Larson Speculates On Flow Control

WW: What key elements will affect solid waste management over the next five years?

EL: I'd be remiss if I didn't say flow control, which has the greatest potential impact. Generally, industry members accept that Congress will pass some form of flow control for facilities with existing debt. However, I'm not sure what the future will bring. In the past, facilities have required heavy investment from the public sector. Many material recovery facilities, for example, require major investments. Obviously, the public sector's ability to raise large sums of capital could be diminished. Will the private sector automatically raise the capital? Or will we simply have less investment in solid waste management facilities?

I think we'll see a trend toward more landfilling, because you can control your investment to the cell in which you're working. The tonnage coming in the gate pays operation costs. Many states also will have to re-examine their diversion goals. Achieving higher levels of recovery through, for example, increased processing of C&D waste, could require additional capitalization. Somebody, whether it's private or public, must ensure that those investments can be paid for.

WW: What is the role of local governments?

EL: Local government's role is to provide oversight for the waste management system. Today, more and more money goes into solid waste management. Local governments need to ensure that it's properly managed, that rate payers are getting the best value.

The common thread in the flow control issue is that we don't want monopolies, either public- or private-sector. Through public-private partnerships, local governments can provide some assurance that waste management will be treated like a business.

WW: How will the role of the environmental engineer change in the next five years?

EL: I see the role of the engineer as continuing to evolve. We're becoming consulting engineers more than design engineers.

I don't think you'll see today's state-of-the-art practices being employed five years from now. They'll evolve, primarily due to the cost issue. We'll have better techniques and better operating efficiencies. Consequently, consulting engineers must expand their level of service to help the client from design through operations, including financing. We must be full service, broadening beyond a design engineer's typical work.

WW: What is the most interesting solid waste management project you've worked on?

EL: In the mid '70s, I was involved in the construction and operation of a baling facility and balefill project for the city of Omaha, Neb. At that time, we didn't have landfill compaction - the standard practice now - so baling helped get greater densities into the landfill. The project was hailed as being way ahead of current technology. Before then, many facilities used trench methods.

We also used rail haul, but it was to access a site within the city. That was the only way the public would allow it. Now, you usually think of rail haul as putting waste on a train and hauling it 300 miles. This was five miles.

The project ran for five or six years. What killed it was the other landfills in the area that operated for a cheaper cost, since this was before Subtitle D.