Evolution of municipal household hazardous waste collection programs

Mary Chamberlain
Environmental Analyst
R. W. Beck, Inc.
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Presenter, 2005 APWA Congress

Household hazardous waste (HHW) collection programs have come to play a vital role in the integrated solid waste management systems of communities throughout the country. HHW includes household products that contain corrosive, toxic, flammable, or reactive ingredients such as cleaners, pool chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, automotive supplies, paints, stains, glue, batteries, fluorescent bulbs, mercury thermometers, etc. These materials make up a small portion of the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream by volume (less than 1%); however, they contain potentially hazardous ingredients that warrant their diversion from landfills, transfer stations, waste-to-energy facilities, water supplies, etc. Many communities have developed HHW collection programs in order to reduce the risks to the environment and increase community health, safety and welfare.

Over the last two decades, many municipal HHW programs have matured from annual or semi-annual drop-off collection events to more frequent, ongoing and comprehensive programs, often anchored by permanent collection facilities. The type of HHW collection program offered by a municipality can vary significantly depending on the priorities and the budget of the public entity.

R. W. Beck, Inc. has assisted several communities with their HHW collection programs by identifying strategies to cost-effectively increase the convenience and participation in their HHW program. Below are descriptions and examples of HHW program enhancement options.

Permanent HHW Collection Facility
After years of HHW drop-off collection events, more and more municipalities are investing in a permanent HHW collection and processing facility. A permanent facility provides several benefits to a municipality including:

  • Convenience to the residents. A permanent site provides residents with a year-round (or seasonal) option to properly dispose of HHW materials, rather than having to store the materials until the next collection event.

  • Product exchange or reuse center. Many facilities are designed to include a product exchange area in which usable products are made available for residents to take free of charge. Likely items in a reuse program include paint, household cleaners, and automotive products. By offering these materials for reuse, a municipality could potentially realize savings from avoided disposal costs.

  • Potential to reduce disposal costs. A permanent facility provides the municipality with the ability to bulk materials such as flammable liquids and oil-based paint. Bulking liquid waste provides cost savings by transporting drums of waste rather than boxes or labpacks.

  • Potential to reduce transportation costs. A permanent facility allows the municipality to transport full loads, rather than transporting materials on a per-event basis.

The size of the facility is determined by a number of factors including the quantities of materials expected, the needs of the municipality, and local zoning requirements.

After six years of annual HHW collection events, the City constructed a 3,000-square-foot permanent facility for approximately $350,000 in 1998. As experienced by the City of Fargo, most HHW programs realize economies of scale over time due to increased quantities of HHW collected and improved program efficiencies.

Satellite and Mobile Collection Systems
Once a permanent HHW collection facility is established, a municipality may consider supplemental collection options such as developing satellite facilities and/or adding a mobile collection unit. Each option is described below.

Satellite System. Satellite HHW collection facilities are designed to support a permanent processing site. Satellite facilities serve as permanent drop-off locations for program participants that typically would not travel the distance to deliver HHW materials to the central or main facility. HHW materials are regularly collected from the satellites and transported to the "hub" permanent facility where materials are sorted, bulked and lab packed for recycling or disposal.

Depending on the needs and the budget of the municipality, a satellite facility could be limited to a seasonal, open-air collection site with a hazardous materials storage locker, or it could include a fully enclosed building designed to be open year-round.

Mobile Collection System. With a permanent HHW collection facility, the municipality could also consider providing mobile collection events for communities located beyond a defined distance or radius from the permanent collection facility and satellite facilities. A collection vehicle such as a box truck and/or a trailer would be needed to conduct the mobile events. All HHW materials collected at the mobile events would be transported to the central HHW building for processing.

When the City of Kansas City, Missouri built its permanent facility in 1996, the staff originally considered satellite collection sites. However, they opted for mobile collections instead because the staff considered this approach more manageable and cost effective. The City currently conducts 25 to 30 mobile collection events per year in cooperation with the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC). MARC arranges the mobile collection events to be held on certain Saturdays from April through October. Each community pays its share of the cost of the event. Collection events usually take place at a school, church, or public facility with a large parking lot.

Curbside Collection of HHW
Another option for collecting HHW materials is to offer curbside collection to residents of the municipality. This option could be implemented in conjunction with a reduced number of annual drop-off collection events, in place of the collection events, or limited to only the elderly and disabled residents of the municipality.

The City of Denver, Colorado (population 554,636; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000) has been offering curbside collection of HHW to residents for approximately four years through a contract with a local vendor. The program is funded through the City's stormwater management program.

