As the world’s population increases with the potential for an increase in waste with less space in which to manage it, and as rules and regulations become tighter, SWANA is poised to support its membership with the necessary education, information, and training to stay on top of solid waste trends.
“The future is coming on, whether we want it to or not,” says Anne Germain.
Germain, SWANA’s vice president and president elect, is chief of engineering and technology of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority. She talks about SWANA’s future challenges and how the association is poised to address them.
And while it may be an urban myth, she references a story that, the person in charge wanted to shut the US Patents Office down at one time, “because there was nothing left to invent.”
“It sounds like the most ridiculous thing in the world at this point, but all of us are amazed every year about something new that we’ve never heard of,” says Germain. “Things are continuing to accelerate faster. We have to be prepared to react, accept and move on and adapt.
“Solid waste management is becoming increasingly complex and stratified,” Germain adds. “We have to provide good advice and service to our members and make sure we meet their needs.”
Years ago, there was very little recycling, very few waste-to-energy products, mass-burn projects, and very little composting, Germain says.
“It was all about converting from dumps to sanitary landfills and making sure we protected our groundwater,” she says.
“Most of our SWANA members have protected their groundwater and the air. But in doing that, many of them have built these large landfills. People are now saying we’ve protected the environment in this one way, but we are putting so much material into these landfills, can we reuse it? Can we be more judicious and smart about how we manage our resources with a continuing population growth?”
SWANA is poised to help its members answer that question, says Kathy Callaghan, SWANA’s associate director.
“SWANA always tries to be on the cutting edge in the industry,” says Callaghan, whose duties include supporting the Executive Committee and the 70-member International Board. She also administrates SWANA’s scholarship and internship programs.
Callaghan notes that rapidly changing technology is the driver for an industry that will change more quickly in ensuing years than it has over the past 50 years.
SWANA Executive Committee member Brian Tippets believes that, in the future, most landfills will have site master plans that include ecological repatriation of the property to the landscape. “SWANA already stands out as an industry leader in promoting landfill properties as ecological resources,” he says, “having begun to outline how to do this in several of its eSessions and chapter conferences. In addition, SWANA’s second generation of MOLO now teaches the use of native vegetation for landfill covers. As our industry changes to repatriate landfill properties to a healthier ecosystem, I expect to see less opposition to landfills and a legacy that returns more to our children and grandchildren.”
SWANA’s challenges going forward center on the need to maintain and grow its infrastructure within the tight constraints of the current economy, says Michelle Leonard, the Technical Divisions representative to the Executive Committee.
The Technical Divisions include collection and transfer, landfill management, landfill gas, planning and management, waste-to-energy, recycling and special waste, and communication, education, and marketing.
“Everyone likes their garbage to get picked up and go somewhere, but that costs a lot of money and it’s not a sexy thing everybody likes to pay for,” she says. “That’s a real challenge for us.
“Another challenge is while we’re looking at new things to do with waste, some of the existing laws and regulations may pose barriers to do things differently. We’ve collected it and landfilled it for so long. We do recycling. If we’re talking about a real paradigm shift and going towards zero waste, the challenge will be to educate everyone and get everyone to accept that.”
While some state and federal programs support energy conservation and technologies, “in many areas, they don’t recognize solid waste energy conversion as part of those programs,” Leonard says.
The paradigm shift towards zero waste entails not just looking at recyclables, but “doing everything we can to the wastestream before you dispose of the residuals,” she says. “Zero waste is a real trend, so I think the energy from waste or new technologies that convert waste to some type of energy source are trends that are here to stay.”
|Photo: OUTAGAMIE COUNTY, WI
Outagamie County WI’s cogeneration facility produces both electricity and heat for the county’s highway building next door.
Another industry challenge going forward is that of extreme weather events, which can overwhelm a solid waste system, says Jeremy O’Brien, the director of SWANA’s Applied Research Foundation.
“It’s amazing to me how frequent the natural disasters are in terms of hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes,” O’Brien says. “We used to not plan for those, but now we’re starting to plan for them.”
