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business management: Food Disposers Help Grind Down Solid Waste Problems

While solid waste managers focus on the best ways to collect, process, transport and dispose of trash, they often don't appreciate the material that never makes it into the wastestream in the first place.

Food waste disposers, those handy appliances that attach under kitchen sinks and pulverize and liquefy food waste (also known as garbage grinders and disposals), should be recognized as sound waste reducers, according to a study conducted by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based research firm Konheim & Ketcham Inc.

Because food waste disposers have been accepted nationwide for several decades, their role in managing municipal solid waste (MSW) often is taken for granted. In fact, disposers help reduce residential waste by 7 percent to 10 percent.

The study focused on food waste disposers' environmental benefits and cost-effectiveness, and examined solid waste and sludge management policies and practices in several U.S. cities: Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.; Oakland, Calif.; Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; and Seattle, with a special focus on New York City.

With the exception of New York, which in 1997 became the nation's last urban area to allow food waste disposers in residences, other cities use food waste disposers in residential households extensively - in some cases, more than 75 percent of households rely strongly on disposers to reduce food waste.

New York City, which is on track to close its last remaining landfill, hopes to see the same success. While not the definitive solution to exporting solid waste to distant landfills, waste planners in the Big Apple know that food waste averages 15 percent of its residential waste stream - twice the national average, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Thus, a 1 percent MSW reduction is equal to 40,000 tons per year that doesn't need to be collected, transported or landfilled.

Waste management systems incorporating food waste disposers are substantially more cost-effective to operate, according to Carolyn Konheim, president of Konheim & Ketcham and William B. Pressman, former research director for New York City's Department of Water Resources. Transportation costs are the largest component of waste management, representing about 80 percent of total MSW management costs. Using a well-designed sewer system to transport food waste materials that are 70 percent water (by weight) avoids more expensive and pollutant transportation to do the same job.

While composting can be cost-effective for food waste generated in large quantities by commercial food processing companies and major institutions, the separate collection by truck and composting of everyday residential food waste cannot compare to the cost of using food waste disposers.

For example, New York's data shows comparative costs to be in the range of $66 per ton for a system incorporating food waste disposers vs. $170 per ton for separate collection and disposal of food waste, not counting composting costs. These amounts are the net costs associated with relying on wastewater collection and treatment systems, noting the avoided cost of landfilling solid waste.

The study also found that food waste disposers have little effect on sewers, wastewater treatment, sludge management systems and water quality. None of the cities surveyed reported any problems with sewer maintenance, additional costs and concerns associated with wastewater treatment operations or impacts on receiving waters with widespread food disposer use.

New York found those concerns to be minimal - even when projected to when food waste disposers are in a majority of households.

Food waste disposers also assist with sludge management. An increasing number of municipalities are converting sludge to fertilizer rather than landfilling it. Adding organic material from food waste disposers contributes significantly to the beneficial properties of the sewage sludge, according to Ross M. Patten, president and CEO of Synagro Technologies Inc., a bio-solids management company based in Houston.

In addition, the additional organic material helps disperse those elements of sludge that are less desirable.

"Added food waste makes a richer product," Patten says. "We would much rather [have] food waste end up as fertilizer than decomposing and generating methane gas in a landfill."

For a copy of the study, call: (718) 330-0550. E-mail: [email protected]

Awards Roto Industries Inc., Anaheim, Calif., has been awarded the fully automated roll-out cart contract for the city of Grand Forks, N.D. The city purchased 11,900 100-gallon, fully automated carts and 120 300-gallon, fully automated carts.

Landfill Power Sheds Light on Minnesota Homes MINNEAPOLIS - A public-private coalition in Minnesota recently broke ground at the Elk River Landfill to install landfill gas-to-energy equipment. The gas-fueled generator system, manufactured and operated by Houston-based Power Strategies LLC, will provide power for approximately 250 area homes.

Although Anoka Electric Cooperative and United Power Association have the exclusive contract to supply Elk River Municipal Utilities (ERMU) with electricity, they granted an exemption to purchase power from the landfill gas-recovery project. Waste Management, Houston, which owns the landfill, assisted with the installation of the generating equipment.

This renewable energy project is funded in part by grants from government agencies, including the city of Elk River and through a long-term power purchase agreement between the landfill and ERMU.

The project is part of the Energy City program, and is a partnership between the city of Elk River and Energy Alley to promote the renewable energy and energy efficiency industry in Minnesota.

Energy Alley is a non-profit organization that works with businesses, government and advocacy groups to promote environmental excellence in policy, industrial management, land use and energy generation and use.

At press time, the system was on schedule to be fully operational by mid- to late-October.

Rolling with the Rocky Times

Acquisitions. Mergers. Spin-offs. Consolidations. What's a solid waste collection manager to do in such challenging times? Collect the garbage, collect it efficiently and try to stay in business.

Easier said than done, right? However, across the nation, some collection managers are staying competitive despite the legislative curve balls and regional issues that make it so difficult to establish benchmarks industry-wide.

For this year's installment of the Collection Managers' Roundtable, World Wastes has invited four progressive managers - two from the private sector and two from the public sector - to discuss the issues and challenges facing the industry.

