Pennsylvania Sweeps Nab Trash Trucks

IF YOU'RE SENDING TRASH to Pennsylvania, be careful. The Keystone State's eight-year-old TrashNet is inspecting thousands of trash trucks each year. Some say the effort aims to restrict trash imports.

In late April, officials found 109 violations on 94 of the 311 waste trucks they inspected. In 2003, Pennsylvania inspected 4,400 trash trucks, and 34.3 percent were placed out of service as a result. That year truck inspectors examined 70,000 trucks of all types and placed 28.3 percent out of service, says Dan Smyser, chief of the state Department of Transportation's (PennDOT) Motor Carrier division.

Garbage trucks are not necessarily less safe than other trucks, but the state is looking closely at waste fleets. “We want to make sure the trucks on Pennsylvania highways operate safely,” says Ron Ruman, a spokesman with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which works with PennDOT on inspections.

Waste trucks have been inspected at checkpoints along highways, as well as at landfills. In 2002, an inspection sweep at the Greenridge Reclamation Landfill near Pittsburgh snared 16 trucks. In addition to fining the haulers, Pennsylvania slapped the landfill with $35,000 in penalties for permitting waste trucks in violation of the law to enter the landfill.

Pennsylvania's authority to single-out the trash industry comes from the Waste Transportation Safety Program, or Act 90. Enacted by the state legislature and signed by the Governor in 2002, Act 90 requires owners of waste transportation vehicles that regularly transport municipal or residual waste to processing or disposal facilities in Pennsylvania to obtain written authorization from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The authorization sticker must be displayed on the truck.

Virginia also has begun singling out trash haulers for safety inspections. In April, 38 police along four major routes conducted inspections, and 16 vehicles were placed out of service. “These figures are alarming and, once again, highlight the need to ensure that if Virginia is forced to allow unlimited trash importation, then at least the trucks flooding the highways should be safe,” said U.S. Representative Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., when questioned by the Associated Press. Davis has introduced federal legislation to allow states to regulate trash flowing into Virginia.

“Michigan has done a little bit of this,” adds Bruce Parker, executive director of the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C. “It is almost always states that are importing lots of out-of-state waste [that inspect trucks,]” he says.

Michigan receives about 3 million tons of trash per year from other jurisdictions, including Ontario, Canada. Virginia accepts between five to six tons of trash imports per year. Pennsylvania, which imports 10 million tons annually, is the national champ. “One of the reasons for stepped-up enforcement involves efforts to deter haulers from bringing in trash from out of state,” says David Biderman, general counsel for NSWMA.

Because the courts have designated trash as an “article of commerce,” Pennsylvania — or any other community — cannot forbid haulers from other states from disposing of trash within its borders. But states can set safety standards as high as they want for trucks crossing into their borders.

Most haulers have been complying with the safety standards without complaint. “All trucks need to be safe,” says Mike Lambert Director of Safety with Republic Services, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “Compliance with DOT safety regulations and state highway regulations is not discretionary. We have an obligation to comply with requirements set by all states. Does it make sense that trash trucks should be the only trucks inspected in this way? No, all trucks should be inspected. Every business that transports materials has an obligation to do it safely.”