Financing solid waste management services also is a concern moving into the future, O’Brien says.
“That’s why we’re focusing on those key elements of looking at our systems from an economic development perspective, making them as efficient as possible and making sure the service is a needed service,” he says. “A lot of communities pick up recyclables at the curb but also have drop-off centers for them. That’s duplicative. There’s an opportunity to make that system more efficient.”
Increasing populations also figure heavily into future planning.
“Waste per capita in the United States is still the highest in the world, probably twice that of other countries,” says John Skinner, SWANA’s chief executive officer and executive director. “The volumes of waste are going to be increased and the pressures that are going to be placed on communities to manage those wastes are going to increase.”
O’Brien notes that as the population changes, the amounts and types of waste change, as do the per capita rates.
“When you do waste management studies, you try to first find out how much waste is being generated and relate it to the population in the service area,” says O’Brien. “If there’s a large portion of the population that’s not documented and is illegal, then they’re all generating waste, and your per capita rates look high.”
With a changing population, “we need new ways of getting the message out to the different segments of the population,” O’Brien notes. “Consumer habits are changing. All of that affects the waste. We have to continue to keep on top of that.”
There are watersheds and airsheds. Within the solid waste sector, there is a kind of “waste shed”—waste that moves among communities.
Skinner points out there is a large amount of interstate transport of waste from communities that generate it to communities that process and dispose of it.
Expect to see more of that.
“On a national basis, there is a fair amount of landfill capacity in the United States,” he says. “The national average is around 25 years, but some locations have only five to seven years of capacity left.”
It’s difficult to site new facilities where political opposition is strong, Skinner notes.
“People are looking outside the community to other facilities that have the capacity to dispose of their wastes,” he says.
What will tomorrow’s trash look like, and how is the industry positioning itself to deal with it?
The topic of electronics continues to be on the radar, Germain notes.
“It started largely with CRT screens because of the mercury content in them, but most of the CRT screens went away as quickly as they became the center of attention, which is funny when you think about how everything accelerates so much,” she says. “Now it’s all about electronic goods and the turnover rate and how quickly they’re disposed of.”
Skinner predicts the industry will shift to a greater emphasis on resource management, energy recovery and resources from waste, with product stewardship becoming more prevalent.
Allen Lynch, manager of the North Shore Recycling Program, North Vancouver, BC, says that Canada has become a leader in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Programs. In British Columbia (BC) alone, there are 14 industry-managed not-for-profit EPR recycling programs covering everything from electronics and beverage containers to paint and batteries. The Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility calls for all jurisdictions to regulate and implement an EPR program for packaging and printing materials by 2015. This will have a profound effect on how municipalities across Canada handle their residential solid waste. In BC, the EPR program for packaging and printed papers will take effect on May 14, 2014 and it could be the biggest change in waste disposal since the creation of the blue box. Rather than residents paying for the recycling of these products through their taxes, the companies that produced the material for sale in the first place will be picking up the tab. It will result in annual savings for BC municipalities of $60 million to $100 million. Make no mistake: EPR programs are here to stay in Canada and they will increase in the US as well. The future is here in Canada.
Extended producer responsibility and product stewardship legislation is taking place in parts of the US, too. Producers are taking responsibility for designing products that can be more easily recycled, Skinner notes.
“If that happens on a large scale, the entire structure of waste management in North America will change drastically,” he adds.
While the wastestream experiences significant impacts from consumer electronics, other products are now joining the force.
“A lot of Canadian provinces have programs for many product types,” says Skinner. “It’s no longer just mercury-containing products or consumer electronics that have hazardous materials in them. They’re also thinking about producer responsibility for recycling of packaging and printed materials.”
There also will be disposal challenges related to the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs in 2014 as incandescent lights fade away, Germain points out.
Pharmaceuticals are another wastestream challenge.
“I don’t know if we as a solid waste industry are going to take the leadership role there, or how much it’s going to involve additional regulation because of the limitations that are imposed on us for segregating that material out because they are controlled substances,” Germain says.
