Walsh Forecasts Integrated MSWM

WW: How is landfill management changing with the new regulations?

JW: The regulations have done two things. First, there is a lot more liability associated with landfills. As a result, a lot of landfill managers have become more sophisticated and are more concerned about the environmental affects and perceptions of their landfill. They are muchmore careful with what they do and are more likely to self monitor above and beyond the regulations.

Secondly, landfills have become a lot more expensive. This has made landfill operation more sophisticated and brought about new technologies. This also has increased the landfill managers' concern for getting the most out of the available air space.

WW: Of your many solid waste projects, which one is the most memorable?

JW: That's an easy one, it's the Fresh Kills Landfill project that we have worked on. It's the world's largest landfill with 20,000 tons per day of solid waste coming in from the city of New York's public and private collection services. We are doing the closure plan for it. We are applying the latest technologies to make it into a facility that complies with the state regulations and agrees with its consent decree. It has been a challenge because there is so much waste coming in and it is growing so fast. It is the largest manmade structure in the world, or soon to be.

WW: Do you anticipate increasing privatization of municipal waste services?

JW: Certainly there is a lot more interest in it. Throughout the na-tion, we have seen a lot more pressure on municipal public budgets. As a result, public agency officials are looking for ways to finance their solid waste disposal systems to get the most bang for the buck. They are also looking at ways to compete and go on more of a user type of fee. Privatization does this. For example, the mayor of Los Angeles is considering privatizing a portion of the city's solid waste collection services. This is a phenomenon that is going to happen and will increase in the future.

But it isn't the answer and it won't happen in some jurisdictions. Municipal government isn't less efficient and in many cases, they can handle the municipal services just as efficiently as the private sector, if not more. Phoenix is a prime example. The city decided to privatize a portion of their collection service. Through competition, the city fleets have since won back a substantial part of its collection services. This has proved that municipal government can be cost-effective and compete with the private sector.

WW: Are more communities ad-dressing their solid waste from an integrated approach?

JW: Formerly, landfills were the dominate method of MSW disposal. Today's communities are em-ploying multiple technologies which begin at pollution prevention, waste reduction and new packaging methods. The technologies advance to include recycling; curbside separation; and the different collection technologies. And finally, processing and disposal options include: composting, in-cineration, waste-to-energy and landfilling. All these technologies are employed somewhere, and many communities are employing more than one. Public interest has created a hierarchy of MSW disposal methods, with recycling and composting on top. But depending on two methods to handle our waste stream can only go so far.

We will always have some residual left, which will probably always have to be disposed at a landfill. If a community wants to implement composting and recycling, these are just two technologies from the hierarchy. But in actuality, a landfill will still be needed, so that will be the third technology.

WW: What is the biggest problem solid waste managers face today?

JW: The money aspects are a big problem. There is a lot of pressure in the public and private sector to get the most out of your dollar and still comply with regulations, keep the public happy and the shareholders of your company too. Fending off litigation and liability associated with your facility while keeping the public happy is also difficult to do.

WW: Looking back at your nearly 20 years in the industry, where do you think we will be 20 years from now?

JW: We have come a long way in 20 years. It has changed so much that it is hard to believe that it will change that much in the next 20 years, but it probably will. We have seen a wave of planning for integrated waste management. Next, we will see the implementation of the short- and long-term planning that has been established. The implementation may not follow the plan exactly, but we will see the development of new solid waste technologies, an integrated approach to solid waste and the application of multiple technologies for waste handling and disposal. Overall, we are going to see advancements. From a regulatory perspective, at least with regard to landfills, we are going to look to comply over the next 10 years. And then 10 to 20 years from now, I think we will start to see more waves of regulatory development. There is a lot of public interest, and public interest sparks a lot of advances.

WW: In your opinion, what are today's significant trends in the waste industry?

JW: There are a variety of new trends. Certainly there is a lot more public interest in solid waste. The in-creased public interest has caused more solid waste regulation and liability. Other trends include new technologies and an increase in the cost of transporting, processing and disposing the waste. Some of the manifestations of these trends include: regionalization into larger facilities and systems; planning an integrated solid waste management system that includes a variety of waste handling and disposal technologies; and overall, a more cost-conscious approach to handling and disposing of waste.