To stink or not to stink, that is the question solid waste managers face every day. And with waste being generated daily - accompanied by odors - facility managers are wisely choosing the latter.
At one time, odor was a facility's biggest problem, but today's advances in odor control and better public relations are helping managers win the battle over funk. Though no federal regulation governs odor control, many companies are finding ways to freshen up and make their facilities and equipment smell good.
New control methods have allowed managers to spend less time teaching employees how to turn waste smells into roses. Instead of ignoring the aromas, there now are ways to eliminate rotten garbage and week-old green waste aromas, including coverings, chemicals or facilities with special odor systems. Before masking up for a foul fight, managers suggest devising a plan of action by: outlining the problem; working with neighbors; and making sure the balance sheet works in conjunction with the company's budget.
Preventing Problems Community relations can be a facility's best odor monitor. For example, to get rid of obnoxious odors, Frank Caponi, supervising engineer and head of the solid waste management air quality group at County Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, uses a mixture of odor control methods, which include a gas collection system and green waste/dirt mixture for a daily covering. The county operates four landfills and handles municipal waste, light commercial refuse, textiles and household waste. Approximately one-third of the waste handled at Los Angeles' facilities is household waste.
Caponi's odor control strategy begins with good gas control at the landfill. Odor, he says, becomes a problem when waste is buried in the landfill because it generates methane gas if no wells or no system is in place to extract the gas. Consequently, he installed a vacuum system to pull out the gas, which is routed to a management system that combusts it in boilers and converts the gas into energy.
Additionally, Caponi makes sure waste at his landfills are covered daily, which helps eliminate odors, he says.
Despite these methods, Caponi's facilities recently started having odor problems when they began handling green waste. "The program is very important for the state of California's recycling rate, but there was an odor potential that we didn't know about at first," he says. "It took a while, but we got the problem under control."
To do this, Caponi's facility experimented with fan systems, but he found general housekeeping practices to be the most effective control method. Working with a local regulatory agency, Caponi says he found most odor problems were weather related.
"During certain times of the year odor is more prone to be a problem because of the meteorology - 99 percent of the time there is no real odor problem," he says. Knowing this, Los Angeles' problem was brought under control.
As part of its prevention plan, Caponi's facility does not accept any bad smelling loads. At the facility, vigorous inspections are performed on incoming and potentially odor-causing truck loads. Then, the trash is covered immediately. Haulers with stinky garbage are charged a special fee and the load is shipped to another facility, Caponi says.
It may sound harsh, but positive public relations is important, Caponi says. "We take it very serious when we have odors in the neighborhood. We have to be a good neighbor."
To date, Caponi says Los Angeles' landfills have received very few complaints. A hotline also has been set up to address community concerns.
Let the Wind Blow Wind-based odor control is one of the newer forms of technology, which incorporates a system of fans along with logic control to dissipate odors.
Eric'sons Odor Answers, Dallas, Ga., sells a variety of solutions to control localized and wide-area odors, but its latest technology duplicates a natural resource - wind - to disperse and dilute annoying smells.
Company vice president Robert Finn notes that the technology has been around since the 1970s. Wind-based odor control uses a system of fans that work in connection with data gathered by a weather station, programmable logic controller and personal computer, he explains. The controller monitors weather conditions, tracks odor complaints and turns fans on and off based on those factors. Prices can range from $50,000 to $200,000, depending on how large an area needs to be fanned.
Though high costs may be a drawback to implementing an odor control system, Finn notes that negative public relations can be worse. He suggests talking to people in the community and addressing odor problems immediately.
Ian Howard, vice president of Ecolo Odor Control Systems Worldwide, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, admits that odors are difficult to measure. As a result, more focus is being concentrated on how companies respond to problems, he says.
For example, courts don't care how long a company has been in a community or who was there first, he says. They will impose nuisance fines and odor shut-downs in most places around the world.