The stratification of waste continues to increase, Germain says.
“There’s been some compression of that with single-stream recycling versus having to separate all of the recycling out to its individual components. I think there’s stratification occurring in other areas with the composting, electronic goods, and hazardous waste,” she says.
Another factor that will affect the overall worldwide dynamics of how waste is managed, are efforts to control greenhouse gases and limit global warming, says Skinner.
“That’s not something that’s politically popular in the US today, because of the recession and the economy, but it’s a real worldwide issue. Many aspects of waste management will be affected by that,” he says.
“I believe there will be a significant effort to move towards more renewable sources of energy, which we’re doing on a limited scale today,” Skinner adds. “In the future, international events and activities may drive that to a far greater extent.”
Skinner says there could be a “whole new suite of technologies” coming online.
“Today we have three basic technologies to manage wastes: landfill, incineration with combustion, and recycling—including composting,” he says. “There’s a series of conversion technologies that can possibly convert waste into fuels and industrial byproducts, which are receiving a lot of attention. They’re new, and there’s risk in their utilization. But some of these are going to work and may change the whole management suite of technologies that are available.”
SWANA’s role is to stay on top of that trend, ensuring members get data on how well these technologies work or don’t work so they can make better decisions about their application, Skinner says.
SWANA conducted what Skinner calls an “eye-opening” workshop last year on conversion technologies that are said to produce very high-value fuels and industrial chemicals that could change the entire economics of waste management.
“If successful, these technologies could produce products that generate revenues that are five times higher than what can be obtained today,” Skinner notes. “There also are additional processing costs to be able to do that so you have to look at the overall economics. The fuel and industrial chemical approach could drastically change the economics and make these products and facilities much more economically viable. It’s going to happen. It’s not clear which ones are going to be successful over the long term.”
Lori Scozzafava, SWANA’s deputy executive director, says as SWANA notices research and interest in zero waste, conversion technology, bioreactors, utilizing landfill gas as energy, waste-based technology, waste-to-energy, and mass burning technology, “our materials, webinars, and training courses all need to be incorporating that information so we have the content for our members to respond to changes in their communities.”
Waste management technology in the near future will continue to focus on GPS and RFID, bar coding on cans and other such technologies that gain more leverage in customer billing that more closely reflects individual consumer participation, says Jim Warner, SWANA’s president and the chief executive officer of the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority.
“The guy who puts out 2 tons versus 1 ton can be kept track of more accurately,” he adds.
Other changes occurring include the type of fuel a vehicle uses. Camera technology is allowing solid waste operations to give solid waste operators a view of what’s happening behind the vehicles or at the landfill.
“Compactors are becoming very sophisticated, providing data to the driver about the compaction and gradient levels of the waste they’ve been working on so they can more precisely manage those systems,” Scozzafava says.
The increased automation in collection vehicles is going to narrow the gap on Workers’ Compensation claims and help make the industry safer for workers going forward, Scozzafava points out.
“We’ve already seen trends toward that,” she says. “The traditional way of collecting waste was by lifting very heavy cans off of the curb manually. Not only are we doing semi-automation, where we have ways to allow mechanical lifting of the cans rather than manual lifting, but we also have very sophisticated automated ways of lifting, including drivers not even having to get out of the truck and be able to reach cans at the curb.”
Waste-to-energy technology is moving past the point where politicians opposed it because of a perceived air-pollution issue not well understood, Germain says, adding that the cost per ton versus taking it to the landfill was not competitive.
“But people want to look at things holistically and divert as much material away from landfills as possible to reduce, compost, go to waste energy, and now alternative conversion technologies are starting to emerge,” she adds.
Germain predicts that in the next decade, there will be a full-scale tested system up and operational.
“It’s just a matter of developing something,” she says. “There’s some maturation of the recycling and composting industry starting to occur. Single-stream recycling has started to take off across the country. There’s been a focus over the last few years of reducing the toxicity of the material in our wastestream.”