The panel of experts includes:

* David Brisson, president and owner of Great American Environmental Services, Kingsford, Mich.;

* Stan Levine, vice president of Potomac Disposal, Rockville, Md.;

* Nancy Nevil, solid waste manager for the city of Plano, Texas; and

* Lars Williams, operations superintendent for the city and county of Denver.

WW: What will be the most pressing policy issues facing solid waste collection operations in the next few years?

Brisson: Flow control is probably the largest policy-type question on the state level. Each county in Michigan regulates its solid waste individually from the rest of the state, so we still have relatively tight flow control over the waste movement.

As a hauler, I'd love to compete under normal free enterprise terms. I think most of us in this industry know that when we are allowed to compete, costs go down. Programs such as flow control keep costs and prices up.

In some cases, though, it's nice to be on the right side of flow control where you can capitalize on it. We have a few areas where we're in that position on a county-by-county basis, but on the whole, we would rather compete than protect these little pockets.

My biggest fear is that the federal government will try to circumvent the regulation with a law. I would prefer if [flow control] was left alone so that we could compete as a free enterprise.

Levine: Efficiency is going to be the key issue in collection operations because our industry is so competitive. [Efficiency means] being able to make each pick-up at the lowest possible cost and still do a good job.

Nevil: I think [the biggest issue] is going to be on the recycling end [of collection] - what [material] is picked up, how it's picked up and how often it's picked up.

I believe that's the case because of what we're seeing with the markets and with the cost of providing service. We'll have to do something to make the collection of recyclables more cost-effective.

Also, we're beginning to see some long-term repetitive lifting injuries in workers' elbow and shoulder areas [from handling recyclables]. We'll have to address that concern in a similar fashion to how we addressed the problems associated with manual refuse collection.

Williams: Considering the major buy-outs that are going on now with the larger haulers, I think we'll see more regionalization on the municipal side. Haulers will have to show customers that they're competitive by [using] pay-as-you-throw type scales on their trucks.

Privatization also will be an issue. After the shake-out with the mergers and the buy-outs, the large haulers are going for the municipalities' [business] because they are the last big chunks of consolidated areas. Municipalities will have to be competitive to keep the private haulers out.

WW: Many states have established aggressive waste diversion goals and targets with deadlines that are fast approaching. What kinds of programs for recyclables and yardwaste will collection operations need to establish to meet these goals? And how effective are the programs that are currently in place?

Brisson: Michigan has no real target at this time. It has some broad guidelines, but no laws.

Wisconsin has some of the toughest regulations in the United States. Wisconsin's primary objective has been to recycle 25 percent of its municipal solid waste. The state of Wisconsin has met those goals with separate collections.

Where there's a volume-based fee or a pay-per-bag [program], we're seeing reductions in waste volumes across the board and a push toward recycling.

For example, there are several municipalities [in Michigan] that have gone to a $1-per-bag fee. It doesn't really cover the cost [of pick-up], but there's a 50 percent reduction in the waste put out at the curb because of these pay-per-bag programs.

Levine: As far as municipalities are concerned, everyone's situation is different, depending on where the municipality is located or what the market is like for a certain recyclable material. Markets need to be developed for each material. Recyclable materials cost so much to collect that they must have a value.

When it comes to recycling, everyone has to experiment and be objective. There's no inexpensive way to do it. Recycling is labor-intensive and requires a lot of expensive equipment. If you're not getting [a good] price for the material that you're collecting, it will cost everyone money.

Nevil: Recycling is not mandatory in Texas, but we have a goal of 40 percent reduction by 2000.

Our diversion currently is at 32 percent, and we have reached that by offering separate collections for recyclables, landscape waste, clean wood and appliances with an on-going educational program.

The city of Plano did not get into recycling with the promise that we would make money. It's unfortunate that a lot of municipalities gave that impression. We look at the revenue side of recycling as just offsetting the collection cost. We're committed to the collection [of recyclables], but we're going to have to do a better job of making it as efficient as possible and reducing the cost.

While many cities do a good job with recycling education, they're not maximizing their trucks. They're providing the collection at a cost, but they're driving by homes and are not picking up what they need to be collecting because no one's out there promoting the program.

We are switching to a larger cart for recycling and will collect recycling every other week. Moving from a weekly system to an every-other-week system will be difficult. There will be a lot of homes with a big container that don't participate at the level they need to, so we plan to spend our energies trying to get those folks to recycle.

Williams: Some of the diversion goals in place around the country haven't been met. There needs to be an evaluation on what's possible and realistic.

What are the market forces in those communities [that are missing their targets]? A lot of communities don't have companies that process [recyclables]. It doesn't do any good to divert yardwaste if it's just going to sit on the ground.

As far as collection programs go, I see the industry moving away from manual recycling collection to dual, automated collection. Because of the economies of scale, I don't think we'll see three trucks driving down one street to collect recyclables, trash and yardwaste separately.

The burden of investment is on the processor. The successful processors are those that have the means and the markets to divert recyclables and yardwaste from the waste stream.

WW: What challenges do you expect to face in your operation during the next several years?

Brisson: We're still an independent [company], but we're competing against large national firms now - a considerable challenge for a small firm. I've been in the business for 25 years, and we've done well in the past. I hope that doesn't change. I don't think we could compete without owning our own landfill. Our landfill has allowed us to stay in the game.

Another challenge for us is finding good people. As we grow, we need to fill those additional slots. We're finding it difficult to find applicants because of the stigma attached to this industry.

