How To Prepare A Rural Waste Plan

Solid waste planning is not reserved for large communities with huge volumes of refuse. Today, many states are aggressively managing their municipal solid waste (MSWM). Most are requiring their communities to create a long-term, integrated approach for collection, processing and disposal as well as waste reduction and recycling programs.

Rural communities across America are finding the regional approach to solid waste management an attractive option for several reasons. First, federal regulations have made it disproportionately expensive for small, local governments to manage wastes independently and responsibly. Regional solid waste systems offer participating communities improved efficiency through economies of scale.

Second, public controversy and environmental concerns have made siting new solid waste facilities increasingly difficult. With re- regionalization, fewer facilities and sites will serve multiple local governments, reducing the impacts of solid waste operations.

Third, large volumes of wastes make it economically feasible to reclaim materials or energy from the waste stream. Regional approaches to solid waste planning can offer innovative methods to reduce costs and conserve local resources.

A region can be as small as a single county and the municipalities within it or several counties and their municipalities. However, for a planning effort to be considered regional, it must be multi-jurisdictional.

Before a local government enters into a regional arrangement, consider the following: transportation costs to a central facility; legal liability and enabling legislation; hosting a regional facility; participation costs; and how the regional approach will fit your community's needs.

Steps In Preparing A Regional Plan Organizing a regional plan (see chart on page X) is a long and detail-oriented process. To ensure a practical plan, follow these steps.

Determine The Study Area. Some states create solid waste districts to define the boundaries of a solid waste planning area. In other cases, existing political relationships such as a governing council, metropolitan planning commission or public service authority may be used.

Regions that can determine their own geographic scope for the plan should consider the following criteria: * Economic and social cohesion of the area. This can be determined by evaluating retail trade areas and commuting activity.

* The area's geographic orientation, size and features.

* Environmental constraints to facility siting.

* Location, size and distance between the major population and the commercial centers.

* Political boundaries, past working relationships or consolidated public services.

* Existing solid waste management roles and responsibilities. For example, multi-jurisdictional agreements, contracts and facilities.

* Commitment to participate in a regional planning process.

* Location and type of recycling markets.

* Location and capacity of existing solid waste facilities.

Assign Planning And Funding Responsibilities. If a regional planning agency does not already exist to plan and fund the project, establish a solid waste authority to do so, with the participating jurisdictions required to fund the effort. Other options include forming a citizens' advisory council to prepare the plan, using a state or federal grant to fund the program, or asking a lead county to prepare and finance the plan.

Develop A Public Education Plan. The success of a solid waste management plan depends on public involvement and support. Involve the public early in the planning process: Residents are more likely to support a plan if they are aware of the key issues and major findings.

To ensure that various opinions will be heard, include private citizens on an advisory council. Also, establish a special subcommittee devoted to public education and involvement. This subcommittee can focus on developing strategies for public information such as brochures, media coverage, public service announcements, special events, contests and public meetings.

Organize Solid Waste Advisory Groups. Organizing an advisory council, task force or steering committee is an effective way to make preliminary decisions and plan recommendations. The advisory body also should advise the technical staff and elected officials.

Working subcommittees can provide technical assistance on specific topics, review preliminary alternatives and make recommendations to the council. Try to include representatives from all of the participating regions in the advisory body. Various opinions and levels of expertise will strengthen the plan.

Advisory councils should include local elected officials, citizens, educational leaders, facility operators, an environmental lawyer and a local attorney. It also should include representatives from local industry, private or non-profit recycling organizations, private disposal companies, environmental organizations, community groups, state and federal regulatory agencies and the local governments' solid waste staff.

Identify Major Solid Waste Issues. A primary task of the advisory council is to identify solid waste issues. To do so, they should attend public meetings or council sessions which are open to the public. Make sure that local issues are distinguished from regional ones. Document the issue identification process and distribute it to all participants.

Collect And Evaluate Data. This step involves analyzing the planning area's demographic and geographic data and then determining how this information influences and constrains solid waste management.

Land use patterns, for example, will affect solid waste management. Areas with concentrated commercial development will produce greater amounts of used paper and cardboard than residential land use. Data on existing and future land use can be used to target certain areas for special solid waste collection and management and to design recycling programs.

Inventory Existing MSWM Systems. Keep an inventory of equipment, personnel, facilities, sites and operating procedures. Also, determine how various local operations and capital projects are funded.