Warner agrees, saying waste processing going forward will focus on the next-generation of waste energy recovery and conversion technologies.
“Hopefully we’ll see something come out that works and can be developed at scale,” he says. “There are a lot of companies that are professing that they have it, but nobody has really established that large commercial scale alternative energy user for trash as it is off the truck. There are a lot of people trying and a lot of smart people putting money into it—it would be great for the industry if somebody could be successful at it.”
Many communities are favoring a conversion route, “so hopefully something will prevail there that, if that’s their choice, they can maybe begin investing public dollars into private technologies that will also recover energy,” Warner adds.
The role of technology in SWANA will depend on how it’s driven, Germain says.
“Technologies on the trucks were driven by regulation,” she says. “Regulation forced the industry change at a quicker pace than it would have naturally. Other changes occur from a demand perspective, such as consumers’ awareness and concern for the environment. With prosperity comes health and environmental concerns. Both of those things will continue to drive technology to improve.”
The industry is seeing sophistication in composting plants, Germain notes.
“In Canada, there’s one completely under a roof because of their weather concerns,” she says. “In other areas, you’re trying to accelerate composting; if you just wait for nature to take its course and doing the normal temperatures, it takes a while. How do you speed up this natural process? How do you make it more efficient without compromising the integrity of the end product?”
Germain also is impressed by what she sees in recycling.
“The technology of the single stream has gotten so much more sophisticated than it used to be,” she says. “They can separate glass by color now, but there also is a demand for the end product. As market demand grows for some of these things, you’ll see that technology can occur really quickly.”
Technology is helping waste operations become safer, more efficient, more effective, and more accurately keep track of revenues, Leonard says.
“Efficiency and safety are very important,” she says. “There are a lot of new technologies being proposed for the processing and managing of waste getting a lot of attention. It’s very exciting that we’re looking at other things to do with waste.
“There are beneficial uses of portions of the wastestream that previously may not have been looked at as resources but we’re looking at them as resources for such things as energy,” Leonard says. “In some cases, we’re taking in some old technology that’s been around for some time in other industries and applying them to our industry. It will remain to be seen if they work. It will remain to be seen if they are economical, but I’m excited about it because I think that’s the future of our industry.”
SWANA also is adopting a multimedia approach, says Leonard.
“What we do with our waste impacts our environment, our energy use, our water, and our air,” Leonard says. “Some of the computer technologies, modeling, and control systems can help in looking at the multimedia interrelationships between water and air so we can make more informed decisions about what options we choose. Life cycle analysis and risk assessment are aided by a lot of these technologies where we can do simulations and model various factors.”
Young professionals grew up with technology, are used to it, and expect it, Leonard says.
“I also think they’re the next innovators, so they look at something we’ve been doing for 20 or 30 years the same way and they can think of a better way to do it because of their access to and familiarity with the technologies that may have been used in some other application. They’re thinking, [ITALIC]why don’t we apply it to our industry? [ITALIC]It’s exciting to be able to look at some of these technologies and be able to apply them to our industry.”
The technological changes taking place will require employees with a different type of skill set with computers and information management than that of today’s employees, says Skinner.
When Skinner started at SWANA 15 years ago, all training was done in a classroom with print material.
“We still do quite a bit of that, but we’re starting to do online training,” he says. “Ten years from now, there may not be much classroom training with print material. It may all be online and through different vehicles. People might want training on their iPads and iPhones and have apps they use to obtain the information.”
Virtual training also may be a common avenue.
“The new folks coming into the industry are advocates of that, and very well-versed and expecting that, so in order to be relevant to them, SWANA is going to have to deal with those types of issues,” Skinner says.
The changing face of SWANA calls for translating services into other languages, Warner says.
“We’ve done that for our Manager of Landfill Operations [MOLO] program and in some collection training,” he says. “We’ve heard from our membership that we need to start producing some materials in Spanish.”
With more immigrants entering the United States and Canada, training those involved in the solid waste industry becomes more significant, Callaghan notes.
