Thinking Outside the Can

THE WASTE TRUCK SALESMAN was dumbfounded. “I've never seen a city collect bulk waste every day,” he said.

Apparently, he had never been to Hampton, Va., which has routinely been collecting ovens, refrigerators, sofas, mattresses, chairs, tree limbs and other bulk waste four days per week for more than a decade. “We collect bulk trash every regular collection day of every week,” says Peter Morley, superintendent of solid waste for the city Department of Public Works.

Not all communities are as zealous about collecting bulky waste. But communities across the country have developed their own approach to collecting bulky items, household hazardous waste (HHW) and electronic waste (e-waste). The following is a sampling of special waste collection programs in Hampton, Va., Orlando, Fla., and San Francisco.

An Enterprising Week

The frequency with which Hampton, Va., collects bulky items sets the city's waste program apart from other communities. Hampton picks up all the trash its collectors can find, Morley says. While recycling collections occur every other week for each home, regular trash and bulk collections occur every week.

For bulk trash collections, Hampton runs a fleet of 20 knuckleboom dump trucks. Each claw truck holds about six tons. Between them, the trucks drive past every single-family home in Hampton — all 40,000 of them — every week. When bulk trash has been put out, the truck stops and collects it, no questions asked. “If you put out five refrigerators, we'll take them away,” Morley says.

Hampton collects about 30,000 tons of bulk waste per year, including hurricane debris. “After a hurricane, we'll pick up bulk yard waste 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Morley says. “Often we'll find 25-feet-high piles in front of houses.”

Hampton's bulk waste services are included in the $4.25 weekly refuse collection fee. “We're a $9.7 million enterprise fund operation, and we budget off of those fees,” Morley says. “The city doesn't pay any of our costs.”

Automated equipment is key to the program's success, Morley says, noting that it helps to reduce labor costs. While many cities put three people on a rear loader to throw garbage into the back of the truck, Hampton runs three one-man-operated automated trucks.

At the landfill or transfer station, debris is sorted: Yard waste goes to a regional composting facility; metal and white goods are taken to a scrap metal contractor for recycling; and the remaining bulk trash goes to the landfill.

Hampton also handles e-waste and HHW through drop-off events scheduled every other month with a local contractor. “We advertise the event,” Morley says. “People bring materials to the site. The contractor unloads the materials and disposes of them.”

Like the free bulk waste collection program, residents don't have to pay to drop items off at the e-waste or HHW collection events.

Battling Bulk Costs

In central Florida, Orlando uses a more conventional approach than Hampton to collect bulk waste from the city's 89,000 households. Orlando residents put bulk waste out on appointed days, instead of on their regular trash days. Some people, of course, put bulky waste out on the wrong days. When that happens, truck drivers call the city's main fleet office to report the locations. A supervisor visits the house to assess the trash and discuss fees with the resident.

Orlando's monthly collection fee covers four cubic yards of bulk materials. The city charges extra — a minimum of $25 — for volumes exceeding that amount. A full truckload of bulk waste costs residents $220.

“We started charging in 1996,” says Charles Wade, assistant division manager with Orlando's Solid Waste Management Division. “Prior to that, [bulk waste] was included in the regular waste fee.”

A fleet of eight Peterson Industries loaders with claws handle the collections. On each working day, four of the trucks run bulk waste routes. On Wednesdays, the city uses the other four claw trucks for yard waste collection. To prevent half of the $142,000 claw loaders from sitting idle, two vehicles do double-duty.

Two trucks have a modular claw system developed for roll-off trucks. “When we don't need the claw, we roll the assembly off and the truck handles regular roll-off trailers and compactors. Making six of the trucks productive all week long has worked well,” Wade says.

The special waste collection system generates about $48,000 in annual revenue from 66,000 tons of yard and bulk waste collections per year — not enough to pay for the operations, but enough that the program still is feasible.

Recent increases in fuel costs have hurt the city's budget. “We got by without a rate hike for 13 years,” Wade says, “but costs have become a challenge. Last year, we increased the regular garbage collection rate to help pay the extra fuel costs.” The city will not raise rates in 2005.

Orlando currently absorbs the cost of HHW and e-waste collection programs, which are separate from the city's special waste collection program. Like many Florida cities, Orlando has inter-local agreements with county governments to manage HHW and e-waste. Tipping fees paid by the city to the county landfill cover the cost for residents that use HHW and e-waste drop-off sites.

