How To Establish A Household Hazwaste Collection Program

May 1, 1994

11 Min Read
How To Establish A Household Hazwaste Collection Program

M. Honora Kraemer

Household hazardous waste disposal is an issue that can no longer be ignored.

The environmental education movement of the 1970s and 1980s is having a major impact in this decade. A growing segment of the public now considers it undesirable to throw away pesticides, paint, solvents, automotive products and other hazardous wastes - and they don't want these substances to end up in storm sewers or buried in someone's backyard.

The health and safety of municipal workers is an important concern. If municipal sanitation workers combine certain household products, the results can be disastrous. Explosions may occur; inhalation of fumes can lead to respiratory damage; and sprayed or spilled liquids can injure exposed skin areas. Landfill equipment operators, material sorters and other workers face similar potential dangers.

The regulatory landscape has changed significantly over the past several years. Federal, state and local landfill regulations are forcing solid waste managers to examine the contents of the loads more carefully before they enter the facilities.

In addition, more attention is being paid to the quantities of waste generated as well as the types of wastes. With landfill space at a premium and new sites increasingly difficult to secure, facility operators are more inclined to limit the amount of materials they will accept.

The implications of Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) regulations add another dimension for decision makers. Is it cost effective for a municipality to manage a possible liability or to take the chance that the landfill will become a Superfund site sometime in the future?

The First Steps The average household contains approximately 63 different chemical materials, ranging from flammable liquids to aerosols containing a nerve gas component. When stored or handled improperly, many of these containers will deteriorate, or the materials themselves will become unstable.

Establishing a successful household hazardous waste (HHW) collection program through the following six steps can help your community combat the problem.

* Assemble the team. When assembling the team, remember that community buy-in and feeling of ownership are essential to the success of any program. To keep a high level of commitment and interest, try to select team members who are presently affected by improper hazardous materials disposal.

Potential team members can be drawn from public agencies, regulatory bodies and the community. Public agency members include representatives from public works, solid waste, sanitation, highways and public health departments. Police and fire department officials, risk managers, safety officers, public utility administrators, municipal administrators and other appointed public officials would also be appropriate.

Include members from local offices of the Environmental Protection Agency and the state's Department of Natural Resources. Other regulators could come from local zoning and fire departments.

Community representatives can be elected officials, utility companies, local businesses, public and private schools, universities and colleges, community organizations and public interest groups.

* Designate the lead agency and the coordinator. Selecting the lead agency and program coordinator is one of the most critical decisions. Typically, a local governmental agency will assume the role of lead agency. The governmental unit is in a better position to assume the liability involved with the collection and disposal of these materials. Whether there is one lead agency or a partnership approach, one coordinator must be appointed to oversee and administer the program.

* Decide who the collection program will serve. Prior to or in conjunction with designating the lead agency, decide who the collection program will serve. It is important to get a sense of how much and what types of materials are being stored by the public. It also is helpful to know the condition of the materials. A direct survey of the potential customers establishes a baseline to measure future success.

When determining the design and size of the facility, estimate the amounts and types of existing material that could come to the site. Managers of one-day collection events can use this data to determine necessary staffing requirements and material handling approaches.

* Establish clear, realistic goals. A critical but often overlooked step is establishing clear and realistic goals for the program. These goals help determine the philosophy of waste management by which all policies and procedures will be guided.

Basic questions to ask include:

* How will this material be received and managed?

* Will there be a disposal hierarchy?

* How do community recycling and reuse programs tie in with the program's philosophy?

* Is maximum participation the goal?

* How accessible will the program be?

* Is education going to play a major role?

* Will the program attempt to reuse and recycle all materials received?

* Determine the type(s) of program. Answering these questions helps to determine the program(s) to adopt. Keep in mind that permanent collection sites benefit bulking and product exchange programs and often achieve the highest levels of materials management and waste reduction.

* Obtain funding. The final step prior to starting a program is determining how it will be funded. Some of the options used by existing collection programs include landfill tipping fees, water bill surcharges, sewage surcharges, property tax sur-charges, household hazardous waste generation taxes at point of purchase and grants. Keep in mind that these materials are continually generated, and once a program is established, the public will demand that it continue.

There are many ways to collect household-generated hazardous wastes. Two of the most common approaches are annual one-day collection programs and permanent collection facilities.

One-Day Collection In many ways, the one-day program is more difficult to implement than a permanent collection facility. Selecting a site, organizing volunteer and paid staffs, managing a budget and scheduling hours of operation often must be based on limited information about the nature of the customer demand. On any given day, participation could increase by 20 to 30 percent, and the average pound-age per household could increase 50 percent beyond initial projections.

Dramatic increases in the number of vehicles and customers often lead to logistical problems. Also, larger amounts of disposed materials usually require more staff time, space and handling equipment.

Efficient planning does not prevent on-site problems, so plan for the worst-case scenario and for every contingency.

Proper location and site design are essential to effectively operating a one-day program. Sites must be:

* Well-known to the public;

* Centrally located;

* Easily accessible (near a major artery or highway);

* Spacious enough to accommodate traffic and materials overflow;

* Covered and securable;

* Equipped with on-site utilities;

* Paved and contained to prevent runoff; and

* Removed from parks, residences and environmentally sensitive areas.