“It’s a natural order of things that people who are looking for a way to support their families might become involved in the industry,” she says.
“I also think one of the weaknesses the industry has to address is that our governments aren’t always supporting us in the way we think they should be. A lot of times there are not enough funds to support the basic things we need for solid waste collection: keeping on the forefront of new developments and being able to train the people who handle our everyday situations.”
Steve Viny sees SWANA increasing its role as a training institute.
“I see both private and public agencies that used to internalize it subcontracting it out to SWANA,” says Viny, a former SWANA president who works in the private sector as a chief executive officer of Envision Waste Services in Cleveland, OH.
There was a time when an operation may have had an IT person on the payroll, but with computer technology changing so rapidly the IT functions are becoming outsourced, he says.
“The same is true of training,” he says. “There was a time when you might have a safety manager and a staff and provide all of your training in-house. With SWANA, that is something you can outsource because much of the training you might need in our industry is provided by SWANA.
“The same is true if you have people who work for you who you want to elevate their level of education,” Viny says. “You could send them to take a MOLO course and get certified. Certification is going to be mandatory at some point in every state, much like you can’t be a Realtor without having a real estate license. It raises the professionalism of the industry. It keeps everyone who’s been in the industry sharp, and that’s something that SWANA provides.”
Just as entities can look to SWANA to outsource their training rather than providing it in-house, “by the same token, I think state governments that look to have certification requirements in many cases do all of their own course material and develop their own testing. I think they’re finding out now the SWANA course is the state-of-the-art course and, in many cases, they’re just adopting SWANA courses.”
As SWANA endeavors to give its members cutting-edge information, the organization itself has the new challenge of identifying what is cutting edge, Leonard says.
“We’re entering a new era on that,” she says. “This transition is just beginning for SWANA and will continue for the next few years and beyond. Initially, there was a realization step and now there is an implementation step.”
The industry’s demographics will be different going forward.
“A lot of our current members will be reaching retirement age. We will be seeing more younger folks entering the industry. Many of them will speak Spanish as a mother tongue, so it will be more important to provide our training courses in Spanish,”
Younger people in the industry are bringing a different point of view, Germain says.
“They’ve brought a lot of changes in their approach to technology and their style of communication,” she says. “They seem to prefer nonverbal communication—electronic communication takes precedence over verbal or face-to-face. At the same time, their style is dynamic and forces everybody else to change.”
SWANA has instituted a young professionals group, which currently has fewer than 100 members.
“We’re realizing that a lot of us are getting older and a lot of people are retiring, and we value the youth and their new ideas,” says Callaghan. “They are very active and passionate. Our board members are trying to support their efforts. We realize the value they can bring to the association with respect to electronic technology is immeasurable.
“We know technology is constantly changing and there has to be a great effort to keep up with that as it affects our industry,” she adds. “We won’t have any problem going forward with having passionate people who really care about the industry, but keeping up with the technology is the biggest issue because it drives so many things. Having the young professional group in place and expanding will help us face a lot of the challenges we’re going to have to face.”
Leonard defines young professionals as people new to the industry who may have come from another industry due to a layoff.
“Another aspect of our program is trying to attract people who may be looking for a new career and getting them involved,” she says. “In some cases, they are even more eager to learn about the industry and to get involved.”
These employees are infusing a strong work ethic and an ability to communicate into the industry, Leonard says.
“That’s opposite of the technology—the ability to sit down and have a conversation with someone and pick up the phone and talk to people,” she says. “It’s not that entitlement mentality, but it’s working hard and being rewarded for it and the experience of being in other industries and how work in general has changed over the years.”
SWANA is involved in ongoing efforts to increase its membership, Callaghan says. SWANA has five North American regions, with a director overseeing each region.
Each of SWANA’s 44 chapters has its own board, and there’s a chapter director who sits on SWANA’s board.
“These people go back to their chapters and their communities and talk about what we’re doing, how they can become involved, and how they can take care of their community in a better way,” says Callaghan. “It creates a trickle-down effort.”
