HHW Programs From One-Day Events to Integrated Strategies
Once considered the afterthought of solid waste management, household hazardous waste operations are a growing profession.
Year after year in chain hotels across the country, convention rooms are filled with circular folding tables dressed with thin, pressed linens used by public servants who poke their flatware into overcooked chicken and excessively whipped mashed potatoes while silent hotel servants move slowly, too slowly, from table to table delivering desserts that each participant had silently sworn beforehand he would not eat. But as the sinful-looking tart or cake is placed within striking distance, yet so deliciously far away from home, the guest quietly sets aside the dinner plate and pulls forward the sweet while a speaker at the lectern implores the participants to focus on the upcoming announcements of household hazardous waste management awards.
Although household hazardous waste (HHW) is exempt from federal Subtitle C regulations, the commodities it collects can still be ignitable (e.g., household cleaners), corrosive (e.g., automotive batteries), reactive (e.g., explode when combined with ignitable source), or toxic (e.g., oil paint). Each of us generates 4 pounds a year of this material, adding up to 530,000 tons annually. When this material collects and mixes in the compactor of a trash truck, fires can ignite causing harm to workers and pedestrians as well as damage to equipment. These materials can contaminate our septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems if poured down the toilet. If they leak into storm drains or migrate out of landfill cells they can contaminate the wildlife and drinking water.
Men and women from Lilliputian-type counties to Gulliver-like cities, from regional empires to lone jurisdictional ranges, and from progressive communities to those cultures barely out of the 19th century attend conferences that present these awards. These participants may sit at the same tables, be on the same dais, or share their experiences in the same workshops. Whether it is the award for Longstanding Program Excellence to King County, WA, in 2005; Best New Program of 2003 to Larimer County, CO; Program Excellence to Sedgwick County, KS, in 2005; program innovation to Boise and Ada County, ID, in 2002; or many of the other award categories, each of these national awards speaks to a growing professionalism in the field of HHW. Gary “Red” Yenzer, the regional manager of Big Lakes Regional HHW Program in northeast Kansas, values his program’s award from the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association (NAHMMA) above all the nine awards his operation has won.
“NAHMMA,” says President Kolin Anglin, “sees its task as going back to its roots and helping the managers of HHW programs do their work in an increasingly professional manner.” In 1986, the EPA held the first of several successive annual national conferences on HHW management. When the EPA finalized its determination that HHW would not be classified as hazardous waste, it stopped having the annual conference. HHW managers, who had attended these now-defunct conferences, formed NAHMMA in November 1993 to continue to get together and share information.
The fledgling association, like so many others in the emerging environmental field of the past three decades, oscillated between the need to attract operating funds by having bigger conferences and providing direct services for its members. In 2004,
NAHMMA created a new strategic plan focused on serving its members and professionalizing its field. “Since we implemented the 2004 Strategic Plan,” Anglin says, “membership has increased from 110 to 400.”
|Portland, OR’s Metro Solid Waste and Recycling Department performed a detailed survey of its operating costs.|
If waving good morning to 1,000 participants lined up for the opening of a one-day HHW collection event—and all of whom profess not to be professional paint contractors—puts you in a bad mood, then you should not attempt to perform a detailed survey of 25 jurisdictions on their HHW operations and costs. Yet the Metro Solid Waste and Recycling Department in Portland, OR, did just that. Performing a survey involves many callbacks and much pushing, prodding, and fact-checking with people who are too busy doing their daily work to worry about answering each question perfectly.
No survey has perfect data. There are too many variables and too many people who have different parts of the answers. Surveys, like polling data, are snapshots of how HHW operations are being managed.
