Managing Olympic-Sized Waste

Litter control, swept streets and empty refuse containers symbolize a clean city. As Olympic time draws near and Atlanta prepares to welcome the world, these symbols will be essential to portraying a positive city image.

Sound daunting? It is.

It's difficult to determine how to undertake a task without first asking and answering the question, "What are we trying to do?" - or in this case, "How can we develop an effective, Olympic-sized solid waste management plan?"

Reflecting upon my own 1984 Olympic performance in Los Angeles, the answer involves enormous preparation and teamwork, precise execution and a little luck.

In the spring of 1984, the Los Angeles Solid Waste Division began searching for a way to coordinate refuse collection amid the massive crowds expected to saturate the city's 456 square miles and, more specifically, the Games' venues. One thing was clear: Even before each event was scheduled to begin, refuse trucks would have limited access to the surrounding residential areas; some areas would be blocked altogether.

Operating hours at the landfills were another consideration because some areas of Los Angeles require waste crews to make a 75-mile round trip from collection to disposal. Anticipated city-wide traffic jams would certainly exacerbate this situation.

Under normal circumstances, Los Angeles' solid waste operations are divided into five major collection areas: east, west, south central, north central and western. Each area is divided into five sub-areas which are collected once a week by one-person crews using 33-cubic-yard side-loaders.

In 1994, the daily refuse load was approximately 5,500 tons per day. Collecting dead animals and bulky goods added to the day-to-day difficulties.

During that spring when district superintendents were asked to submit a plan to accommodate collection and disposal activities for the Games, I was in charge of the western district.

I submitted my plan and heard nothing more until July 1984, when I was appointed manager of the refuse collection and disposal division and was instructed to implement my plan. Being promoted to an operation of that magnitude was nothing short of culture shock, especially with only two months to make it happen.

The problem could be solved with several valid methods, and my solution was by no means the only or the best. The key, it appeared to me, was to remove the trash each day before the crowds formed at the venues. In order to obtain local homeowners' cooperation, however, this task had to be performed with minimal disruptiveness.

Los Angeles' general rule is for refuse to be curbside after 8:00 p.m. the prior evening and before 6:00 a.m. on collection day. With that in mind, we asked ourselves, "How can we collect the venues' refuse first and still have the remainder collected before 7:00 a.m.?"

In answer, we developed a four-part strategy;

* First, collection times in the targeted areas were changed to begin at 5:00 a.m.

* Second, all area residents were asked to set out their material be-fore the collection time began.

* Third, we flooded the venues with collection crews and supervision so the areas would be clear before the allotted time.

* Fourth, we asked the city's landfills to open early and to close late, to allow collection vehicles to begin each morning with an empty truck.

The plan went like clockwork. Of course, it could have been a disaster but the drivers, supervisors, homeowners, disposal personnel and staff worked as a team and kept the lines of communication open.

In retrospect, the city of Los Angeles came together that spring of '84. Now, as the eyes of the world turn to Atlanta this month, the same determination will enable that city to succeed too.

Wanted: Feedback. As I write this column, I try to draw my topics from issues that are universal to solid waste managers. Sometimes I discuss strategies that worked for me (such as my Olympic experience); other times, I address topics brought to my attention by someone I've met at a trade show or another industry event.

Over the years, I also have received numerous phone calls, faxes and letters agreeing or disagreeing with my views. Some ask me for additional information, while others provide me with details I hadn't considered or even known. Still others seek referrals for a product or procedure, or request the telephone number of a city or a manufacturer mentioned here.

I welcome all of this feedback. In fact, my goal is to maintain an open dialogue. Perhaps you have ideas for articles. Perhaps others could learn from your experiences. No matter what's on your mind, let me know.

Contact Bill Knapp at 3336 Vista Ricosa, Escondido, Calif. 92029. (619) 741-5349. Fax: (619) 740-9177.