If the old [negative] perceptions of the waste business hold true, it's our job to demonstrate that this is a good business. We need to do a better job of presenting the benefits to overcome the old picture of a garbage man dumping a can.

Levine: With all the acquisitions that are taking place, there is an opportunity for independent haulers. In order to compete against the big guys that have more capital, independent haulers need to find the best and most efficient way to collect trash.

Additionally, there also is a challenge [for independent haulers] to compete against the small, one-truck operators that have a low overhead. It's going to be tough to compete on both sides of the coin. Service is key, and while most of us do a fine job, we're not perfect.

Nevil: Automated recycling is the biggest challenge we're facing right now. The city council has approved an expansion of our pilot to 22,000 homes next year.

We have worked with Heil to come up with changes in the hopper configuration of its RapidRail truck to allow us to pick up with the single lid without having to go to split lids.

We also are focusing on an educational effort to teach residents how to keep their loads uncontaminated. We spend a lot of resources on education.

In order to get [our diversion] up to 40 percent, we're spending our resources on education instead of looking for new materials. We're trying to reach those citizens who are not already recycling or participating.

Additionally, to make our composting operation as efficient as possible, we're looking at some contracts for handling landscape waste from the private sector or from other municipalities.

We've got machinery that can handle a lot more volume than what we're handling currently.

Williams: Due to Colorado's economy, we have a tough time finding quality people to drive for us and throw trash.

One of the most difficult jobs is working off the back of a rear loader, throwing trash. McDonald's pays $8.50 an hour for a starting worker. Why should someone work off of a rear loader when he can make the same amount of money at a McDonald's?

Another operational challenge is keeping pace with the area's growth. We're adding about 60 new residents a week to our routes.

Increased automation, knowing our real cost of doing business and parlaying that into becoming more efficient will help us compete with the private haulers coming into the marketplace.

WW: Employee issues, such as recruitment, job descriptions, training on equipment and services, career development and day-to-day management can make or break a collection operation. What are you doing - and what should the industry as a whole be doing - for employees?

Brisson: We give safety and productivity bonuses. One of my managers says keeping employees in the loop - explaining why we're doing what we're doing - is helpful.

Over the past five years, we've [developed] and purchased several training programs. We also hold monthly safety seminars and strive to make each employee feel valued.

Employee productivity is key to being competitive. Clean equipment also is important, and we work on that all the time.

Michigan law requires drivers to fill out a form on the condition of their trucks in the morning and evening. It can be difficult to get the drivers to do that, but by enforcing this procedure, we demonstrate our concern about the equipment they're in.

Levine: I'm a firm believer in hiring from within and promoting employees as they prove themselves. Each person is hired for a specific job, and once he has mastered that responsibility, we will try him at a higher-level position. This allows each employee to experience more of the business. The more he contributes, the more valuable he is as an employee.

Nevil: Plano just finished a market-based compensation study on each job. When the city has done these studies in the past, it looked only at other cities.

However, this new version was a true market study that compared similar jobs in both the private and public sectors [within the metroplex].

As a result, the minimum salary rose almost $2 an hour, and we already have seen a boost in recruiting employees. [Before the study,] we were having a difficult time finding qualified drivers.

This [new salary structure] is going to do a lot, not only in recruiting candidates, but also in helping us retain employees.

We provide on-the-job training and classroom instruction, and spend anywhere from two weeks to six weeks on training, depending on the employee's qualifications.

We also have teams under each supervisor, which meet weekly. The supervisors act as a self-directed work team, which reports directly to me. This team forum allows employees to address problems, give input, clarify policies and discuss the performance of their team and of the department in general.

The improvement in employee morale and job performance has been incredible.

To keep performance high, we run a team incentive program: If employees meet certain criteria, they're eligible for gift certificates at the end of the year. We also present an "Abbey" - "Above and Beyond" - which is a cash award up to $100. The amount depends upon what the employee has done in the department.

Additionally, in the city's safety incentive program, employees are eligible for approximately $400 a year if they go without an injury or accident all year.

For our department's part, we provide the best equipment available. We have a five-year replacement program, so the equipment always is new and clean. We get a lot of input from the drivers on our specifications, which is important to the employees.

They feel good about what they do, and they're proud of the equipment they drive. We need to see a lot more of that in the industry.

Williams: We rely on a career service authority for recruitment and job descriptions, a procedure that is different from what a lot of municipalities do. We provide comprehensive training for all employees, and we cross-train the drivers and laborers to make sure that they understand each piece of equipment.

We send our employees through an extensive two-day customer service training course to teach them how to handle customers on the street.

We also have a mentoring program for our supervisor trainees. In this program, employees spend time in all facets of the operation to learn everything from handling employees and customers to understanding budgets and how personnel works.

We let our employees try to resolve customers' problems first, before they escalate to the customer service desk or to the superintendent. We're trying to get the employees involved in what goes on here so that they feel like they have a stake in the operation.