To stop the stink, manufacturers offer several odor neutralizing formations to help combat smells cost-effectively. Non-toxic, water-soluble formulas can be blended with essential oils derived from plant extracts to battle specific, annoying odors. Facilities also can use perfumes to mask odors.
Of course, no one solution can solve every odor problem. Thus, today's solutions have become more odor- and site-specific, Howard says.
For example, Joseph Stockbridge, director of environmental service for a town in Upstate New York, uses several methods - from sprays to hard-shell daily coverings - to control his facility's odors.
Stockbridge's facility, which handles green waste, household waste and recyclables, uses a papier-mache-like posi-shell technique licensed by Landfill Service Corp., Apalachin, N.Y., instead of soil for a daily covering. The facility also incorporates a series of gas collection wells to vacuum out odors at its 100-acre facility. Once gas is collected, it is directed to flares that deodorize and neutralize emissions, Stockbridge explains.
To further keep odors from fouling the community, Stockbridge notes he also has installed Ecolo's odor control spray system adjacent to the composting area. By placing spray nozzles strategically around the perimeter of the facility, this automatic spray system was customized to determine how long and how often to emit a solution to best meet Stockbridge's needs. This allows the spray particles to react with odor molecules sooner, to trigger and speed up their conversion into odorless, non-toxic end-products.
"We found that certain products do certain things," Stockbridge says. "Year-round odor is not a problem for the facility because most odor problems occur during the summer months." However, because his facility is surrounded by water and high winds, the spray system "is used to knock down quite of bit [of odors]," he says.
Regardless of whether residents complain, a control plan to handle unexpected odors from day-to-day is part of being "neighborly," he says.
"Facilities have to be ready when a load shows up. Systems and procedures need to be in place to handle potential problems," he adds.
Stockbridge says his facility consulted with town residents to come up with the best odor control solution. The result was a hotline so residents could call the facility with concerns or complaints, updates about the facility three times per year, a quick-response system and an open-door policy.
"No one method will solve an odor problem," Stockbridge explains, "but responsiveness and education will help to correct or address odors before they become a problem. This is something we need to do, so we do it."
Indeed, because so many elements can affect odors and facilities have different needs, "[a control system] really has become a combination of art and science," Ecolo's Howard says.
He suggests facilities consult with odor control experts to determine the best solution for their needs. An expert would be more educated on things such as whether to place sprays around the perimeter or throughout a facility, he notes. Beyond that, educating, using common sense and good housekeeping techniques can help keep odor problems in check, he says.
"Two facilities can be the same exact size but have two different locations, winds, neighbors, waste mixes, etc., making each solution specialized," he says. "New equipment is making odor control easier. Nevertheless, education is the key to making both work."
Educating Employees "An educated facility manager or odor controller is essential to keep the workplace and community void of bothersome odors," agrees Ken Heller, vice president of sales at NuTech Environmental Corp., Denver. Successful odor control, he says, depends on: a good product, a good piece of application equipment and the necessary knowledge to use the equipment and product so that it is successful.
"There is no magic wand," he says. "Companies must have someone knowledgeable because things can go awry if a person is not educated in this [odor control]."
For example, his company uses a variety of chemicals, a vapor system, wet scrubbing systems or line additives of hydrogen sulfide inhibitors to solve low- to high-intensity problems. Such technical equipment requires assistance before and after the installation, he says. Because very often, if there is a failure, it is because of a misapplication rather than because of a poor product.
After ensuring that an educated odor controller is in place, training employees on the equipment and teaching them odor controlling skills becomes important. Because the best odor control method is prevention, he says.
To help employees, Heller says his company has started a program to service facilities' odor equipment needs year-round.
Products abound, depending on the odor, solutions can include odor eaters, community monitor systems or a combination of methods.
Regardless of the option, any odor control method that eliminates or diminishes potential problems is, in the long-run, cost-effective considering the alternatives of fines or closing. And as companies develop more ways to keep the facilities smelling sweet, employees and residents will be able to breathe easy.