WW: What is the scope of your community's solid waste program?
SS: There are roughly 125,000 households in the metro area we serve. Some cities operate their own curbside collection programs, but we don't administer any ourselves. The county uses a private collection company.
WW: What is the state of the recycling programs you administer?
SS: The most established program is the residential drop-off program. We have 30 drop-off sites located throughout the county which consist of compartmentalized containers and open-tops for cardboard. In the compartmentalized containers we collect plastics, clear glass, newspaper and aluminum cans. This program has been in place for about three years and we are continually expanding the program by adding more sites. Typical drop-off sites are schools and grocery stores. We try to get locations that are accessible seven days a week, 24-hours a day, are well lit and on highly traveled streets.
One of our newest ventures is a multi-family unit pilot program. We are sponsoring the program with the help of a grant we re-ceived from the Department of Natural Resources. This program targets multi-family units in the Polk County area, which has di-verse buildings and a range of demographics. Approximately 38 percent of our population lives in multi-family units. We are setting up recycling programs for these complexes. We are going to run the program for one year in conjunction with the property owners and property managers. We want to prove to them that recycling is an economical alternative to regular waste disposal and also give the residents a more convenient way to recycle.
Waste assessments are another part of what we do. Another wo-man and I go into businesses and help them to identify their waste stream, help to find ways to re-duce the waste streams or recycle the waste streams. The program, which is free of charge, also offers a waste exchange in which we keep a current database of what companies have to offer. For ex-ample, what one company is throwing away, another company or organization might find useful. I had nearly 15 responses from in-terested businesses on my first week on the job; this tells me that businesses want help. This service is in conjunction with the Iowa Waste Reduction Center.
WW: How has the flood affected the programs?
SS: The flood of rain was literally followed by a flood of plastic water containers. When the running wa-ter was restored, most containers went to drop-off sites. The influx of containers caused some clean-up difficulties, but the flood also al-lowed us to find out how many re-sidents know about the program and use it.
The heavy rainfall this summer caused difficulty at our landfill. We had to use our wet-weather area 70 percent of the time and we weren't able to get into our open-faced area as much as we would have liked to. We extended our hours at the landfill and to help the residents we waived our tipping fees for residents with flood-damaged material..
Our waste haulers worked hard to keep the sites clean, however, not only were recyclables increasing but so was regular waste such as tires, cardboard and general flood debris. The waste haulers worked around the clock and even office staff was out driving trucks to collect the recyclables.
WW: How do you plan to develop each of these programs?
SS: As we expand the residential program we would like to continue to maintain a level of excellence. We also have a public information department at the agency that is very proactive in educating the community. They make presentations throughout the community, schools and special events. This department helps to generate a lot of interest throughout the community, which benefits us by increasing awareness of our programs and services.
We are constantly promoting the waste assessment program through the Chamber of Commerce. Each city's Chamber of Commerce helps to promote what we are doing, but a lot of times we will just contact companies ourselves. For example, if we see things coming to a landfill, like a large load of cardboard, we will call the company and offer to come out and do a waste assessment for them. Also we are actively working with local recyclers to find out what options are available for businesses. This way when we go to visit businesses, we already know what is available. We are also in the process of developing cost-accounting worksheets for businesses to use to help estimate what their current costs are and how recycling is economical. We are just trying to make it as easy as we can for businesses. After all, business and industry waste makes up about 70 percent of what is going to our landfill.
WW: How will your past experiences from the private industry help you in your new position?
SS: While working at Firestone I was the leader of the recycling task force for my facility. While there, I did everything that I am now recommending to other companies. I understand the difficulties in negotiating contracts with waste haulers and processors and the red tap private industry may face. I understand what it takes to get a team set up to conquer the waste problem. From start to finish, my experience has basically been a hands-on approach to handling the waste.