Trucks: 15 Crane Carrier/Heil 7000 automated; 28 Volvo/White - Impact side-loading dumpster, 40 rear-loading; 28 Volvo/White Leach 2RII and 10 dual-drive Leach 2RII; 14 recycle dual-drive Dempster -Volvo/White Cane Carrier

Containers: 38,000 100-gallon fully automated carts from Schaefer, Heil, El Monte; 19,000 3-yard, side-loading dumpsters

Customers: 160,000 residential

Employees: 250 peak; 200 off-peak

Service Area: Boundries of the city and county of Denver

Services: Recycling, large-item pick-up, Christmas tree recycling, leaf recycling, right-of-way mowing, graffiti removal

Local Tipping Fees: Approximately $9/ton

Tales from Denver: A female residential customer hid $10,000 in a trash can. Without knowing what the trash contained, the woman's husband put the can out for collection while she was not home. The money never was recovered.

Trucks: 17 automated refuse, Crane Carrier, Heil Rapid Rail; 17 recycling Crane Carrier, Dempster body Recycle Pak; 1 Volvo automated with modified Heil Rapid Rail for automated recycling; 8 rear loaders, Crane Carrier, Pak Mor; 1 boom truck, International with Effer body

Containers: 95-gallon Otto, Rehrig-Pacific and Schaeffer

Customers: 55,889 single-family, 79 commercial

Service Area: City of Plano, an estimated 213,263 residents as of mid-1998

Employees: 62

Services: Recycling, household hazardous waste collection/reuse, appliance recycling, bulky waste collection, weekly landscape waste collection, drop-off for textiles/ paper, old corrugated carding

Local Tipping Fees: $26.68/ton, includes transfer station and landfill costs

Trucks: 8 roll-off trucks, Mack chassis; 11 Lodal side loaders

Containers: 2,000 Zarn and American; 90-gallon carts; 160 30-yard, open-top containers

Customers: 8,000 residential, 200 commercial

Employees: 25

Service Area: Washington, D.C., metropolitan area

Services: Construction and demolition debris removal, and residential collection

Local Tipping Fees: $45/ton

Trucks: * 10 rear loaders: 20-yard and 25-yard Loadmaster with 4900 Navistar chassis

* 3 side loaders: Lodal EVO

* 6 roll-offs: McClain hoist on Mack chassis

* 1 8-axle, semi-roll-off: pulled by Western Star tractor

* 1 recycler: Loadmaster on 4700 Navistar chassis

* 7 semi-tractor trailers: Western Star and Navistar

* 2 front loaders: Lodal TC-1034 on Mack Chassis

Containers: The company uses a semi-automated cart program in some select residential areas.

Customers: Approximately 15 percent of the company's gross revenue is from door-to-door residential waste collection. The biggest part of the business comes from commercial and industrial collection.

Employees: 50 Service Area: Central, upper peninsula of Michigan and a portion of northeastern Wisconsin

Services: Recycling, construction/demolition debris recycling, business/industry/ residential collection, operates three transfer stations and a landfill, operates three "Michigan trains" grossing up to 164,000 lbs or approximately a 50 ton payload

Local Tipping Fees: Tip fees vary in the market area, depending on the waste ($25/ton to $60/ton)

Great American Story: "We operate in the area between the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan," says David Brisson, president and owner. "On average, the mountain area accumulates 60 inches of snow. Throughout the year, the temperatures range from 30 degrees below zero to 90 degrees above. This climate presents special problems for waste collection.

MARKET REPORT: WasteWise Helps Business Save Money

Clarifications:

In Newsbriefs on page 10 of World Wastes' September 1998 issue, Rust Environment & Infrastructure's headquarters was incorrectly identified in Bellingham, Wash. Rust is located in Greenville, S.C.

The Bristol Landfill, which is pictured in "Update: STS Consultants Complete Landfill" on page 16 of World Wastes' October 1998 issue, is located in Virginia. STS Consultants, which assisted with the permitting, design and construction of the landfill, is located in Vernon Hills, III.

Most businesses probably consider their municipal solid waste (MSW) to be nothing more than "trash." What they might not realize is that their garbage holds an abundance of cost-saving opportunities.

By re-examining their waste streams with the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) WasteWise program, businesses and institutions nationwide, spanning more than 50 industry sectors, have boosted their profits by trimming waste.

In 1997, WasteWise partners eliminated more than 816,000 tons of materials through waste prevention. In avoided disposal fees alone, these reductions represent a potential savings of nearly $26 million in 1997.

EPA launched WasteWise in January 1994 as a voluntary partnership program to help businesses find practical methods for reducing MSW. Eliminating waste at the source yields the greatest cost savings because avoided purchasing costs are often much higher than avoided disposal fees.

Since the WasteWise program was launched, more than 800 businesses and organizations - one-third of which are Fortune 1,000 manufacturing or service firms - have become partners. EPA estimates that the combined savings of avoided disposal and purchasing costs for all partners in 1997 could be as high as $86 million.

In one example, Russell Corp., Alexander City, Ala., now uses cut fiber waste to manufacture the backing for knit athletic garments. This has eliminated more than 450 tons of textile waste and saved the company $360,000 in material costs in 1997.

WasteWise partners have found that it is often more cost-effective to reduce and reuse rather than to purchase excess supplies, materials and disposal. For example, Guardian Industries, Ligonier, Ind., initiated a program to launder and reuse gloves in good condition. In 1997, this program prevented 1.5 tons of gloves from being disposed. Instead of using disposable paper towels, the company also laundered and reused more than 3 tons of wiping cloths.

