Poison Control

HOUSEHOLD HAZARDOUS WASTE (HHW) can create a pile of trouble — if not managed properly. To prevent this waste from accumulating in landfills or backyards where it could potentially harm the environment, communities across the nation have designed collection programs, including at-door pickups, one-day events, regional facilities, “brick-and-mortar” facilities and roving collection trucks. But how do you determine which HHW program is the best way to encourage participation without blowing your solid waste budget?

According to the Maine State Planning Office and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP), Augusta, one program option may yield a significant amount of waste but may be too costly to operate throughout the long term. So when developing an HHW management program, communities need to analyze:

  • individual program cost components (administration, labor, materials and supplies, promotion, buildings, etc.);

  • the expected participation rate for each program; and

  • municipal solid waste (MSW) toxicity reduction goals.

  • Based on a study conducted by the University of Maine, Orono, of five types of HHW collection programs, the Maine State Planning Office and MDEP suggest solid waste managers also adopt a flexible and dynamic approach tailored to the area's needs and resources. Public education programs also should be tied to collection alternatives.

    At-Door Collection

    With an at-door collection program, HHW is collected at residents' homes after they schedule a pickup appointment with a central facility. The facility provides residents with HHW labeling and packaging instructions, and sometimes it provides a container in which to put the waste. HHW generally is placed outside residents' homes on a porch or near a garage without creating an obvious target for vandalism.

    At-door collection operations typically are state-run or municipal-run, but contractors can perform the same service. Private-public partnerships in at-door collections currently are being used by nine Pennsylvania counties and a dozen other public entities nationwide. In these cases, the contractor often assists municipalities with educational materials and program promotion. The contractor charges a fee based on previous programs performed. The fee normally is set for a specific number of households to be served.

    At-door collection programs help to reduce the risk of spills occurring during HHW handling and transport by residents. The program allows solid waste managers to reach elderly and disabled residents. And because the community's central facility schedules the number of pickups, the total HHW management program cost can be determined beforehand.

    One-Day Events

    Similar to at-door pickups, one-day HHW collection events do not require permanent structures. These events usually are held at municipal facilities, such as a transfer station or a public works facility. Periodic events can be organized by one or more municipalities.

    On collection day, the contractor sets up a receiving area at a predesignated site. The event frequently is scheduled during the weekend and is organized by employees and volunteers of the participating municipalities. In some instances, residents must preregister so that the communities can estimate the waste types and quantities that will be received. At the end of the event, the waste is transported to a licensed facility.

    One-day events have low fixed costs because they do not require a permanent structure, and they allow the community to simultaneously reach residents from a large number of municipalities. However, because residents transport their own waste, the risk of spills and injuries is greater than at-door collection programs. The participation rate and amounts collected also are affected by the weather during the event, travel distance, promotion level, receiving area wait time, and the event location.

    Regional Facilities

    Regional facilities do not need to be brick-and-mortar structures requiring extensive capital outlays, but they can be established with reduced costs at pre-existing waste structures. Maine currently is looking into siting seven regional collection centers, with each regional facility acting as a central HHW collection site as well as a staging area for one-day collection events for outlying communities. Each facility will provide approved material storage lockers, be accessible to traffic, fenced and sheltered to protect both the residents and the contractor from inclement weather. The centers will be open Saturdays each week throughout the year. One-day collection events in outlying areas will be hosted at the regional facility one Saturday per month, for each of the six months from mid-April to mid-October. The facility's permanence will allow Maine to provide HHW collection during regular hours, as well as through periodic one-day events.

    Brick-and-Mortar Facilities

    Permanent brick-and-mortar collection programs have regularly scheduled operating hours and are available more often than periodic one-day events. The facilities sometimes assist with regional one-day events. Contractors can help to staff the site and receive and ship the waste.

    Maine also is currently looking into two brick-and-mortar buildings that would be open Saturdays throughout the year, and would assist with one-day collection events in outlying areas on each Saturday for six months.

    Brick-and-mortar facilities can be expensive to design and build. So to reduce HHW disposal costs, Maine is examining Chittenden County, Vt.'s HHW collection program in which a solid waste district truck is used for one-day events in outlying communities.

    Typically, transportation of waste from the one-day events to a permanent facility is provided by the contractor, with the cost included in the disposal fee. But if Maine provided transportation, the state would expect the contractor to reduce HHW disposal costs.

    Calculating Costs

    In evaluating its HHW program options, the University of Maine's study helped the state to compare costs. For each scenario, it was assumed that 100 pounds of waste would be collected per participating household. Also, the cost of HHW disposal was based on two bids provided to a waste facility in southern Maine by HHW disposal contractors. Cost estimates were based on municipalities or the state supplying all employees and facilities. Usually, the HHW disposal contractor provides some staff, which was covered in the disposal cost. So Maine's cost estimates may be slightly higher than they would be in practice.