SWANA is in the process of working with several states, such as Idaho, to develop new chapters.
“The Massachusetts chapter that’s been in existence for a very long time became the Southern New England chapter, and they brought in Connecticut and Rhode Island and are trying to get more people involved in surrounding areas,” says Callaghan.
“There are problems in some areas in the Western states, where they have vast areas and not a lot of people,” Callaghan adds. “That’s also true in Canada, so they try to bring in different areas in order to have these meetings in locations that are more convenient.”
In Canada, the Atlantic Canada chapter covers New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia.
Another vast area is the Northern Lights chapter in Canada, covering Alberta, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan.
“We’re trying to outreach as far as we can in as many places as we can in North America,” says Callaghan. “We rely a lot on community and grassroots efforts. We start with the conference training and try to reach our way down through that.”
Look for SWANA to expand geographically. Scozzafava notes that a new Caribbean chapter added last year in Puerto Rico won an award for the expansion of its membership.
“That is our first chapter outside of the northern part of North America,” Skinner says. “In the past, we’ve had discussions with folks in Mexico, but they have not come to anything yet. That certainly would be something we think could happen over the longer term.”
Expanding SWANA’s geographic reach has been under discussion for some time, Callaghan says.
“Years ago, we had a visitor from a country in South America talk about how they were interested in getting involved in the industry and in the association,” she says. “There are a lot of roadblocks for that kind of involvement in foreign countries. There are countries where the government is not functional and they can’t seem to get ahead with basic things that affect health, like waste management. I think that’s starting to change.”
Callaghan notes that the Puerto Rico chapter was the first established in a long time.
“We hope we can expand into South America and other countries,” she says. “We have membership all over the world. Most of them are considered at-large members because they don’t have a chapter where they’re located.”
Warner would like to see more private sector companies come into the fold.
“Right now, a lot of our private sector members tend to be those who interface more with the public sector, whether it be equipment or people who consult,” he says. “I’d like to see more of the smaller to medium independent hauler types understand more what SWANA does and that we can be of value to them.”
When the association first started from a local effort in California, it was called the Governmental Refuse Collection and Disposal Association and it was entirely a public association, Callaghan says.
“It was a big struggle over the years for the board to give the private sector a role,” she notes. “In fact, there was a limit as to how many private sector members could sit on the board and on the executive committee.”
“For a long time, we were regarded as the landfill people and the public sector people,” says Callaghan. “We’ve greatly expanded over the past 50 years to include the private sector, which has grown a great deal in the last few years in the industry.”
When the public/private sector wall was broken down, there had been many long, heated discussions, Callaghan points out.
“It was a very touchy subject,” she says. “Sometimes things are tough to change. I think the effort was worthwhile, and it will continue to expand.”
That expansion of the private sector within SWANA comes as the private sector itself expands.
Callaghan notes that more private sector companies have been established in the marketplace and are becoming integrated into the industry. “There is more opportunity economically for these companies to come into existence and to thrive. I think most people who are involved in the industry realize they are playing an important role, and it’s vital to our success that we have their support and involvement.”
Callaghan says SWANA executives know from having Steve Viny and others like him representing the private industry on the executive committee “that there is definitely an element there that we need to nurture.
“The state governments have realized there’s a definite role for them in managing their solid waste efforts,” she adds. “We have to continue to expand that and keep that in the industry.”
Some government operations are privatizing waste handling, and in some cases it’s gone the other way where government entities that have privatized operations are bringing them back in-house, Viny says.
“I personally see that as a growing trend,” he says. “The bottom line is there are only so many tons of waste that have to be managed, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s public sector or private sector when you look at the total bodies—it amounts to the amount of waste generated.”
Viny says waste volumes are decreasing and with automation increasing, he sees a reduction in the number of workers handling waste.
“Where I think you might see an increase is going to be on the administrative side,” he says. “People are really paying attention to numbers and do more with less. There was a day when you had four people on a rubbish truck and one person in the office. It’s going to start to get closer to one person on the truck and four people in the office.”