As part of the program, WasteWise helps organizations set their own waste reduction goals in waste prevention, recycling collection and purchasing or manufacturing recycled-content products. First, EPA suggests conducting a waste audit on operating and purchasing practices to identify opportunities for waste reduction. For example, a business might find that it can narrow its focus to target specific materials or operational areas.

The next step is to annually monitor progress toward the goals and to update EPA on the accomplishments. As a result of partners' tracking their efforts, EPA knows that its partners reduced nearly 18 million tons of waste over the program's first four years.

The most popular waste prevention methods include:

* Switching to reusables. For example, instead of using disposable paper towels, companies can save money by laundering and reusing wiping cloths.

* Going paperless. Last year, Aleatel USA, Plano, Texas, conserved nearly 5 tons of paper and saved $1 million dollars by converting its product manual to a CD/ROM version. Also, Matsushita Electric Corp. of America, Secaucus, N.J., provided online promotional information formerly sent as documents or disks to prospective buyers. This conserved more than 17 tons of computer disks and 14 tons of paper in 1997.

* Reusing paper. Two of the most common strategies, duplex copying (copying on both sides of a page) and reusing paper as scratch paper, works for all organizations. For example, Alden Central School, Alden, N.Y., reused a half-ton of paper by using both sides of each sheet and by making note pads out of once-used paper.

* Reducing manufacturing waste. Russell Corp. learned that making manufacturing processes more efficient and finding options to reuse "waste" materials such as excess fabric, both can help the environment and reduce manufacturing costs.

WasteWise offers a toll-free helpline, which provides information on waste reduction practices. Also, WasteWise representatives help businesses partners set goals and overcome obstacles.

WasteWise's regional networks allow businesses to ask each other questions and share waste reduction strategies through e-mail. The Partner Network website contains resources, program news and links to additional waste reduction websites.

Finally, members receive publications with waste reduction topics such as employee education, packaging reductions, going paperless, waste prevention measurement, remanufactured products, buy recycled, dona- tion programs, working with suppliers and extended product responsibility.

For more information about the WasteWise program, call the helpline toll-free at (800) 372-9473. The helpline is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Information also is available on the website: www.epa.gov/WasteWise and via e-mail: [email protected]

Contracts Motorola's Land Mobile Products Sector, Schaumburg, Ill., has signed a multi-year contract with Waste Management of North America Inc., Houston, to manage wireless communications equipment facilities at the company's U.S. sites.

New Names The city of Los Angeles' Integrated Solid Waste Management Office has changed its name to Solid Resources Citywide Recycling Division and relocated to 433 S. Spring Street, MS944, 5th Floor, Los Angeles, Calif. 90013. Its phone number remains: (213) 847-1444.

Husky Manufacturing, Tower, Minn., has changed its name to Powerain Systems Inc.

Paint A Dumpster - The Sequel CLINTON, MD. - Charles County, Md., students will be painting up a storm on America Recycles Day, November 14, 1998. The county Department of Recycling and Mid-Atlantic Waste Systems, Clinton, Md., are sponsoring their "Paint-A-Dumpster II" contest.

The contest was developed in 1996 to get students involved in environmental and recycling issues, according to Doug Elam, environmental educator for Charles County. Entry forms were sent to local school principals, asking students to sketch "mobile billboard" designs. After receiving "hundreds of entries," the winners - J.C. Parks Elementary School and Milton Somers Middle School - were chosen and given a 40-yard roll-off and painting supplies. They then set to work painting their designs.

Charles County liked the elementary school entry, "Smash the Trash. Save the Bay," so much that it also decided to use the design for a litter control ad campaign that year. No contest was held in 1997.

This year, the winning entry in each level - elementary, middle and high school - will be awarded $100. Program sponsors will provide the cash prizes, paint and other materials. The winning schools can keep the excess paint, brushes and supplies for future uses.

Can Citizens Dispute Permit Ruling?

The U.S. Supreme Court has set aside a federal appeals court ruling that gave individuals direct access to federal courts when challenging the discriminatory effect of environmental permits. [Seif v. Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living, No. 97-1620]

In June, the high court granted a petition for review filed by Pennsylvania environmental authorities. The state claimed in its petition that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit was wrong when it ruled last December that private parties could file suit to enforce certain U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations issued under Title VI of the federal civil rights act. These rules forbid agencies that receive federal funds from using decision methods or criteria with a discriminatory effect.

The case involved a state-issued permit for a contaminated soil treatment facility in a neighborhood where most of the residents are minorities. When the proposed operator abandoned its plans for the Chester, Pa., facility, which occurred after the Supreme Court accepted the case for review, the state revoked the permit.

In a summary order announced in August, the high court dismissed the state's petition and vacated the appeals court ruling. Such action was predictable and appropriate. The Supreme Court routinely dismisses cases from its docket - even after the parties have filed briefs and presented oral arguments - when changed circumstances make the issues moot, that is, when a decision will not have any practical effect on a current controversy.

Although the order overturned a decision that had been hailed by civil rights advocates, eliminating it as a binding legal precedent, the Supreme Court eventually will rule on important environmental justice issues. Besides how and when, if at all, citizens may challenge state-issued permits, questions remain unanswered: By what standard must an agency assess whether a pollution control permit causes a disparate impact on minority and low-income groups? How can an agency fairly reconcile and accommodate legitimate rights and interests that conflict?

