Bet on Reno

Haulers come up aces in a challenging waste market.

October 1, 2007

7 Min Read
Bet on Reno

Michael Fickes

Waste Management of Nevada takes out most of the trash in Reno, Nev., the host of WASTECON 2007, and the neighboring city of Sparks, Nev. It's a job filled with unusual challenges.

Throughout the year, for instance, Reno, which bills itself as “America's Adventure Place,” hosts a number of conventions and events. Many of the conventions raise the population of the city by as much as 10 percent for the duration of the event. Some literally double the region's normal population of 400,000 to 800,000.

Other challenges include providing 24-hour commercial and roll-off service to casinos and other 24-hour businesses across the region; upgrading the area's recycling system to single stream; collecting medical wastes; and preparing to handle the trash created by projected tourism and population growth.

The Franchise

Waste Management of Nevada owns the franchises to collect residential trash in Reno and Sparks as well as surrounding Washoe County. The company also owns the franchise for dry commercial trash in Sparks. Wet or putrescible commercial refuse, such as that produced by restaurants, is handled by individual contracts between businesses and waste haulers.

“Franchises are good,” says Michael Genera, manager of community and municipal relations with Waste Management of Nevada. “It means you know how much money you are going to bring in over a period of time. On the other hand, our rates are regulated, and we can't adjust rates if we're not making money.”

The basic collection and disposal operations for residential and commercial garbage are familiar to anyone in the business. Collection trucks pick up the trash and deliver it to one of two Waste Management-owned transfer stations in the area. From there, it is trucked to the Lockwood Landfill. Also owned and operated by Waste Management of Nevada, the 555-acre facility is located in Storey County, 12 miles east of Reno.

Tipping fees run about $75 per tip for a 48-foot truck carrying about 20 tons. Tipping fees increase between 3 percent and 5 percent per year, in line with the Consumer Price Index.

Like most rural landfills, Lockwood will serve the area for a long time. According to Genera, the landfill currently has about 20 years of capacity left. “We're working on an 80-year extension right now,” he says. “We think that's possible because we're filling a valley, and there is no cutting involved.”

The franchise does not include responsibilities for collecting any household hazardous wastes or green wastes.

Double Your Pleasure

The Reno/Sparks/Tahoe area has made itself into a major U.S. tourist destination by hosting events. In addition to gambling, “America's Adventure Place” is home to roughly 70 special events every year.

Waste Management of Nevada handles a lot of the event work. “The main theme during the summer is events, which bring in a lot of people,” Genera says. “In addition, a lot of transient workers come to town to work in the hotels and casinos.”

The 3,000 attendees expected at WASTECON this year probably won't substantially add to the area's trash burden. However, during July of this year, Reno's annual Artown festival attracted 350,000 visitors. Hot August Nights, an annual classic car show, drew an estimated 200,000 people over the 10-day course of this year's event. And over Labor Day weekend, the annual West Nugget rib cook-off brought in 500,000 visitors — who devoured 100 tons of ribs and then stuffed the bones into plastic bags that had to be collected.

Several dozen smaller events that no one would ordinarily call small also take place in the area every year. In May, for instance, 30,000 people showed up to watch the Reno River Festival, in which expert kayakers take on the Truckee River, which runs directly through downtown Reno. During August and September, the Burning Man Art Festival attracts 40,000 visitors. Street Vibrations, a regular September event, plays host to 30,000 motorcycle enthusiasts who rumble into town.

Neither Waste Management nor the local jurisdictions of Washoe County, Reno and Sparks track trash collection statistics closely. But Genera says that the Waste Management landfill serving the region takes in about 2.3 million tons of refuse annually, including materials from outlying areas. “Locally, we do about 2 million tons,” he says.

The breakdown of residential and commercial tonnages is not available, but officials estimate that the larger events can double the region's solid waste output while they are taking place.

Collectors That Never Sleep

Waste Management of Nevada employs approximately 500 people and runs a fleet of approximately 300 front loaders, side loaders, rear loaders, roll-off, recycling and medical waste trucks. The company buys cabs and chasses from Greensboro, N.C.-based Volvo Trucks North America. The Wittke division of Oak Brook, Ill.-based Federal Signal Corp. provides refuse truck bodies.

Waste Management of Nevada also uses a Curotto Can attachment so that front loaders can be used as automated residential collection vehicles. The attachment fits onto the forks of a front loader.

The front loader rides along with the attachment in the down position. A set of grabber arms pick up and dump a 96-gallon container into the attachment's open top. When the attachment fills up, the front loader dumps it into the back of the truck just like any container and then returns the attachment to the down position. “We're collecting residential garbage with about 20 Curotto Cans, in addition to our regular fleet of 180 rear loaders,” Genera says.

Residential garbage is collected weekly, with recycling pick-ups twice per week. That's normal.

Schedules for commercial and roll-off service are not normal. Thanks to the 24-hour casinos, much of the Reno area stays open 24 hours a day, cranking out trash. Waste Management of Nevada does the same, running commercial and roll-off trucks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “We're always out with our trucks picking up commercial trash,” Genera says. “That's Reno.”

Re-doing Recycling

Under the franchise agreement, Waste Management of Nevada also handles recycling for Reno and Sparks. Currently, the recycling system requires residents to toss glass and newspaper into separate milk crates, while combining plastics and aluminum in a single crate. The crates are delivered to a clean material recovery facility (MRF). The system generates a participation rate of about 36 percent.

To boost participation, the company has begun to convert to the single-stream method. As part of the effort, it has spent $2.5 million to upgrade its MRF to handle the increased sorting required by single-stream recycling.

“Other Waste Management companies have found that 75 percent to 80 percent of households will recycle with a single-stream system,” Genera says. “We're working on a single-stream pilot project for 900 homes. It will run for three months. We're hoping to see a lot more participation.”

The move to the new system will require new, or at least different, trucks, Genera says. Currently, the company collects the source-separated materials in trucks in three compartments. Instead of buying new trucks, Genera is working out a schedule that will allow its side-loader garbage trucks to pick up a 96-gallon can one day and a 96-gallon can of single-stream recyclables the next.

Don't Forget Medical Waste

Waste Management of Nevada began offering medical waste collection services in the late 1980s, long before Waste Management acquired the company. Since then, the company has continued to provide these services.

“We're unique in handling this kind of waste,” Genera says. “We supply hospitals and health care facilities with special red bags, which they place in 55-gallon barrels. Our trucks run regular routes to hospitals and doctors' offices and pick up the barrels. At our facility, we use cookers to steam the medical waste and disinfect it.”

By the time WASTECON arrives in October, Cabela's will have likely have opened a new hunting, fishing, and outdoor gear superstore in Reno, while Scheels is slated to open a new sporting goods superstore in Sparks. The Scheels Web site says the new facility will be the world's largest all-sports store. Both retailers are known for sponsoring special events that bring thousands of tourists from hundreds of miles away.

With the new stores, more special events and the region's steady population growth of 10,000 people per year, there will be thousands of new residents and visitors in Reno and Sparks next year. So too will come new set of adventures in managing municipal solid waste.

Michael Fickes is a Westminster, Md.-based contributing writer.

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