A Capital Idea

In the middle of the expansive 210-acre landfill in Carson City, Nev., a fresh pond 15 feet wide and 75 feet long recently was constructed. Not a retention pond nor a fishing pond, the breeding pond is the home of 4,000 Gambusia Affinis, otherwise known as "mosquito-eating" fish.

Given to residents free of charge to stock ornamental ponds, animal watering troughs, wetland areas and even the water traps at one of the city's four golf courses, the fish are just one example of Carson City's commitment to customer service. While not the largest state capital in the country, Carson City works hard to keep its 50,000 residents informed and involved in its solid waste programs - whether they include recycling, waste reduction, hazwaste collection, composting or even fish.

"The vision for our solid waste programs is to continue to develop our educational outreach programs for adults and children," says Deborah Wiggins, Environmental Control Officer. "Through education and identifying issues, or the reasons for and necessities of waste minimization, reuse, and recycling, we feel we can achieve a greater understanding of our solid waste goals, whether at the landfill, curbside solid waste collection or everyday life. We want to offer our citizens the best and most affordable service while still maintaining and protecting our health and environment."

Outreach services can pay off, according to the city. For example, the guppy-like fish require no maintenance and are a natural defense against mosquitoes as they devour several hundred mosquito larvae each day. With this program, Carson City hopes to eliminate the need for frequent aerial spraying or ground fogging with pesticides, and larvaciding.

And because the program was developed by the Environmental Health Department, Street Department, Houston-based Waste Management Inc. and its local subsidiary, Capital Sanitation, the project only cost the city approximately $800 for fencing and landscaping.

"We chose to build the pond at the landfill site because it is manned 24 hours a day, the city owns the property and we can keep close control of any situations arising at the pond," Wiggins says. "The perimeter is fenced and landscaped, and the pond is beginning to take on a life of its own. The pond is fenced to prevent wild Mustangs and Coyotes from entering the it."

Additionally, because the pond area receives many visitors picking up fish, the location is being designated as the city's public information outreach center. "We have a kiosk made from 100 percent recycled plastic that highlights interesting facts and figures about recycling, landfill issues and related programs," she says. "Residents can learn about the mosquito fish program or other activities, such as our annual 'Carson Pride Week.'"

Cleaning Up Carson City During the week of Earth Day every Spring, Carson City promotes and sponsors a city-wide cleanup, recycling and beautification project, called Carson Pride Week. During this time, civic organizations and city employees join together to help senior citizens and handicapped persons pick up bundled trash, garden debris and tree limbs free of charge. City residents enjoy two free weekends of disposal at the landfill.

Also during the week, the city hosts a "Wreck Riddance Program," where a local towing company will tow residents' old vehicles to the salvage yard for free with proof of title.

The week pays off environmentally. During the 1999 Carson Pride Week, the city collected 1,100 gallons of waste oil, 150 gallons of anti-freeze, 281 car batteries, 1,030 yards of scrap metal, 16 yards of plastic, tires and aluminum cans, 15 yards of glass and 4 yards of paper, according to Environmental Health department staff.

Regular Recyclers However, Carson City's commitment to the environment extends beyond one week - its recycling program is just as successful year-round. Approximately 62 percent of the city residents participate in curbside collection, recycling a host of materials. The city also provides a recycling drop-off center at its landfill, where glass, aluminum, tin, newspapers, magazines, cardboard, plastic, waste-oil, antifreeze and car batteries are collected.

This centralized, manned drop-off point also serves as the area designated for wood and metal recycling. There, landfill users are asked to separate wood and metal items from their regular municipal solid waste disposal.

Carson City originally started this program in 1993 to reclaim a valuable resource and save landfill space. Initially, a citizen and staff advisory panel studied the idea, then set the recycling rates. Residents are charged $1 per month for curbside recycling and 50 cents per cubic yard for solid waste disposed of at the landfill if they do not participate in the curbside program.

"Fortunately, all of the recycled materials we collect, except wood waste, have downstream markets available," Wiggins says. "Due to the vast amount of open space in our area, any additional charge would promote illegal dumping."

To further save landfill space, the city is contemplating a full-scale composting program using the wood waste, dry wall wastes, yard waste and bio-solids from the city's wastewater reclamation plant.