Disparate impact is a concept borrowed from the employment law arena. Experts can analyze a company's hiring practices and, using accepted criteria, can provide an opinion on disproportionate effects. By comparison, no such standards exist for gauging whether a permit for a municipal solid waste facility, for example, creates a discriminatory impact on nearby minority populations.

EPA, for its part, says that the ruling will not affect the agency's progress on revising its policies and procedures for handling administrative complaints filed under Title VI.

Last February, EPA announced "interim final" guidance on processing complaints that allege undue, disproportionate or discriminatory impacts from facilities having state-issued environmental permits.

From the start, state and local officials were nearly unanimous in panning the EPA guidance. Responding to such criticism, the agency formed a new advisory committee, which now affords state and local environmental officials more opportunity for comment. The old panel had been dominated by environmental justice advocates. EPA expects to receive recommendations from the advisory committee by the end of the calendar year.

No matter how the revised guidance takes shape, it must start with the premise that no segment of the population should suffer disproportionate health risks (particularly communities least able to afford adequate health care) and that all interested parties (especially permit applicants and permit holders) have a right to adequate notice and a reasonable opportunity to participate in the review process.

Prosecutors Lose Evidence to Landfill Federal prosecutors in Birmingham, Ala., were embarrassed to discover that a key piece of evidence in a major trial was treated as garbage.

A newly hired janitor, who says no one told him not to touch objects left in court, mistakenly threw away a hammer allegedly used to kill a government informant in 1991.

The hammer had been wrapped in a brown paper evidence bag and placed in a box on the prosecutors' table. It had been identified during testimony, but not formally introduced as evidence in the trial of Marvin Lee Holley.

Holley was on trial for conspiring to distribute drugs, managing a drug enterprise and soliciting the murders of other witnesses.

When prosecutors arrived in court the next day and noticed the hammer was gone, they spoke with the building staff. They then dispatched federal agents to a Walker County landfill where search efforts were unsuccessful.

"It is the opinion of the people who run the landfill that 350,000 pounds of garbage already are on top of it," U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn told jurors. She allowed the government to introduce photos of the hammer into evidence.

international: Bio-waste: A Disposal Problem or a Resource?

What's a community to do when landfilling bio-waste isn't an option?

Germany's Recycling and Waste Act of October 7, 1996 already requires its citizens to recycle as much of its waste as possible. Incineration and energy recovery are other disposal options. However, the country's new Technical Directive for Built-Up Area Waste means that landfills will have stricter requirements and are likely to accept only non-reactive incineration residues beginning in 2005.

Under this new directive, technical treatment of bio-waste leads to either reusable (usually saleable) products or to incineration. Whether separate bio-organic and inorganic residential collection can be justified is questionable if all the materials end up in the same incinerator.

Consequently, the more logical solution in fitting with the German Recycling Act is to return bio-organic waste to the natural cycle. However, this has to be done without affecting the existing regulations and also must be cost-efficient.

Germany generates approximately 12 million tonnes of bio-waste from households and businesses annually. In addition, large quantities of bio-residues from farms and from the food and beverage industries are generated. Sugar beet processing alone generates more than 20 million tonnes of waste a year, and livestock farming floods the nation with 190 million tonnes of liquid manure (containing 13.5 million tonnes of solids).

To top things off, approximately 3.5 million tonnes p.a. of sewage sludge solids are produced annually by sewage treatment plants.

Between 1993 and 1997, the number of composting facilities had risen from 133 to about 400, which results in approximately 4 million tonnes of bio-waste, garden and park waste being converted into 2 million tonnes of compost.

Composting this large amount is expensive both in production and in monitoring it to maintain a consistent quality level that eliminates pollutants. Composts that cannot be sold or that are of insufficient quality must be disposed of, or, in the future, must be incinerated, which is expensive due to the "double treatment" involved. Many facilities already are experiencing problems in selling their compost because the supply is increasing faster than the demand.

While the potential income from the end-product is falling, composting facilities are becoming more elaborate and expensive, due to increasingly stringent environmental legislation.

Farmers are the largest potential customers for bio-waste fertilizers. However, a substantial proportion of the 3.5 million tonnes of sewage sludge is waiting to be recycled on Germany's farmlands, too. The landfill prohibition of the Technical Directive for Built-Up Area Waste has pulled the rug out from under the arrangements for sewage sludge disposal, and farmers want to receive money for accepting sewage sludge rather than pay for it. Thus, it is nearly impossible to sell compost to this market.

Anaerobic treatment is another solution, whereby:

* biogas is produced, which can be recycled for energy;

* the substances are broken down more thoroughly than by aerobic composting, an advantage when the residues are destined for thermal disposal; and

* the fermentation process is less emission-intensive than aerobic composting.

If all of Germany's bio-organic wastes were aerobically treated, they would produce a biogas potential of 6.9 billion cubic meters per year, or nearly 7 percent of Germany's current natural gas consumption.

While up to 50 percent of the original substances are broken down during composting, fermentation can further reduce the proportion to one third of the original mass. In addition, decomposition takes place inside an enclosed fermenter, and odor-intensive steps, such as acid fermentation as part of aerobic decomposition, are not required.

In the fermentation process' liquid environment, germ-laden dusts are not produced. And if fermentation residues don't need to be composted, then anaerobic facilities will require less ground space than composting plants.

