed internet. This is just the beginning. We are going to be able to attract significant users," said Jeff Trout, chairman of the town's Redevelopment Commission.
Tom Long, president of NITCO, called Chesterton a "fiber optic-ready community," ready for business expansion and growth, location and relocation. It will, he said, create jobs and increase property values.
"This will be a turning point for the town of Chesterton in economic development," said John Nekus, president of Monroe Street Group of Chesterton, one of the consultants on the project.
Town Council member Jim Ton said the fiber optic network was the most important aspect of the town's two-pronged approach to economic development. The second prong was establishing an economic development company, which it has done.
Carroll said the fiber optics network line has 288 strands of fiber total. Of that, they have lit 144 individual strands.
The gigabyte-capable network, said Carroll, would allow someone to download a movie in one second.
Carroll said the system's size should be good for the next couple of years and they have already begun talking about plans to expand the system to allow more businesses to contract with the town as development increases.
Chesterton is the third municipality in Northwest Indiana to go live with their own fiber optics network. East Chicago launched its project in March and Valparaiso launched its ValpoNet fiber network in May.