Jim Quinn, hazardous waste program manager with Portland’s Metro Regional Authority, oversaw a survey that asked extensive questions to quantify the programs of 25 communities across the nation. Quinn led a team from the Cascadia Consulting Group to collect a year’s worth of data from these communities. The data used were primarily from 2004 and included gross costs, pounds, and people served. It attempted to break down the workload between contractors versus in-house staff, assess what types of material were collected, and estimate what percentage of the material collected went to landfills and what went elsewhere. The survey also quantified how many of the programs ran fixed and/or mobile operations and what the safety record was for each jurisdiction’s operations.
|Alachua County, FL, has developed an effective network of permanent and mobile collections.|
To Contract or Not to Contract
“Doing the work yourself is more cost-efficient. We have four people doing the work and saving the county money,” says Kurt Seaburg who is the hazardous waste coordinator for Alachua County, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. Prior to 1999, Alachua County had three-day collection events operated by contractors, and the cost was very high. In 1999, the county’s permanent facility opened with trained county employees.
Scott Windsor, hazardous waste coordinator for Spokane Regional Solid Waste System in Washington state, oversees a program that began with expensive, but well run, one-day events and moved toward collaborative efforts with community volunteers, contractors, and agency employees. Currently his operation places emphasis on cross-training employees so that the workforce can lab-pack and bulk flammables and transport material from its two drop-off points located at waste transfer stations to its central HHW facility located at the waste-to-energy plant.
Joe Brunk, director of the HHW and Obnoxious Weeds Program in Sedgwick County, led the transition from a contractor-operated HHW operation managed by Wichita City to an employee-operated HHW program managed by the county. “When we took it over in 2001–2002,” Brunk says, “we began weeding out contractor labor and saved money. We then went to multiple disposal vendors to lower the cost even more.”
Former Laidlaw hazardous waste manager and technician and now current president of NAHMMA, Anglin states the difference between contractor and staffed operations clearly: “Contractors need to show a profit. They are going to be more expensive.”
Yet some jurisdictions find a contractor’s resources for expertise and ability to handle volume surges more economical in the long run. Steve Cooper, engineering technician for Anchorage, AK, believes the relative isolation of his location lends itself well to contracting experts to assist with that city’s HHW operation.
|Sedgwick County, KS, was a 2005 recipient of an award for program excellence in the handling of HHW.|
Joe Reilly, with the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, oversaw the collection of nearly 9 million pounds of HHW in 2004 at $0.57 per pound, a figure hovering just above the middle of the surveyed communities with respect to cost. His contractor performed all 57 single-day collection events handling on average 1,102 customers each—nearly 63,000 customers annually. Utilizing, he believes, a contractor for such huge collection days makes the best economic sense for his districts.
Perhaps it goes without saying that public HHW operations are necessarily subject to the same political cultures that influence nearly all public operations. The policy decision may be to contract out the operations of a program, but an HHW program does not have to simply bid the work out to one contractor. More are looking at multiple vendors in an attempt to lower disposal costs, specifically, and operational costs, generally. Santa Barbara, CA, contracts its HHW permanent facility to another public institution, the University of California at
Permanent or Mobile Collection
Most HHW programs began as one-day collection events. Over time some collection events were replaced with permanent facilities. Although 72% of surveyed programs offered mobile service in 2004, only Los Angeles used mobile collection events exclusively. Conversely, all but one program used permanent facilities.
Montgomery County, MD, held 21 mobile collection events and had one permanent facility open 10 days in 2004. It estimated servicing 11,530 households of the total 376,000 households in the county that year. Since 2004, however, the hours of the facility have been expanded to seven days a week, and consequently, the number of households serviced have jumped to 41,736. Halfway through this current fiscal year the jurisdiction had serviced 27,220 households and was on course to surpass the previous year’s total.
Some communities are formed into regional cooperatives through intergovernmental agreements, authorities, trusts, special districts, non-profit corporations, or regional councils. In Kansas, Pottawatomie, Riley, Marshall, and Morris counties decided to work together to collect HHW under the umbrella of the Big Lakes Regional Council. Governed by a board made up of three elected officials from each participating county, the Regional Council assesses fees on participating counties and is eligible for grants. The organization determined that it would be less expensive, through economies of scale, to perform the HHW tasks as a single entity.