How and where the market for bio-waste treatment techniques will move in Germany's future depends less on technical innovations than on how the statutory framework conditions evolve. However, recent legislation has created more uncertainty, rather than creating stable, calculable conditions for capital investment.

Consequently, many vendors are turning to foreign markets. A substantial demand for modern bio-waste treatment technology is anticipated with the industrialization of the Asiatic NICs, headed by the People's Republic of China.

Test Your Knowledge: Backyard Dos and Don'ts

1. What kinds of materials can be composted?

a) weeds

b) wood chips

c) meat/poultry/fish scraps

d) answers a and b

e) all of the above

2. How large a space do you need for a backyard composting pile?

a) 3' x 3' x 3'

b) 6' x 6'

c) 3' x 6'

d) as large or small a space as you want

e) none of the above

3. Is it best to buy a compost bin or just have an open pile?

a) open pile

b) enclosed bin

c) both of the above

d) none of the above

4. Compost piles attract mice, rats and other animals.

a) true

b) false

5. The pile will emit foul odors.

a) true

b) false

6. You can compost during the winter in cold climates.

a) true

b) false

7. Compost can be used on:

a) lawns

b) container plants

c) landscaping

d) trees and shrubs

e) all of the above

1 - D. Weeds, bread, coffee grounds, fruit and fruit peels, garden clippings, leaves, sawdust, tea leaves, straw, sod, wet paper towels and wood chips all are safe and effective materials. You also can soak nd tear cereal and snack boxes to add to your pile. Butter, bones, cheese, chicken, meat or fish scraps, lard, pet manure, mayonnaise, milk, oils and sour cream should not be added.

2 - A. An effective home compost pile should be at least 3' x 3' x 3' to retain proper heat at its center. The pile should not be larger than 5' x 5' because proper air circulation may not be maintained.

3 - C. Backyard composters have several options. An open compost pile can be effective but is more susceptible to weather conditions. You also can buy or construct your own bin with wire mesh and a few metal stakes to anchor it to the ground. Bins can range from small, partially underground units to large tumblers that agitate organic matter by being rolled. Most bins are made from wood or recycled plastic.

4 - B. If you follow the guidelines on what you put in your pile - only include vegetable scraps, fruit peels and garden clippings - you shouldn't have pest problems. Pests are attracted by high fat and protein foods such as meat, oils, cheese, fish and poultry.

5 - B. If the pile is properly maintained, there shouldn't be odors. Microorganisms that thrive in environments without oxygen (anaerobic) tend to generate bad odors. Those that exist in oxygen-rich (aerobic) environments don't smell bad. You also can improve a compost pile's performance by turning it.

6 - A. Cold climates shouldn't affect the pile too much if it's properly maintained - decomposition may slow down, but the process will continue. Carbon-rich materials such as leaves, twigs and sawdust must be mixed in the pile with nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings and fruit peels. During the winter, cover the pile with a piece of plastic to keep it dry.

7 - E. Compost can be applied to lawns, gardens, athletic fields, shrubs and trees, plants, and used in landscaping as a light mulch alternative to straw. It improves the soil structure and helps retain moisture and minerals. In clay or sandy soils, it also increases porosity allowing roots to more easily penetrate soils and allow surface water to drain.

For more information, contact The Composting Council: 4424 Montgomery Ave., Ste. 102, Bethesda, Md. 20814. (301) 913-2885. Fax: (301) 913-9146. Website: http://compostingcouncil.org/Index.html

Appointments Med/Waste Inc., Miami Lakes, Fla., has been licensed by the New York City Trade Waste Commission to pick up and transport medical waste.

GAZ GeoEnvironmental Inc., Newton Upper Falls, Mass., has been named engineering technical services provider for Waste Management Inc., Houston.

SSI Shredding Systems Inc., Wilsonville, Ore., has been named exclusive supplier to the Tuas South Incineration Plant, Singapore.

Award Safety Vision Inc., Houston, has been ranked No. 298 on the Inc. 500, a national listing of the top privately held companies.

Recycling C&D in the Flight for Landfill Space

Each year, construction and demolition (C&D) debris contributes a crushing blow to the solid waste industry's efforts to reduce the amount of waste being landfilled.

An estimated 200 million tons of C&D debris is generated annually, comprising at least one-third of the U.S. waste stream, according to the Construction Materials Recycling Association, Lisle, Ill.

Now, solid waste managers and industry leaders - from the local to federal level - are employing a diversion cocktail of source reduction, reuse and recycling to keep this cumbersome waste out of the nation's landfills.

For example, at Modern City, N.Y.-based Modern Recycling, employees pulverize C&D debris into profit, processing the incoming material with a large, horizontal-shaft impact crusher, inclined screen, magnets and air classifiers. The fines that are generated by the crushing process can be used as an alternative daily landfill cover (ADC) due to their low organics count.

In addition, the company processes waste aggregate from concrete, blocks and brick into a material that is used for temporary roads around the landfill. "It just makes no sense to put C&D material into a landfill," says Brent Minet, project operations manager.

Occasionally, the company sends processed wood to burn plants elsewhere in New York state, "but it has to be exceptionally clean wood, with no contaminants, such as lead-based paint or aggregate," Minet says.

Recycling C&D materials can make a lot of economic sense to landfill owners, even if the final product is only an ADC. One company, Bethesda, Md.-based Recovermat Technologies, has developed what it says is a patented method to shred C&D materials at the landfill to create an ADC, as well as a material geared for erosion control and for temporary roads as well.

