Solid Waste: 100% expectancy level, 100% of the time

Jim Close
Public Works Director
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Member, APWA Solid Waste Management Committee

Most public works professionals wear several hats and often oversee diverse functions, but nothing makes the phone ring like missing someone's trash or recyclables on collection day. No other public service is held to a higher performance standard. There is no acceptable backup system. Any excuse is considered lame. Human error or forgetfulness is unacceptable and often taken personally, as though the sanitation employees are carrying out a specific vendetta. There is a high demand for solid waste collection and disposal, both of which are held in low esteem. This real conflict in dealing with what was unwanted in the first place requires working together. No other public works function requires more cooperation than solid waste management.

The origins of individuals working together to promote public works is as old as civilization itself, with building protective walls, fortresses, and other defensive structures to provide for the common good. Such enclosures became cities, and communities grew as societies began to shape our history. From nomadic wandering to well-trodden paths, transportation systems were developed and maintained by individuals, either willingly or enslaved, performing public service. Man-made ditches carried water until the famous aqueducts were built by the Romans as early as 300 B.C. Shared wells, irrigation projects, flood control, and all the other basic functions that had communal benefits were the early public infrastructure that fostered civilization.

Long before the role of bacteria in the transmission of disease was discovered the association between waste and water contamination was known. Systems for separating sewage and eventually treatment were developed, along with collecting solid waste in wagons for disposal outside the city. Voila—the birth of the packer truck and the sanitary landfill.

Although much has developed over time, especially since the Industrial Revolution, in the field of solid waste collection and disposal the basic task of removing discarded items has been relegated to the lower end of the social system. Slowly this negative perception changed, as what went out the back door started to become expensive. Eventually the three R's—reduce, reuse, recycle—became priorities and profit margins grew for private companies, causing competition and technology initiatives. Now solid waste management is a sophisticated profession at the forefront of our environmental awareness.

So how does a busy public works professional keep up with the ever-changing, complex solid waste industry? Well, first look for the trademark: APWA ( Then scroll a little further (, to the Solid Waste Management Technical Committee whose mission is to develop and promote environmentally-sound, cost-effective and efficient solid waste management policies, practices, and programs. The business plan on that web page details the committee's goals in providing educational outreach to APWA members.

This article will highlight some of the committee's accomplishments in implementing the business plan's outreach objectives.

Under the leadership of Chairman George R. Crombie, Public Works Director, Plymouth, MA, the committee formulates technical guidance and policy statements on emerging issues like environmental justice, shared responsibility for product stewardship, flow control and interstate commerce, preferred procurement for recycled content, and labeling requirements. Research for such topics is facilitated by a good working relationship with the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). The committee also produced a publication in 2003 entitled Beneficial Landfill Reuse (see the related book review on page 5—Ed.). Assisting George Crombie in these educational efforts are the other members: Karl Graham, Environmental Manager, Cincinnati, OH; Jim Close, Public Works Director, Harrisburg, PA; Keith Hunke, Public Works Director, Bismarck, ND; Mary Ellen Lea, Solid Waste Collection Superintendent, Columbia, MO; Ram Tewari, Director, Solid Waste Operations Division, Broward County, FL; Christine Anderson, APWA At-Large Director; and Art Gall, APWA Staff Liaison.

The committee tries diligently to keep the general membership informed on the role of solid waste management in current topics of bioreactor landfills, homeland security, Smart Growth, single-stream recycling, debris management, brownfields, Superfund, ergonomics, DOT restrictions, packaging, bottle bills, biosolids, landfill gas credits, and all the many other issues confronting public works professionals today and tomorrow. Meeting this challenge is a 100% effort.

This challenge of disseminating their collective knowledge results in arranging or speaking at technical sessions at the annual Congress, coordinating and writing publications, and producing articles for this issue of the APWA Reporter. At the last Congress, committee members spoke at or produced sessions on "Reclaiming Our Landfills," "Single Stream Recycling" and "De-Manufacturing and Recycling Electronics."

Also, to recognize outstanding performance in the field of solid waste management, the committee developed the criteria for selecting a Solid Waste "Manager of the Year." This award will be presented at a ceremony during this year's Congress.

Another venue for the sharing of technical information is the infoNOW Environmental Community on the APWA website ( This website is a forum for folks such as yourself seeking input, suggestions or ideas from other solid waste professionals. Or you can share your experiences with and assist other APWA members. Subscribing to the infoNOW Community is simple and you will have another nationwide source of professional expertise and practices. Approximately every three weeks, you will find a new "LINKS OF INTEREST," a list of solid waste-related websites which you should find helpful. Once you have accessed and viewed the "LINKS OF INTEREST," any feedback would be greatly appreciated. If there are any topics or areas (i.e., flow control, bioreactors, organic recycling) that you would like to see emphasized, please let us know. Contact information is provided at the bottom of the LINKS.

Jim Close can be reached at (717) 236-4802 or at Art Gall, Technical Services Program Manager on the APWA staff, contributed to this article.