This rural regional operation in northeastern Kansas maintains a multicounty program through 25 mobile collection events and fixed drop-off points with a central HHW facility where the material is consolidated and prepared for shipment via a single contractor. Yenzer has been doing the mobile collection and consolidation since the facility opened its doors in the early 1990s, keeping costs down to $0.21 a pound—the lowest in the survey.
If some programs were designed to be partly mobile by the very nature of their regionalized beginnings, then others were formulated as a way of pulling in customers who would, perhaps, not regularly, if ever, drive to a permanent facility.
Alachua County has a network of permanent and mobile collections that together serviced a very high rate (24%) of household participation in 2004. The county’s 874 square miles of land mass are home to the state’s flagship college, the University of Florida. Cresting over 50,000 students a year, the college’s student body is the third largest in the United States. The attraction to the university means that Alachua County has a greater percentage of high school graduates (88%) and college graduates (39%) than the statewide average. Yet per-capita income is approximately $18,000, and median income per household is $31,000.
Seaburg has managed the program for the past eight-and-a-half years. He believes there is a progressive nature to the county as a whole. The university’s influx of students helps push up the percentage of households served but so do the mobile collections strategically placed into the areas farthest away—and, perhaps, not as progressive—and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. County workers go out in a truck and trailer to these sites and set up collection operations. This service helps draw more people into the system.
Seven of the 25 communities (28%) surveyed also provide door-to-door service for the elderly and disadvantaged. (An interesting Web site on door-to-door service is one of a vendor’s, Curbside Inc., which performs such service: www.curbsideinc.com. It provides a case study of a door-to-door collection program in Emerald Bay, CA. Although the principal’s name is Anderson, there is no relation between one of the authors of this article and the company or its personnel.) An evaluation of a door-to-door service is included in a report released in January 2007 by Ken Wells of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency in Sonoma County, CA. The agency had contracted with Larry Sweetser of Sweetser & Associates and David Nightingale of Special Waste Associates to evaluate and benchmark Sonoma’s HHW system.
Sonoma’s Toxic Rover collects at the door from seniors, disabled residents, and conditionally exempt small-quantity generators. The cost per stop, Sweetser and Nightingale found, amounts to $245. It is understandable how the cost mounts up. First, Sonoma is 1,575 square miles, so even if the collections are geographically clustered, there is a lot of windshield time. Second, the crew most likely has to enter the home, move material around, weave themselves through narrow passageways, confront disturbed domestic animals, listen to the historical origins of each toxic material being discarded, and politely stop to eat a cookie for the road.
Sweetser and Nightingale found that travel time and time onsite is between four and eight hours. The program has an average of 18 stops per month, totaling 220 per year. In 2005, the Toxic Rover program collected “an average of 381 pounds from each” of its stops.
Every HHW manager has a story of odd material, such as crystallized ether, coming into the facility and causing a commotion. Although a problem item, crystallized ether is rare, whereas latex paint, a non-lethal commodity, is in abundance, taking up a great deal of space, and adding to the expense of many programs.
Somewhere between 30% and 40% of a program’s volume will be latex paint. The strategy a program manager implements for this one item will greatly impact the cost of the program. If an agency can solidify the paint and burn it in its own waste-to-energy plant, such as the way it’s handled in Spokane, cost can
Programs that do not have their own means to dispose of the material may elect to send it to a recycler. Angela Deckers and Ken Wall, hazardous materials coordinators for Ada County, including Boise, ID, color-separate the latex paint and ship the materials to Amazon Environmental Inc., which accepts water-based paint wastes. Amazon makes reusable paint into new paint products and processes non-reusable paint into cement additives.
In 1992, the Metro Regional Authority in Portland, OR, began recycling paint. It sells 100% recycled paint, MetroPaint, in 17 colors. Currently, MetroPaint has 5% of the market share in Portland’s latex-paint sales. It now has crossed state borders and entered into Washington State’s paint market. MetroPaint sells for $5 to $9 per gallon and $15 to $39 for a 5-gallon pail.
