COLLECTION: Mapping a Plan

While preventing illegal dumping may seem like a never-ending battle, Charlotte County, Fla., has implemented mandatory solid waste collection and disposal in unincorporated areas and strategically placed community waste drop-off centers to improve its defense.

During the past three decades, Charlotte County has become a preferred and affordable retirement community. As the area's popularity and population increased, the county feared that clandestine dumping would increase. Consequently, it created a solid waste plan to help prevent prohibited trash piles. This also included reviewing solid waste regulations.

The county's first step in facilitating efficient residential waste collection under the mandatory collection program was to reimburse its franchise hauler, Houston-based Waste Management Inc., for better managing the unincorporated areas. Waste Management is paid through a non-ad valorem assessment on each resident's tax bill. With residential pickups improved, the second step was to determine how commercial collections could be better managed and possibly help to reduce illegal dumping.

Commercial waste generators are billed directly by the franchise hauler in their area of the county, based on the type of service needed and the frequency of pickups. A solid waste ordinance allowed businesses to self-transport refuse from their premises, provided that they complete an application and submit it to the county administrator, who managed the respective solid waste franchise unit. The county code dictated the permit application process, noting the permit's term length and conditions for revocation.

However, when examining its solid waste plan, the county realized the number of businesses requesting a self-hauling permit had been increasing dramatically. So the county's Environmental Services Department enlisted the Florida Institute of Government at Florida Gulf Coast University, Ft. Myers, Fla., to analyze the commercial regulations. This included examining administrative and staffing needs, estimating regulatory costs, and developing recommendations for revising the permit ordinance.

The institute found that the current permitting process for commercial generators created unnecessary costs for the county. Specifically, quarterly reporting requirements, initial permit fees and the necessary follow-up seemed to add unnecessary administrative expenditures with few environmental gains. “[The process] produced an administrative nightmare for county staff to thoroughly review all submittals,” says Thomas Keith, assistant county administrator.

Thus, the county revised its code and focused on educating the public about illegal dumping and enforcing potential violations with the funds saved by discontinuing the permit process.

The solid waste department began an outreach program to target homeowner associations and town hall events. Also, the department's resource specialist targeted individual businesses and residents, providing information on solid waste programs and opportunities.

Charlotte County's efforts have gained support from licensed and franchised haulers, permitted solid waste disposal facilities and the environmental community to assist in this effort. Also, the county has benefitted from eliminating its current regulatory program and by redoubling its efforts on education and focused investigation of violators.

Meantime, the county also has constructed convenient solid waste disposal and recycling centers for its citizens. At these sites, vegetative wastes, recyclables, household hazardous wastes, oils and tires can be disposed of for free. A recent user survey of these centers suggests that while much of the waste comes from residential properties, many customers are atypical residential waste generators, such as weekend handymen, yard landscapers and appliance installers.

“There are limited disposal opportunities for many of these materials in the vicinity of these centers,” says James Thomson, director of Charlotte County's Environmental Services Department. “Allowing customers to [use] these centers probably has minimized illegal dumping on private property and on rights-of-way countywide.”

To expand its efforts to prevent illegal dumping, Charlotte County plans to add customer convenience sites and target education programs to residential and commercial sectors. In doing this, officials hope residents and businesses will learn how to take advantage of the right disposal opportunities.