Save Our Space No matter what product is created, recycling C&D on-site at landfills could be a matter of survival, says Robert Brickner, senior vice president of GBB Inc., a consulting firm based in Fairfax, Va. "If a C&D landfill is running out of space, it has a couple of choices: It can fight for a new permit, cut the flow to the site by half to conserve space [which also cuts revenues by half] or close the site," he says. "But recycling can extend the site's life."

When it comes to recycling C&D waste, Brickner notes two attitudes held by landfill operators: Some wonder why they should take on the added expense of recycling when they have been landfilling for years and making money; others seize the opportunity and use recycling to make more money, conserve landfill space and do something positive for the environment.

Don Clark, regional manager for Mark Dunning Industries, Dothan, Ala., is one operator who believes that space conservation is a major reason to consider recycling C&D debris.

When the company opened its new C&D landfill in Dothan, it immediately installed a large grinder on-site and instructed workers to separate most of the incoming wood and process it into boiler fuel. Metal and clean old corrugated cardboard (OCC) also are separated. The remaining waste is run through the grinder for a 6-to-1 volume reduction before heading for the landfill.

"We don't make any money selling the wood chips; we make it on saving space," Clark says. "I don't think a lot of people in the waste industry know the true value of their [landfill] space and how important saving it is."

This conservation philosophy has reaped tangible benefits for Dunning. By August 1998, the Dothan landfill had been in operation for 18 months, and although a second cell had been excavated and was ready for use, the company still was using the first cell it opened.

"If we hadn't performed recycling and volume reduction, we would have been through that first cell in five months," Clark says.

Since beginning recycling, Clark has witnessed a couple of unexpected benefits as well. For example, the company installed a concrete pad for the haulers to dump the waste on for sorting. The pad has become a big hit with haulers during inclement weather.

"It is quicker and easier for the trucks to dump on the pad rather than go sliding up and down some muddy slope," Clark says. "Also, the tipping area makes the waste stream more controllable. It's a better system than having an employee run up the hill to tell us a hauler has dumped something it shouldn't have."

Recycling also has boosted Dunning's public relations efforts. Government officials, proud of how C&D debris is being recycled in the state, constantly conduct tours through the company's facility. This positive atmosphere enhances the already good relations with the state regulatory boards, says Clark, who notes, "I would rather work with them than against them."

Because Dunning's regular tip fee is competitive - approximately $4 less per ton than what nearby landfills charge - recycling at the landfill virtually guarantees the company a steady flow of raw material. Also, any processing mistakes that Dunning employees make can be buried, as can material that is inappropriate for recycling.

Recycling at a landfill site does not always have to involve heavily mechanized methods. For example, employees at Voyageur Disposal & Processing's two landfills in rural Canyon, Minn., recently began hand-sorting waste for wood and OCC, and began using a magnet with a grapple to collect metals.

"We get a lot of material that can be re-used," says Julie Vidmar, Voyageur's environmental specialist. "Contractors sometimes toss unused shingles or wood into our dumpsters."

Voyageur's employees grind the wood for burn plants and occasionally for mulch, but recycling wood and OCC are break-even propositions at best - certainly not as profitable as metals.

"Nothing is forcing us to recycle, but we see that five or 10 years down the road [recycling at landfill sites] will be as common as consumer recycling," Vidmar says. "That's why we have started sticking our toes in the water now to learn gradually. We want to isolate where the good markets are."

As is the case with recycling any material, knowing and understanding the products' end markets is crucial for an operation's survival.

"Many people entering the business don't do a good enough job in researching the final markets," GBB's Brickner says. "It does not make sense just to build the plant and figure out later what to do with the product. You need to have a pretty good idea of what to do with the product beforehand."

And don't forget about purchasing the proper equipment.

"Get the equipment that will make the product that the end market needs," Brickner says. "You should be tweaking the product to meet the customer need, not generating the products first and then trying to find a market that will fit what you generated.

"For example," he continues, "a burn plant requires a lower level of wood product than does a value-added customer, which might request a specific type of chip."

Get Out Your Wallet Most students of the C&D industry agree that recycling construction materials at a landfill is a trend that should continue. But others, such as Modern Recycling's Minet, wonder how many operations can afford the high initial capital expense of setting up a recycling station at their landfills.

For example, although Voyageur primarily picks out incoming material, it had to purchase equipment to do the job. And Modern Recycling and Mark Dunning Industries have invested at least $1 million in equipment for their more elaborate recycling operations.

However, it's more than just money, Clark says. "Buying the grinder was a huge investment up front," he says. "But we wouldn't have done it if we were just trying to fill up a hole. Recycling allows us to save our space and to pick up customers that want to be associated with a recycling operation. For us, recycling is just part of taking the long-term view."

Recycling may be a long-term, big-ticket project, but Brickner cautions landfill operators should not forget the little things.

"The biggest mistake I see is not understanding the total unit costs of producing recycled C&D materials," Brickner says. "Some operations don't do a detailed analysis of all the marginal economics involved in running a recycling system, whether they include loader costs, total manhours or power. Not all the costs are accounted for, and then the operator wonders how it lost money."

But whatever their reason for recycling C&D, operators should properly plan and execute the process to ensure that it will be a profitable venture in the long-term.