Field of Dreams


The idea may have worked for Kevin Costner, but it takes a lot more than Hollywood glam to keep a landfill, waste-to-energy facility or processing operation competitive in today's market. Solid waste managers need business savvy, which results in good practices, to keep waste volumes up and revenues flowing — especially when times are tight.

Currently, two publicly owned waste facilities are in financial distress. One has turned to flow control and the other is considering contracting its community's waste. When Mississippi's Pine Belt Solid Waste Management Authority (PBSWMA) realized it would be unable to meet its financial obligations for 2004 and its member cities would be forced to make up the shortfall, the authority imposed an ordinance requiring all waste collected within its boundaries to be disposed of at its facilities.

The law would have increased waste volumes and consequently revenues. Unfortunately for PBSWMA, a state district court declared the law unenforceable (see page 22 of this issue) because it prevented interstate commerce, similar to the flow control ordinance in Carbone.

Taking a less litigious tack, Maine's Regional Waste Systems (RWS) is contemplating taking control of its community's waste to guarantee garbage will continue to flow through its waste-to-energy (WTE) facility.

Fourteen years after it was built, RWS' WTE plant is $70 million in debt and stands to lose $2.5 million in 2003. All of RWS' member communities are tied by a contract to cover the facility's costs. The city of Portland's share of the current shortfall is $600,000. But franchising waste collection through a competitive bid could ensure that RWS receives its necessary waste and satisfies the governor's “no new tax” pledge.

Haulers that stand to be displaced are understandably upset and are calling for an audit to see if the facility could be better managed. This brings up an important point. When waste budgets are being stretched, perhaps better management could improve a waste facility's viability.

Pennsylvania's Centre County Solid Waste Authority (CCSWA), for instance, reported a surplus this year, which is being refunded to its customers. According to Ted Onufrak, the authority's executive director, his processing facility is refunding more than $86,000 because it earned more than expected in 2002. Customers will receive a $10 rebate for every per-ton tipping fee they paid. So the National Guard will gain $12, whereas the authority's largest customer, Waste Management, stands to receive $28,000.

Admittedly, Centre County had luck on its side — recycling markets were better than usual, Onufrak says, adding that “this is only the third time in six years that this has happened.”

That the authority provides rebates at all, let alone nearly every other year, is what's notable. Because at the very least, the practice ensures that Waste Management and other customers are happy to be recycling at the authority's facility. And a steady stream of customers will ensure that CCSWA's processing facility is more than just a field of dreams.

The author is the editor of Waste Age