The Future of Special Waste

In much of the country, residents set bulk wastes out for collection on a designated day. San Francisco, however, takes a targeted approach to its bulk waste collection program, requiring residents to make collection appointments.

Depending on their service area, residents will schedule a pickup with Sunset Scavenger Co. or Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling, both subsidiaries of San Francisco-based Norcal Waste Systems Inc. This makes it convenient for customers to pick their day of service while keeping streets cleaner, according to Robert Reed, Norcal's director of corporate communications.

“When entire areas would set out bulk wastes for a scheduled pickup, scavengers would go through everything and make a big mess,” Reed explains. “In addition, people from outside the city would drive into the city and dump their bulk wastes. We've been working with the city on programs that reduce litter, and one of the techniques we've adopted is picking up bulk wastes by appointment. It has eliminated these problems, while letting customers schedule service when it is convenient for them.”

San Francisco defines bulk materials as white goods, mattresses, sofas, stuffed chairs, scrap wood, lawn chairs, metal barbecues, etc. Certain e-wastes, such as computer monitors and televisions, are included on California's list of special wastes that cannot be landfilled. The devices are not bulk waste, but Norcal accepts them during bulk collections.

When a resident wants a pickup, he or she makes an appointment. A customer service representative instructs the customer how to properly place items for pickup. At day's end, a supervisor loads the work orders into RouteSmart software and generates routes.

Two crews handle bulk pickups for Sunset Scavenger, says Paul Giusti, business manager. Each crew consists of four people, two rear loaders and one 30-foot-closed box van with an electric lift and dolly. The rear loaders run a route together, with one rear loader picking up small metal objects not considered bulk material, and the second rear loader collecting larger items. A driver and helper drive the third truck, the box van, picking up mattresses and appliances. The two crews make about 100 pickups per day for a total of 4,000 tons per year.

Recycling Priorities

In keeping with San Francisco's goal to recycle 75 percent of its waste by 2010, Norcal companies recycle 56 to 60 percent of the bulk waste they collect. “Both of our crews take their loads to the public disposal areas in our transfer station, where the materials are sorted,” Giusti says.

Obvious recyclable items, such as metal appliances, go to a scrap yard and eventually to a foundry. E-waste goes to electronics recyclers. Lumber, sheet rock, asphalt, concrete and other construction materials go to an integrated materials recovery facility (IMRF) for processing.

SF Recycling and Disposal, a Norcal subsidiary, operates the transfer station and the IMRF, as well as operates Recycle Central, a new recycling center on San Francisco's Pier 96.

The companies also try to recycle materials with less-obvious potential. For instance, instead of landfilling mattresses, Norcal ships them to a recycling facility that rips them apart, sends the springs and hardware to a scrap yard, the fabric to a carpet padding manufacturer and the wood to companies that make fiberboard.

Removing HHW From SF

Additionally, San Francisco offers residents an elaborate HHW disposal network. Operated by SF Recycling & Disposal, it includes drop-off sites for latex paint, batteries, motor oil, mercury thermometers, fluorescent tubes, and used hypodermic needles and syringes.

SF Recycling & Disposal also operates the nation's longest-running permanent drop-off facility for HHW. The 2,400-square-foot facility has accepted all forms of HHW since 1988. Residents, who must show proof of residency, self-deliver the HHW, which is loaded into rolling carts and then sorted into about 30 categories, says Paul Fresina, facility manager.

Paint is poured into 55-gallon drums, remixed and given away. In a step called lab packing, workers place containers of pesticides and other hazardous liquids into drums and then cover the containers with packing material such as cat litter. Batteries are segregated into drums. Full drums of other liquids are shipped to larger hazwaste facilities. Motor oil goes into a tank, and an oil recycler picks it up biweekly.

Paint accounts for 70 percent of collected materials, Fresina says. Another 10 percent is motor oil. The remaining 20 percent includes pesticides, photographic chemicals, paint thinner, antifreeze, batteries, spray cans and asbestos.

Computer monitors and televisions comprise a small but growing portion of materials brought to the facility. While many cities are struggling to figure out how to deal with e-waste, Norcal has given San Francisco a head-start. “We've already started developing plans for recycling those materials,” Fresina says.

Michael Fickes is Waste Age's business editor based in Cockeysville, Md.