Residents call the vendor's toll-free customer service phone number to schedule a pick-up and must have at least three different types of HHW materials for disposal. The contractor then sends the resident a collection kit which contains a heavy-duty clear plastic bag, instructions, labels and a cable tie that cannot be reopened once it has been secured. The bag of materials set out for collection cannot exceed 125 pounds. If the resident has more HHW than will fit in the bag, they may choose to set out the extra materials and pay for its collection. In October 2003, the contractor that operates Denver's curbside HHW collection service began offering residents the option of dropping off HHW materials at its facility, by appointment.

The City pays the contractor $104 per curbside stop and $99 per resident using the drop-off option. The City budgets about $200,000 annually for the HHW program, and spent approximately $150,000 in 2004. Approximately 1% of the City's population currently participates in the program. In 2003, the City's vendor collected 122,000 pounds of HHW. From January through October 2004, the vendor collected approximately 144,442 pounds (110,834 pounds from the curb and 33,608 pounds at the drop-off site). In 2004 (January through October), the average pounds per curbside stop was 89, and the average drop-off amount was 124 pounds. The City of Denver opted for this type of program as an alternative to building a permanent HHW collection facility.

Another option is to offer curbside collection of certain items. For example, municipalities in Sarasota County, Florida have been offering collection of used motor oil from the curb for several years with great success. The County (population 325,957; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000) contracts with private haulers for the collection of residential municipal solid waste, including motor oil and electronics. As part of the regular refuse collection service, all residents of the County have the opportunity to set out used motor oil and oil filters for collection at the curb. As a result of this curbside program, less motor oil has been collected at the County's two permanent HHW collection facilities in the last three years. The curbside program has increased the quantities collected through this approach.

Adding HHW materials to a refuse collection program would require extensive planning by the municipality.

Cost Saving Alternative HHW Disposal Options
Municipalities can complement their current HHW collection program with alternative options to potentially decrease costs. Some of these options include:

Explore alternative markets for certain HHW materials. Consider exploring other outlets for recyclable materials, such as used motor oil. Municipalities should have to pay little or nothing (or perhaps even be compensated) for the disposal of used oil (assuming the oil does not contain PCBs or other contaminants). Some oil companies pay per gallon for used motor oil. Certain businesses and private citizens may be interested in taking used motor oil for their oil-burning stoves, at no cost to the municipality.

Instruct residents to take certain items to various retailers. Many retailers may already accept certain HHW items at their place of business. In many states, automotive battery retailers are required to take an old battery from a customer in exchange for a new battery purchase. Other materials that may currently be accepted by retailers or in which drop-sites could be established include latex paint, antifreeze, explosives, fire extinguishers, propane tanks, electronics, rechargeable batteries, and cell phones.

Establish collection events for recyclable materials such as antifreeze, batteries, oil, and paint (also referred to as ABOPs). These four materials, on average, compose over half of a municipality's total HHW disposal costs. ABOP collection sites have been used successfully in California and Florida. Many communities have ABOP collection sites located at municipal buildings such as maintenance facilities, public works buildings, fire stations, etc. These collection sites are usually staffed and are open a limited number of hours per month.

Contract separately for fluorescent bulb collection/recycling. Consider issuing a separate Request for Proposal (RFP) for the recycling of fluorescent bulbs. The competitive bid process may result in a lower per unit recycling cost for fluorescent items than a disposal contract that encompasses all HHW materials.

Contracting. Many states have statewide contracts with vendors in which the state has procured a vendor (or vendors) and has contracted for the disposal/recycling of HHW. Costs are based on per unit pricing for each type of hazardous material. By using the state contract, the municipality is not burdened with the time and effort of going out for bids or proposals for HHW disposal services. On the other hand, if the municipality has large amounts of HHW materials, it may want to negotiate pricing independently from the state.

Establish partnerships. The municipality may consider a public/private partnership to finance the land acquisition, construction and/or operation of a permanent HHW collection facility by partnering with a local hazardous waste management service provider or processor. Another option is to establish a public/public partnership with another public entity to promote regionalization and share capital and operational costs.

Many of the existing HHW programs across the country have successfully worked toward an increase in residents' awareness of HHW issues and the importance of its proper disposal. While these initial objectives may have been addressed, many established HHW programs continue to strive toward increasing program performance and cost effectiveness.

Resources for HHW information:

Mary Chamberlain will give a presentation on this subject at the APWA Congress in Minneapolis in September. She can be reached at (651) 994-8415 or at mchamberlain@rwbeck.com.