Regional systems for landfills, recycling and waste processing have brought benefits to states as diverse as Michigan, Texas and Arizona. The common denominator in successful programs has been sharing the advantages and the disadvantages equally between all participants.
Michigan In the Great Lakes states, concerns about water table pollution have prompted the move toward regionalized waste management.
The Michigan Regional Planning Commission, created to comply with Michigan Act 641 of 1979, requires county solid waste management plans. The commission wrote plans for Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties in the early 1980s, with five-year updates on recycling, reuse and disposal capacity. Each county designated an agency to implement education and recycling.
The Delta Solid Waste Management Authority in northern Escanaba, Mich., was started in 1985. It serves 38,000 people over 1,170 square miles.
Delta County, working with four additional counties, received a grant from the Department of Natural Resources to build a material recovery facility and plan for solid waste disposal.
Seven old landfills were closed and a new, state-of-the-art facility was built on 64 acres. It receives approximately 100 tons per day (tpd) and will last the region an estimated 45 years.
This approach will cost 25 to 40 percent less than operating the old landfills, even before retrofitting. An-other benefit is the preservation of the clean aquifers in an area of lakes and a high water table.
One hurdle of the process is what Gordon Hermes, of the Delta Solid Waste Management Authority called "a lotta politics."
"Not all of the players in this process are as informed about budgeting and solid waste management as they should be in order to make these important decisions," Hermes said.
Minnesota Minnesota is a national leader in solid waste regionalization. Among the state's 87 counties, there is one solid waste district separate from the Office of Waste Management to manage the state's sewage sludge. Other than that, each Minnesota county has gained approval for its own plan. Counties have primary local authority, which facilitates regional cooperation.
There are 12 cooperative projects built around resource recovery facilities. Northern States Power operates two refuse-derived fuel plants serving two and five counties respectively in the metro area of southeast Minnesota.
Five counties in east central Minnesota built a compost plant together. Ten northwest counties are working together to develop a household hazardous waste program. Eleven southeast counties are cooperating on market development for recyclables.
And through informal associations, joint powers boards and coops, groups of two to 10 or more Minnesota counties are working together on solid waste management.
County projects are funded from the counties' general budgets, although the Office of Waste Management would like to offer state grants for planning.
Facilities have been funded by floating bonds and capital grants from the state. The Office of Waste Management is funded by general state funds, an environmental fund from sin taxes and sales taxes on garbage collection called the Select Committee on Recycling and the Environment (SCORE).
In several cases, informal regional groups evolved to meet the requirements of regionalization.
Another resource for waste management has been citizen committees on solid waste management, pollution prevention, hazardous waste, waste education and market development for recyclables. One successful group is the Minnesota Recycling Exchange Cooperative, which coordinates recycling projects and helps to market the collected materials.
The primary motivation behind regionalization has been to comply with Minnesota's 1980 Solid Waste Management Act, which has been amended nearly every year since 1980. Also, with looming Subtitle D requirements, numerous counties have not found it cost effective to operate their own landfills (100 tpd is the minimum tonnage needed for cost effective waste processing facilities.)
"We don't push regionalization, we push cost effectiveness, removal of headaches and efficiency," says Sigurd Scheurle of the Office of Waste Management. "It's a carrot, not a stick approach."
Counties are required to provide recycling programs, compost yard waste, educate the public and manage household hazardous waste and other hazardous materials. They must write five-year solid waste plans.
The state legislature has assigned the Office of Waste Management to assess regional solid waste management in Minnesota. The agency has helped through grants, loans and technical assistance. Scheurle says that the greatest threat to regionalization is a flow control lawsuit pending in the state's Eighth Circuit Court. Currently, counties or cooperative waste management projects can dictate that mixed waste generated within their boundaries will be delivered to a specific resource recovery facility.
Each county in Minnesota must have a designation plan. Before passing a designation ordinance, counties must consider options, negotiate with haulers, issue a public notice and hold a hearing. Hauler Ron Roth of Waste Systems Corp. has challenged the designation ordinance in two Minnesota counties - Martin and Fariboult.
These counties on the Iowa border form the Prairieland Joint Powers Board. Rather than take mixed solid waste to the Prairieland compost facility in the town of Truman, Roth wants to take it to the unlined Lake Mills Landfill in Iowa. (However, in a separate action, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources eventually may close the Iowa landfill for lack of compliance.)