Communication going forward will leverage the popularity of social media, Warner says.
“Social media is infiltrating everywhere,” he says. “I myself now use Twitter. A year and a half ago, I didn’t know what it was.”
Just as changes in the wastestream call for strategies to manage them, changes in SWANA personnel going forward are being managed by a succession strategy, Germain says.
SWANA has a large board that oversees a relatively small staff, she points out.
“There’s always concern about transition,” she says. “We try to make sure that the bases are covered and to ensure that, in the event of a transfer of power, we’re prepared.”
Looking to the political impact of local, state and federal government on solid waste management, Warner notes that while most local implementations have been set, be it mandating a collection or instituting recycling programs, on the federal level “it’s very hard to get things done.”
It’s the state level that deserves a watchful eye in terms of where most of industry regulation will occur, Warner says. More than 25 states have implemented electronic recovery programs in the last seven years.
SWANA chapters play a significant role in that regard, Warner says.
“SWANA national does some advocacy on more EPA regulatory issues rather than laws in Congress, but the chapters are where the rubber meets the road as far as member services and advocacy,” says Warner.
On the federal level, SWANA endeavors to focus on issues regarding renewable energy credits or investment tax credits, Warner says.
“Congress has been very slow to renew those when they’ve been sun-setting,” he points out. “It’s taken lobbying by the renewable energy industry to get extensions which have been short-term—maybe one to three years—and in fact some of the major ones are expired right now.”
Other issues that will continue to be on SWANA’s radar include the definition of renewable energy and whether waste energy gets included in any future clean energy standards, Warner says.
Germain says she believes SWANA has done a good job in the interest of the industry as political mandates emerge.
“There have been quite a number of regulations relating to renewable energy,” she says. “As an industry, we want to make sure we are considered a viable renewable energy, so we’ve advocated for that and respond to pending regulations to ensure that. We want to responsibly manage things.”
Sometimes regulators are looking only at what’s on paper without the practical understanding of how something will be implemented, Germain says.
That’s where SWANA’s input can ensure the industry’s approach or focus isn’t compromised by the regulations, she adds.
As the industry advances, there’s a recognition of the economic benefits of managing waste in the local economy, says O’Brien.
“I think New York City produces well over 10,000 tons a day of waste, and it costs them $100 a ton to dispose of it, so every day they send $1 million out of their economy just by disposing that waste in remote landfills,” he says. “As we move forward and there’s such a need for local economic development programs, people are going to take another look at waste-to-energy, zero-waste-based systems, and systems where the landfill can remain in the local economy.”
O’Brien points out that five years ago in the US Supreme Court case of the United Haulers Association v. Oneida and Herkimer, the high court ruled that local governments had the right to establish regulatory control of the waste if it was managed through public sector programs.
“That goes along with the economic development impact, so not only are we realizing the benefits of managing waste locally, but we’ve gotten a clear indication from the Supreme Court that that’s a proper role for the governments,” says O’Brien.
“Over the last 20 years, the trend has been to go toward regional landfills for disposal, so people are shipping the waste outside. I think there’s going to be a rethinking of that whole strategy.”
The emphasis on making programs more efficient and cost-effective is due to the recession and is “just good common sense to do so,” says O’Brien.
“People are going to look more towards streamlining services,” he adds. “In the last 20 years, we haven’t paid too much attention to that. If we banned the material from disposal, we would just add another collection service. Right now in my neighborhood, I’ve got four collection services: mixed waste, yardwaste, recyclables, and bulky waste on demand.”
The addition of more collections has local environmental impacts, such as wear and tear on the vehicles and roads, O’Brien says, adding, “We’re going to relook at all of that.”
With municipalities providing collection services and counties provide processing and disposal services, there sometimes isn’t as much coordination as there should have been in developing those facilities, O’Brien notes.
“An efficient system requires both cities and counties to work together,” he says. “You’re going to see more of that as we relook at the efficiency of what we have in place now.”