The site should include clearly marked signs to guide the public on the site. Use a variety of techniques, such as mixing traffic cones and signs, to help identify the area.

The staff's operating areas also should be well-marked. These areas typically include contractor sorting areas, designated operations (bulking, exchange tables, flushables), volunteer break areas, restrooms, safety stations for decontamination and first aid and non-hazardous waste disposal.

Staffing The Event At an annual one-day collection event, exposure to hazardous materials is much more extensive than in everyday use. These events seem to elicit the purge factor, in which residents tend to bring all the hazardous materials from their basements and garages to the collection site.

It is always feasible to have a contractor staff to collect and sort as much as necessary. Although this practice will result in higher disposal costs, it may be preferable in the program's initial stages. As the program becomes more established, the local operator should assume as many of the collection and sorting duties as possible.

Volunteer staff recruited for technical duties should have a basic understanding of the hazards of handling hazardous materials. This knowledge, when augmented with training in the proper identification and handling of these materials, will allow for greater flexibility in materials management and, consequently, greater cost savings in the long run.

Volunteers for both technical and non-technical duties can be recruited from municipal departments, area colleges and universities, the local Department of Natural Resources office, the business community and local organizations. Many less-technical volunteer duties that require a large pool of recruits include traffic control, conducting and collecting surveys, bulking latex paint, pouring waste oil and emptying trash.

All paid staff and volunteers must receive training about their specific duties, site layout and emergency and first aid procedures. Some communities require volunteers to sign a waiver relieving the municipality of responsibility in case of accident, injury or illness as a result of their service.

Publicity And Education Next to disposal and staffing, the biggest expense can be advertising. Regardless of the communication method, some basic marketing strategies (see chart on page 36) will help you consider how and why money is spent.

Know the audience and what it needs to hear. To help determine the best way to reach that audience, set marketing goals. For example, if name recognition is the program's goal, use short radio ads that continuously mention its name.

If another goal is to provide specifics about the program, local radio stations may be willing to give their telephone numbers for additional information about dates, times, location and types of items accepted at the site.

Publicity doesn't have to be restricted to paid advertising. Think of every possible means to get the word out. Television stations, in particular, have licensing agreements that require them to donate a certain amount of time to public service announcements.

Another effective approach is to post and distribute printed information. Develop a flyer, poster and fact sheet. Consider sponsoring a contest in which young people develop these promotional materials. Then, with the assistance of scout troops and other local organizations, distribute these materials widely throughout the community in churches, schools, grocery stores, craft and paint stores and recycling centers.

Other publicity and education strategies might include inserting notices in employee paychecks at large companies; having utility companies send inserts along with residential bills; and informing the local municipal clerk in rural areas. These individuals are frequently asked questions about government programs, so they should be kept well-informed about all collection programs.

Permanent Collection While annual programs are difficult to implement continuously and justify fiscally, making the commitment to establish a permanent collection facility is a serious proposition. Ongoing programs require extensive planning and the political and administrative willingness to make a continuing commitment to management and funding.

Again, selecting and designing the facility will distinctly impact the effectiveness of program operations. Many of the same criteria used for selecting one-day program sites can be used for selecting permanent sites.

Additional consideration must be given to regulatory requirements such as large-quantity storage regulations, local codes and zoning ordinances. These requirements will determine where the facility can be located on the site, how large it can be, kinds of construction materials and types of operations.

Using the data collected through program surveys, direct mail surveys and previous years' experiences with one-day programs will provide information on the amounts of materials to be collected in each category.

Many permanent collection programs have found that paint comprises the major percentage of the material collected. Handling this material in a cost-effective and environmentally sound manner can be challenging. Bulking paint is the most effective method in terms of cost containment, but the process is labor intensive. If bulking is to be done, the facility design must include storage areas for empty and full drums, a separate area for stacking and bulking and protection from the elements for the workers.

Program Costs The storage facility usually requires the major capital investment, along with site development and equipment costs. The type, size and design considerations depend on the collected materials, management procedures and applicable regulations. For example, if flammable liquids are to be stored, the specifications call for a smoke detection and fire suppression system, along with explosion-proof ventilation and heating, lighting and blow-out panels.

Buildings should be set on an impervious surface designed to contain spills and prevent run-off. Shelving is needed to contain substances such as corrosives, oxidizers and pesticides. Basic utilities on the site should include water, phone and power, and the facility should be secured with a fence or a wall. A second building or area may be needed to handle large amounts of waste.

Depending on the size of the service area, one building can cost between $20,000 and $30,000; the second building could add another $20,000 to the overall capital costs, depending on its nature and use.

The single most significant operational line item is disposal costs. The lead agency will play a major role in determining the conditions of the contract and how this cost should be negotiated.

Require bidders to propose a rate per unit. The first bid price will reflect the cost per pound or gallon to dispose, reuse or treat each type of material. The second price reflects the cost of transportation per pound or gallon.

The waste management component of a program must reflect the program's philosophy. The contract provides an opportunity to manage and direct the material's handling.

The program's philosophy also will be reflected in the choice of contractor. For example, a contractor who owns and is required to feed incinerators may not be as willing or able to provide alternate disposal options and help develop "green" technologies.

Whether a single annual collection event or a permanent facility is the best option for your community's hazardous waste disposal, residents can participate in cleaning up our nation's landfills - one aerosol can at a time.

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