HAZARDOUS WASTE: Kansas Community Creates Low Cost, High Use Hazwaste Facility

When you build it, be prepared for how many will come. That's what the city of Lawrence, Kan., discovered after it constructed a successful household hazardous waste (HHW) facility in 1994.

The facility, which serves the city of Lawrence and surrounding Douglas County (population 82,000), is managed by Lawrence's Waste Reduction and Recycling (WR/R) division. The WR/R division strives to contain the costs of operation, education and payroll by:

* using 40 volunteers in conjunction with paid staff;

* sourcing specific waste streams without a contracting company;

* buying supplies in bulk; and

* controlling disposal costs through a product reuse program.

The 864-square-foot facility is open April through October on the third Saturday of each month. Once bulked and drummed, the HHW is transported into one of five bermed containment areas to await collection.

In 1997, the facility recorded more than 1,335 participants and collected 57,656 pounds - 69 percent of which was contracted for treatment, energy recovery or disposal through an environmental service firm, and 7 percent of which was recycled. Additionally, more than 13,819 pounds were redistributed through the product reuse program.

The HHW operating costs for 1997 were $87,827 - which includes salaries, equipment/supplies, disposal, training, administration/ utilities and public education/advertising. The total operational cost per participant was $65.78, with a $14.68 total disposal cost per participant. On average, each person using the facility paid a disposal cost of 76 cents per pound and dropped off 43 pounds.

In 1997, participation increased 45 percent, which meant that it was time for the facility to plan for growth. Since adding staff or extending the facility's hours were not options, the city evaluated the site's efficiency and incentives, then made improvements in four areas:

* Improving in-house technical abilities. Coordinating collection can be difficult, so efforts concentrated on keeping a consistent work flow and safely processing materials. Although the program manager could contract with a full-service hazardous materials management company or a limited number of hazmat personnel, the city chose a more cost-effective route: Train its own workers and limit outsourcing to transportation and disposal of hazardous materials.

* Creating volunteer benefits. Since the facility's inaugural year, soliciting volunteers has become more formalized. Its corporate sponsorship program allows companies throughout Lawrence and Douglas Counties to join with the WR/R division. Partnerships help recruit volunteers, conduct additional outreach, provide public recognition and reduce volunteer burnout. Technical training also is provided and helps in volunteer retention.

* Capitalizing on non-regulated wastes. In 1997, 53 percent of the wastes collected were non-regulated materials. Because of such large volumes, the city sought less-expensive disposal options. For example, latex paint considered suitable for reuse was diverted into the product reuse program.

The remaining three non-regulated waste streams were sourced separately for recycling at no cost: Used motor oil was combined with materials from the city's drop-off oil recycling program for use as alternative-derived fuel at regional cement kilns. Lead-acid batteries were sent to a retail battery store, and barrels of used antifreeze went to a local radiator shop. Once emptied, the barrels were returned for reuse at the next collection - saving the city $4,536.

* Cashing in on the product reuse program. In 1997, 24 percent (13,819 pounds) of the wastes collected were diverted through the product reuse program, saving $4,231.19 in disposal costs. Latex paint comprised the majority of this material, while the remaining 1,099 pounds included pest control products, household cleaners, hobby supplies and automotive products.

Next, the city gave the product reuse program a "make-over" to increase public understanding. The WR/R division sent flyers and made phone calls to churches, non-profit groups and associations explaining the program.

Inaccurate record-keeping was improved by using a database to track items, and monthly summaries noted the volumes, weight and Department of Transportation classification of materials.

The result? The facility's work loads are more manageable; volunteers receive more attention; costs are reduced; the product reuse program has improved; and the staff and fund effectiveness has been bolstered.