Collection Cooperation Keeping in mind the city's goals, Capital Sanitation, the contracted hauler that recently was purchased by Houston-based Waste Management Inc., offers many "added values" to its recycling program. For example, last summer, 904 tons of wood waste was chipped and given to citizens and local businesses for free. The company also continually furnishes cardboard and white paper recycling bins to local businesses.

Additionally, to encourage school recycling and offer a monetary resource to the schools, each elementary school and Boys & Girls Club is furnished with a 4-cubic-yard dumpster. Once the dumpster is filled with aluminum cans, Capital Sanitation transports the contents to RSW Recycling Center in Reno and sends the funds back to the school or club.

Capital Sanitation makes an extra effort during the holidays. After the Christmas season is over, the hauler picks up residents' Christmas trees over a two-week period and sends the trees to the landfill's wood waste program.

Private Business Partnerships Two other programs distinguish Carson City from its neighbor municipalities. Six years ago, it was the first community in Nevada to open the doors to a permanent household hazardous waste collection facility. While residents must make appointments on Fridays each week to use the service, it was determined from the program's inception that the service would be provided to residents free of charge.

The initial year of the program was funded by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection. Since then, the Carson City Board of Supervisors provides $20,000 for the program in its annual budget.

Because of the broad category of materials the program accepts, it has proven to be successful, Wiggins says. "We accept paint, paint wastes, thinners, solvents, old fuel, cleaners, pesticides and herbicides," she says. "Almost any household hazardous waste item or chemical you can name, we get, along with a good portion of products no longer manufactured. The only items not accepted are bio-hazardous and nuclear wastes."

As the materials are accepted, they are placed in appropriately labeled over-pack drums or into a fire-proof cabinet, for transport and ultimately for disposal by a licensed hazardous waste management company.

Fifty percent of the wastes received at the collection facility is old latex paint, which is bulked by Carson City Environmental Health Department personnel into light, medium and dark colors. Through a partnership with Kelly-Moore Paint Company, Carson City, the paint is recycled then taken back to the facility which eventually gives it to non-profit organizations for free. According to the city, the estimated value of the paint given to charity exceeds $36,000.

The other innovative program implemented in Carson City is the Industrial Waste Program. This encompasses permitting and inspecting 552 businesses, 24 of which are categorical industries, twice a year. The program is designed to protect Carson City's Wastewater Reclamation Plant, but it also provides an opportunity to answer questions or help solve problems industries may have.

Through the Industrial Waste Program, the Carson City Environmental Health department monitors and inspects businesses on the sewer system and companies with septic systems. The city also performs underground city-owned storage tank removals, business license reviews and approvals, building plan reviews for plumbing code and pretreatment issues, demolition and renovation permit review for approval regarding asbestos, major project reviews and participates in a one-stop-shop building permit process. Additionally, the office handles illegal dumping complaints and issues non-hazardous waste manifesting and TCLP testing.

Early Education With so many programs available to residents, education is a top priority for Carson City's Environmental Health department. It has aggressively undertaken activities promoting recycling, as well as hosted numerous tours and classes on solid waste issues. Last year, through grant funding from the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, more than 1,000 elementary school children went on tours of the landfill, according to the city. The funding paid for the buses, fuel costs and drivers' time.

State grant funding also has helped the city to produce a quarterly newsletter "Trash Talk," which is distributed to third and fourth graders. Produced by Eco Partners Inc., Indianapolis, "Trash Talk" features activities, puzzles, information on waste reduction, recycling and reuse ideas. The front and back of the newsletter also contain history and news about Carson City's solid waste and recycling programs.

Despite its current education, recycling and waste reduction successes, the city is not content to rest on its laurels. A future plan is to start a composting operation at the landfill. Carson City also would like to continue exploring other ways to recycle construction and debris waste, which currently goes to the landfill, Wiggins says.

The local landfill accepts 950 tons per day of combined municipal solid waste, and construction and debris waste. According to the most recent landfill lifespan study, performed by SECOR Engineering, Carson City, the estimated remaining landfill life is approximately 18 years. The adjacent Class I and Class III landfill permits allow for additional municipal solid waste volume by expanding vertically, placing municipal solid waste against construction debris waste on the perimeter of the existing solid waste footprint.

"Nevertheless," Wiggins says, "the city would like to continue reducing its waste and saving valuable landfill space where it can."