A description of existing solid waste activities is essential to identify current capacity and demand and to determine the location, type, size and timing of the needed facility and service improvements.

Conduct Waste Characterization And Assessment. To characterize a waste stream, determine the waste stream's composition and how much residential, commercial, institutional, industrial and agricultural MSW is generated.

Waste characterization also involves estimating future quantities and composition of MSW, which is used to determine available tons for recycling, composting, waste-to-energy and disposal. Also identify existing special wastes in the region and the amounts of imported and exported waste.

Develop Goals And Objectives. In addition to the overall objectives of the plan, establish goals by analyzing issues and evaluating data. These will serve as the blueprint for resolving issues.

Coordinate With Local Planning Programs. Local plans often contain information about local and regional conditions, trends, issues and growth management activities. Incorporate the relevant local plans into the regional solid waste management process.

For areas using a formal plan amendment process, establish links with key organizations responsible for developing and implementing plans. This can be achieved by appointing planning commission members to the solid waste advisory council or steering committee. Keep local planning staff and zoning administrators informed about solid waste planning efforts to prevent the objectives from conflicting with the local government's actions.

Develop And Select Alternative Policies And Technologies. Assess solid waste management policies and technological alternatives for collection, storage, processing, reduction, recycling, composting and disposal. Also, evaluate alternatives for public education and involvement.

Once solid waste issues, goals and objectives are established, feasible policies and technologies will become evident. For example, comparing waste quantity, composition and sources with your collection objectives will help identify appropriate collection alternatives.

Evaluating alternatives is a time-consuming process. To select preliminary and final alternatives, follow these steps:

* Form advisory council working subcommittees;

* Prepare selection criteria;

* Research alternatives;

* Prepare selection matrices and background information;

* Select a ranking process;

* Rank alternatives using selection criteria;

* Formulate preliminary recommendations;

* Approve further study by the advisory council;

* Conduct cost, institutional and legal analyses;

* Select final alternatives for the regional plan.

Determine Future Facility Needs And Systems. Evaluate data before deciding on the type, size, number and location of facilities to serve a region or subregion. Make 10-year projections of the amount and type of regional MSW that must be managed throughout the planning period. Also project which materials can be targeted for source reduction, recycling, composting and ultimate disposal.

Other factors to consider when choosing a new facility include: location within the region; design; the age and remaining capacity of existing facilities; desired transport distance; technology; and the region's demographic and environmental characteristics.

The facility may be planned to serve the entire region or meet only the needs of subregional MSW quantities.

Conduct Cost And Financing Analysis. After grouping the number and types of facilities into an integrated regional or subregional system, they should undergo a preliminary cost analysis. The cost analysis must include capital and operations cost estimates; and it also should reflect how much time is required to develop each facility. This cost analysis should detail the cost-effectiveness and economic feasibility of each system. However, at this stage, the cost analysis is only for planning purposes and should not be equated with engineering design cost estimates.

Institutional And Legal Analysis. Implementing regional MSWM plans involves organizational and legal questions such as potential liability, permitting and enforcement and revenue-raising authority.

Common institutional arrangements among participating jurisdictions for implementing a plan include informal, joint-power or contractual agreements as well as the creation of formal bodies such as authorities or regional solid waste planning districts.

Prepare Action Plan. The action plan summarizes the results of the previous steps and provides the framework for implementing the plan. The action plan should specify major tasks to be completed, target dates, who will complete each task and anticipated costs and funding sources.

Although the plan's time span may be predetermined by state law, most action plans have a 10-year time span. However, some planning decisions may have longer impact. For example, if a planned solid waste facility will be financed through long-term bonds, the plan's effects will be extended to 20 or more years.

Plan Adoption Process. Before the plan is adopted, make sure that all interested parties, especially elected officials and the general public, understand it.

Formally present the plan to the local officials who are responsible for adoption and implementation. Public hearings will give citizens the opportunity to ask questions and comment on the plan. Once efforts to educate and inform the public are complete, the plan is ready for adoption.

Adoption should be carried out as an official action by each local government within the planning area at a regularly scheduled business meetings. Any other organizations with authority to implement the plan, such as a regional council of governments or a solid waste authority, also should adopt the plan.

Plan Evaluation, Updating And Amendments. The plan should be reviewed and adapted to meet new solid waste laws, technologies, political environments and other changing conditions. Plans should be amended every one to five years.