collection: Innovative Waste Program Seeks Level Playing Field

The Loveland, Colo., solid waste management program was accustomed to operating on cruise control until recently when two issues snapped it to attention: its near-capacity landfill and lax enforcement of volume-based pricing by commercial competitors.

For years, the city's solid waste management program has been honored for its creative and effective efforts in increasing recycling, reducing landfilled solid wastes and diverting yard wastes almost entirely - and at costs economical to both the city and its residents.

"Loveland's aggressive recycling strategy works well because it is designed on 'household economicse'- the more a household recycles, the lower its trash disposal costs," explained Mick Mercer, Loveland's streets and solid wastes manager. The program serves approximately 17,000 households in a city of 44,000 located north of Denver about 40 miles.

The city charges a flat monthly rate of $4.60 for all recyclable wastes. Beyond that, its "pay-as-you-throw" system requires customers to affix prepaid trash stamps to plastic bags containing other wastes.

In 1996, 56 percent of the city's residential solid waste was diverted, with the weekly average household setout rate at 18.9 pounds, as compared to 45.7 pounds before the diversion program began in 1991.

In addition, Loveland landfills little yard waste, which formerly accounted for one-third of the waste stream. Homeowners may either drop off this type of waste at a collection site or subscribe to curbside pick up for $4.25 per month during the eight month season. Either way, the material is ground into mulch or compost for resale through a partnership between the city and a private firm (Name, headquarters).

Despite these efforts toward efficiency and waste reduction, however, the life span of the landfill they use, which is owned and managed by Larimer County, Colo., will reach capacity in eight to ten years.

As a result, a county commissioner appointed task force will study the future for solid waste disposal. With representatives from the cities, towns and private haulers currently served by the Larimer landfill, the task force will be making recommendations within a year.

"Opening another landfill site likely would require six to eight years, since the processes of determining a site, design, public hearings and construction require much time and effort," Mercer said.

Despite this, Mercer would like Larimer to remain in the landfill business. "The county helps subsidize landfill related services such as the recycling center and the household hazardous waste program," he explained. "A private firm won't support these types of efforts unless they can make money."

Mercer also is concerned that a private landfill owned by a hauling company would create a vertical monopoly.

The department wants other waste disposal firms operating in the city to use a volume-based system as well. Although the city currently dominates the market by serving 97 percent of the households, residents are not required to use the city's service.

A county ordinance requires all private firms to base their rates on volume to encourage recycling. However, it is rarely enforced within the non-incorporated areas of the county and even less often within county municipalities.

As a result, Loveland's solid waste department wants a city ordinance requiring volume-based collection fees to level the playing field.

For more information on Loveland's co- and dual-collection program, see World Wastes, December 1996, page 37.