SWANA will continue to play a key role in fostering the guidance and development of new waste processing technologies, O’Brien notes.
“As new technologies develop, there are risks associated with them,” he says. “There’s a need to identify those risks and manage them in the best way possible. We’re continuing to work on strengthening private/public partnerships and define the optimal roles for both the public and the private sector as new waste management. I see us actively being involved in these areas.”
As Applied Research carries out its mission, “we identify the areas where SWANA can play a more active role such as in waste conversion technology, so we feature that in our conferences,” O’Brien says. “The next step is to develop training sessions as we move them into the marketplace. It’s a progression, and I see applied research as part of that progression.”
The image of the industry is changing, even down to name changes for solid waste facilities.
Case in point is that of a site in Broward County, FL, owned by Waste Management. Once known as “Mount Trashmore,” the site is now called the Monarch Hill Renewable Energy Park.
“They didn’t just change the name of the facility—they also changed the entire focus of their operation,” Skinner says. “I’ve seen landfills producing photovoltaic energy, which they tie into the energy they get from burning the landfill gas as a fuel. In some cases, I’ve seen wind turbines put on a landfill if the wind situation is right, and the solid waste management facility becomes a miniature environmental energy facility, which is a very significant change in philosophy from the past. You’re going to see more and more of that.”
Expect to see more positive marketing of the industry, Skinner says, noting that Waste Management presents its environmental accomplishments on its truck signage and also took out ads during the Super Bowl.
“That’s the first time a solid waste company has tried to present itself nationwide as an environmental service company that produces renewable energy and good services across the economy,” he says. “That helps everybody in the industry.”
Efforts to improve the image of the industry are widespread, Skinner says.
“The trade association that represents the private sector—the National Solid Wastes Management Association—has a program called ‘Environmentalists Every Day.’ They try to present all of the positive environmental actions people in the solid waste field do on a day-to-day basis, and that works to change the perception of the industry as well.”
In many ways, given the rapidity with which technology and the population is changing, it’s difficult to tell what the future will bring, Skinner says.
“The way we’re moving into all of the new communication and electronic technologies certainly will change the organization, but what it will look like 10 years from now is very difficult to predict,” he says.
It is the goal of SWANA to continue to offer value, Warner says.
“People typically have a limited amount of dollars for what type of associations they’re going to participate in,” he says. “SWANA continues to be about two-thirds public and one-third private. Oftentimes, the public members have much more limited options on association-type fees. We want to continue to offer tremendous value for that annual fee. They’re not only getting service on the chapter level, but getting viable options for additional training, education, and improvement opportunities on the national level.
“We have to make sure we’re able to continue to offer a valuable product to people in the industry and change as the industry is changing. I think we’ve done a really good job of it as issues come and go. We will refocus to the new issue where people want more educational opportunities.”
SWANA will have to be extremely responsive to challenges going forward, including technical developments and globalization, Germain says.
“As an industry, we don’t control what comes to us. We are the recipients of whatever the waste happens to be,” Germain says. “SWANA can prepare and work with the regulators to predict and project what’s going to happen in the future and educate, inform and allow the communication to occur.
“As these things come along, you don’t know what you’re going to get, but when you attend these educational sessions—whether they’re online or in person—you find out what the trends are in the future,” says Germain. “You find out conversion technologies are coming, so we’re going to have to learn about what they mean. These are huge investments, and you don’t want to just start diving into them.”
“One of the things we’ve been talking about over the last couple of years is that all of these conversion technology folks are directly approaching the elected officials rather than approaching the engineering staff,” Germain says, adding that SWANA is taking an approach to ensure everyone understands this is happening.
“It just doesn’t come down from SWANA but as a conglomeration of massive information we all have access to by consulting with each other and consulting as a whole,” Germain says. “It’s about education, communication, and being able to predict and protect what’s coming down.”
SWANA continues to be a very important and very viable organization for the industry, says Leonard.
“As the world changes, so does SWANA,” she says. “We’ll continue to be the leading organization involved in waste.”