Roth challenged the ordinance on the basis of the interstate commerce clause, saying that Minnesota's flow control policy is economic protectionism. Minnesota asserts that the requirement is environmental prudence.
With a capacity of 100 tpd, the Prairieland compost facility needs 85 tpd to meet its financial obligations. It currently receives about 50 tpd. Most regional facilities in Minnesota have been able to break even by negotiating contracts with haulers. However in rural areas, such as that of the East Central Compost Facility, there may be trouble getting enough waste because many people still burn or bury trash on their own property.
Since it costs about $20 per ton more to take trash to a facility such as Prairieland than to dump the material in an unlined Iowa landfill, the hauler's victory could mean financial disaster for Minnesota waste processors.
Another ramification might be that Minnesota counties would artificially depress processing facility tipping fees and hide the cost in taxes. This could disrupt the state's waste market.
Wisconsin Most municipalities in Wisconsin run their own recycling and waste management programs. Many regional efforts are grassroots-based, such as Wisconsin Intercounty Non-profit Recycling Inc., a volunteer-staffed, regional recycling center serving numerous communities since 1979.
There are 29 counties that run their own programs. One superlative example of these is Monroe, which boasts 95 compliance and 66 percent materials recovery. Another success is in Grafton County, where various community groups take turns operating a drop-off center which generated money for a new library.
Wisconsin was one of the original states in the most extensive cooperative purchasing program in the nation, the Interstate Recycling Program.
Started in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, it is designed to stimulate markets for recycled products via government purchasing. It has spread to a dozen states.
Arizona The Southwest Public Recycling Association in Tucson, directs recycling in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and West Texas. It was founded in 1991 to strengthen recycling markets, encourage local and regional recycling and provide technical assistance.
One regional collaboration under the aegis of the Southwest Public Recycling Association is between Cochise County and Huachuca City. The city is building a municipal solid waste composting and recycling facility that surpasses its own needs in the hope that it will receive some of the county's mixed waste.
New Mexico In the past, New Mexico and other desert regions had vast tracts of dry, undisturbed land for landfills. At one time there were more than 130 landfills operating in the state, some three or four miles apart. But today, the public, elected and appointed officials, planners and regulators have set a goal for more cost effective waste disposal. They would like to reduce the number of landfills to 50 sites, each serving a district of 10 to 30 municipalities.
One such example is New Mexico's Cerro Colorado Landfill. The landfill, which is located in Bernalillo County, was opened in 1990 to serve Albuquerque and the surrounding towns. Today, the New Mexico landfill encompasses more than 1,000 acres and has a life span of 70 to 75 years and is lined.
Texas The Panhandle region of the Lone Star State encompasses 26,000 square miles, 26 counties and 60 communities with a total population of approximately 372,000. The sparsely populated region relies on landfilling.
Current disposal costs range from a few dollars to $30 per ton. In 1987, the region was served by 53 active landfills; more than half of those have since been closed.
The Panhandle Regional Planning Commission and its consultants developed a regional solid waste plan in October 1990. At that time, the commission anticipated closing many of its area landfills to meet state and federal regulations. However, West Texas arid exemptions have provided some relief for the landfills, many of which receive less than 20 tpd of waste and less than 25 inches of rainfall annually. Many of these small, unlined landfills will be tolerated because more than 25 miles of travel over the region's rough terrain is not feasible.
The commission characterized the region's solid waste systems and estimated the cost of operating existing landfills under new regulations. Solid waste managers used the cost analysis to decide whether to close sites. A list of candidates for regional sites also was developed. Transfer and transportation costs, disposal costs vs. annual tonnage and the effect of landfill shape on costs were calculated for the regional system.
No new regional landfills have been constructed as of 1993, according to John Kiehl of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission in Amarillo. One is in the process of being repermitted for retrofit with a liner system. It will handle 200 tpd from the region.
Regionalization of solid waste management offers economy of scale and the advantage of siting and permitting one facility rather than many. Cooperative marketing of recyclables and information exchange are other benefits.
The major challenge of regionalization is choosing the decision-making structure for implementing and operating a waste processing facility. Whether one jurisdiction takes the lead, a central authority is formed or communities trade services, each jurisdiction must retain some veto power and be assured of a fair trade-off between advantages and disadvantages of a central facility.