    The study also assumed households delivering their waste to the collection site would incur transportation costs. Assuming the residents incur costs of 28 cents per mile, the annual statewide cost for all participating households ranges from a low of $60,000 in one-day events to $150,000 at regional facilities.

    Maine estimated building construction costs on buildings in similar states. For regional facilities, this includes: the structure; electricity; approved, pre-fabricated HHW storage cabinets; processing areas; chemical-resistant floors; drive-through bays large enough for two cars side-by-side; asphalt paving; explosion-proof lighting; fencing; an automatic fire suppression system; and emergency back-up generator. For brick-and-mortar facilities, funding requirements are the same as with the regional facilities, plus additional monies for four-hour-rated brick walls, a concrete slab floor, a bermed HHW storage area and appropriate exhaust ventilation.

    The facility construction costs in Maine's study did not include extensive site development costs or permitting costs. In some cases, siting a facility creates challenges because of variances or the permit application.

    Beyond Your Wallet

    Although the study indicated one-day collection events had the lowest cost, Maine determined that no scenario is favorable over another. The one-day collection scenario had the lowest cost, but it also has the lowest HHW collected. Regional collection events collected the most waste, but had the next to highest cost. From a dollars per pound perspective, the university predicted the brick-and-mortar with truck program would be the most cost-efficient, but it had the next-to-lowest disposal cost as a percent of the total. This indicates the program has substantial operating and fixed costs.

    Consequently, Maine recommends municipalities and other public entities tailor HHW collection programs to meet their needs and goals to reduce HHW. In analyzing the waste stream from a number of collection events throughout the United States, oil-based paints were reported to comprise roughly 50 percent of the total waste collected. HHW disposal costs alone are 50 cents per pound, according to the study, so disposing of paints as hazardous waste is expensive.

    If this portion of the waste stream could be redirected, such as through paint reuse programs, then the total HHW program disposal cost could be significantly reduced. Waste paint can be recycled through direct reuse of paint in original containers made available to the public in a “swap shop” or through a more complex process of waste paint blending for free distribution or sale to the public through private, public or a combination of operations.

    To pay for HHW collection programs, state general funds, municipal property taxes, a portion of sales taxes, fees paid by participating residents (pay-as-you-go fees) or specific product taxes can be used. Product taxes would allow states to identify the most common items in the HHW stream (i.e. oil-based paints) and place a small advance-disposal-fee tax on each container sold.

    Based on this information, the Maine legislature is considering its HHW program options.

    Andrew Files is an associate scientist, and George Criner is a professor and chair of the Department of Resource Economics and Policy at the University of Maine, Orono.

    Hanging on to HHW

    Household hazardous wastes (HHW) collection programs can be costly. But recently, several communities have found a way to avoid the expensive design and engineering fees typically associated with permanent brick-and-mortar HHW storage facilities. To store and safely dispose of the waste, some communities have turned to prefabricated hazmat buildings.

    According to the municipalities, the buildings meet all state and local building codes (earthquake, wind, snow loads, electrical and explosion-resistance) and environmental, disability and energy codes — and are ready to use in weeks rather than months. Additionally, when HHW collection quantities change at one location, the facilities can be moved to areas with higher collection rates. At each location, the municipality just needs to provide the pad and permit to accommodate the portable structures.

    “We've liked [the facilities'] portability,” says Bob Maddon, assistant director for Hazardous Waste Services for the Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority in Florida. Palm Beach has six portable hazardous waste buildings manufactured by Safety Storage Inc., Hollister Calif. Maddon says the structures have “worked really well for us,” although after 15 years of service, the buildings are coming to the end of their useful life. “[The facilities] are made of steel,” he says, “and in the Florida, that requires some maintenance to fight corrosion.”

    Nevertheless, Maddon says this method of storing hazardous waste has saved the county time and money. With the portable facilities, communities can temporarily store their waste for up to 90 days (or sometimes longer in many jurisdictions) so that the special waste hauler only picks up the waste when there is enough for a full truck load. “We can ship [the HHW for disposal] every couple of weeks as opposed to every other day. So we're not loading trucks too frequently,” he says. Being charged for less-than-full loads can be costly over time, he adds.

    John Walsh, Boulder County, Colo., household hazardous waste technician, says the portable units have worked well, but the community has decided to construct a permanent HHW facility. “The way our facility is set up, we can't realize the benefits of having [portable] storage,” Walsh says.

    The Bolder County Household Hazardous Waste Program is building a structure to collect waste indoors. This will allow the county to use the portable facilities in conjunction with other storage when the building is operating sometime next year, Walsh explains. “Then, we'll be able to realize the benefits of not having to ship out as much.” He says he has not reaped the financial benefits of the temporary buildings yet. “My criticism isn't on [the buildings] but on our [collection] program.”

    Lynn Schenkman