According to Metro’s Jim Quinn, the HHW operation takes in approximately 200,000 gallons of latex paint and makes MetroPaint out of 65% of the total. Making virgin paint produces air emissions and waste discharge to surface waters. The process of making new paint also produces sulfuric acid, metal sulfates, and metal chlorides that are harmful to the oceans.
MetroPaint reduces the cost of the collection program by its development and maintaining a market to sell its paint. “The net cost of Metro’s paint recycling program,” Quinn writes, “when revenue is taken into account, is lower than any other option for managing the paint collected in our HHW program.”
Electronic waste collection is rivaling the volume of latex paint, and concern among HHW managers is growing that electronic waste will not flatten in volume as many of the other categories of waste have. Leslie Robinson, program specialist for Santa Barbara County, CA, notes that her jurisdiction initiated an electronic waste recycling program in April 2001, and every year it has grown. In 2005, for instance, 375,000 pounds were collected. The following year this figure jumped to 842,000 pounds.
Currently for Santa Barbara and other California jurisdictions, grant monies are available for electronic waste collection. The state provides Santa Barbara $0.20 per pound to recycle and dispose of the material. The grant money exactly covers the cost of the collection and disposal for Santa Barbara.
Managers of HHW operations mention electronics as an example of where product responsibility, or product stewardship, would come into play. Four states have legislation requiring electronic manufacturers to take responsibility for their products. Washington State has spearheaded this kind of product stewardship. Washington’s WAC 173-900 was adopted in 2006 requiring manufacturers to provide convenient recycling of computers, televisions, computer monitors, and laptops used by households, small governments, small businesses, and charities.
Whether it is Angela Deckers in Idaho, Policy Analyst Liz Tennant in King County, WA, Kolin Anglin in Kansas, or Leslie Robinson in Santa Barbara, the disposal of pharmaceuticals is stated by all to be a major issue before the profession. For years wastewater treatment facilities have educated citizens to flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet. Now scientists suspect that the drugs are not being filtered out by the wastewater treatment process and are having an adverse effect.
Drugs going down the toilet may be ending up back in our food. The executive director of Commonweal, Charlotte Brody made news when she went to Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City with Bill Moyers to have her body burden of toxic chemicals tested. The doctors found she was a host for 45 carcinogens and 56 chemicals that can potentially strike the brain and nervous system.
No one knows whether the drugs going through the wastewater treatment plant are directly responsible, but studies of the effects are growing.
Emily Rogers, a current Ph.D. candidate in natural resources at the University of Tennessee, completed a master’s thesis on environmental toxicology and provided pictures of tadpoles used in her project. Rogers took each of the pictures on the same day. The tadpole on the left was fully developed and was in the control group. The tadpole on the right was exposed to fluoxetine (Prozac) from hatching until completion of metamorphosis. The tadpole on fluoxetine is not nearly as developed in its hind limbs and forelimbs.
|Santa Barabara County holds an annual waste roundup.|
Many HHW managers want product stewardship to solve the growing pharmaceutical problem. They want drug manufacturers, through pharmacists, to take the drugs back from consumers.
But there is a catch-22 to this plan as Special Agent Steve Roberts of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington, DC, points out: “The DEA prohibits pharmacists who dispense controlled substances from receiving them.”
Only legal authorities, such as the DEA or local police departments, can legally receive controlled substances (addictive drugs). Roberts says that the DEA knows this is a problem, and a committee made up of representatives from the EPA, DEA, US Fish and Wildlife, and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy currently is meeting to try to resolve this issue.
If anyone thinks that HHW programs have reached their zenith, he is wrong. They are still evolving into integrated systems of waste management that, perhaps, are further along than some other areas of post-consumer handling. “Management means,” writes Peter Drucker, “... the substitution of thought for brawn and muscle, of knowledge for folkways and superstition, and of cooperation for force. It means the substitution of responsibility for obedience to rank, and of authority of performance for the authority of rank.” The profession of HHW managers has taken Drucker’s message to heart.
Author's Bio: Writer Chace Anderson is also vice president of Gershman, Brickner & Bratton Inc.