GCC Visits an MRF

Waste Management in Washington County

Our proposal for improving solid waste management in Washington County is based on a careful study of the issues. As part of that study we sponsored five informative lectures and four field trips.

You can also read about the issues on this website.

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In addition to the proposal below, we have issued statements in support of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's proposed ban on open burning and their initiative to strengthen its solid waste facility permitting policy.

View the slide presentation from our April 21, 2009, annual meeting

This presentation summarizes our position on waste management. Points in this presentation are elaborated in the proposal below.

(While in the presentation, click anywhere on screen to advance to the next slide)

A Washington County Recycling and Waste Reduction Proposal

by the Greenwich Citizens Committee - May 22, 2008


Washington County owns five convenient, well-designed transfer stations for collecting recyclables. These facilities have already been fully paid for through our taxes [however, the County has borrowed against the transfer stations for other, unrelated purposes]. The staff at the County's transfer stations have designed and implemented a system that generates very high quality commodities (recyclables) that command the highest possible prices.

However in the past five years less and less materials -- both non-recycled waste and recyclables – have been collected at the transfer stations. At the same time revenues from selling our recyclables are on the increase, due to their rising value in our resource-hungry world.

Responsible management of our waste stream is a public good. The alternative is to squander valuable resources, by trashing our recyclables and organic materials. Conservation efforts have the potential to bring greater prosperity to our County. They are especially important in a time of rising costs for resources and fuel.

This proposal presents a plan for reversing the decline in recycling and building on the achievements of our recycling program. With a small investment in human capital, we can move toward maximizing the use of our well-designed transfer stations, and also recoup an increasing portion of the program's costs with greater sales.

There are five main strategies outlined in this proposal:

  1. Hire a full-time Waste Reduction and Recycling Coordinator.
  2. Pursue a variety of ideas to improve throughput at transfer stations.
  3. Set a County Waste Reduction and Recycling Goal.
  4. Require private haulers to file reports and collect and deliver recyclables for recycling.
  5. Pursue new sources of funding, including a per ton fee assessment on non-recycled waste generated in the County.

I. Full-time Waste Reduction and Recycling Coordinator

The County once had a full-time recycling coordinator, but the job was eliminated when that staff person retired. At that time, NYS DEC grants were funding half of the costs of the position and of some of the recycling equipment used in this program.

Without such a dedicated professional, the County's recycling program suffers from a lack of promotion, public education, and strategic planning. New initiatives, such as electronics collections and a pilot program for #5 plastics, remain a secret to most of the population. Without staff, there is no one to reach out and provide technical assistance and follow up with businesses, schools, and other institutions. And County children and other citizens are not exposed to a recycling and composting ethic, just as it is becoming more mainstream nationwide.

Job Description for Full-time Waste Reduction and Recycling Coordinator

Responsibilities include:

In conjunction with the DPW, the Waste Reduction and Recycling Coordinator will be responsible for increasing the amount of recycling, composting and waste diversion for all county residents, businesses and institutions, including those served by private haulers.

Salary: $40,000 - 50,000 (includes some evening and weekend hours)

II. Improve the Utilization, Efficiency and Contribution of the Transfer Stations

  1. Examine ways to enhance transfer station operations.
    • Can operations be made more user-friendly to boost tonnage of recyclables as well as revenues? Is the objective to maximize revenues or maximize the quantities of waste that are diverted? How can we have our cake and eat it, too?
  2. Expand the types of materials collected for composting, recycling and separation. Divert toxics from the waste stream.
    • Food waste for composting, additional plastics, many types of construction and demolition wastes, all electronics, mercury-containing items like fluorescent lights, and household hazardous waste should be considered.
    • The County could impose bans on the disposal of certain materials at transfer stations and disposal facilities within the County. Bans would encourage more recycling and result in "cleaner" garbage. (The State of Massachusetts bans the disposal, and transfer and contracting for disposal, of a variety of hazardous and recyclable items: recyclable, glass containers, metal containers, single resin narrow-necked plastics, leaves and yard waste, batteries, white goods, whole tires in landfills, cathode ray tubes – TVs, computer monitors, asphalt pavement, bricks, concrete, metal, and wood. Other municipalities also have such waste bans.) Banning electronics and clean cardboard from the non-recycled waste stream would be an easy place to start.
  3. Promote reuse of usable items.
    • The success of reuse facilities like The ERC Community Warehouse in Hoosick Falls (and ReCycle North in Burlington, VT) demonstrate that such enterprises can be self-supporting. They also offer low-cost furnishings, building materials, and other consumer products for local residents. The County's solid waste and economic development programs should encourage new businesses along this model.
    • The County could partner with reuse entrepreneurs (and with the Community Warehouse) to funnel reusable items to them from the transfer stations. Residents would still pay a disposal fee for their potentially reusable items.
  4. Create incentives to motivate participation in waste reduction and recycling.
    • Adopt incentives and promotional strategies that successful recycling programs elsewhere have used. Possibilities include:
      • Encourage or set up contests among classrooms and schools for most recyclables collected and least garbage
      • Showcase local businesses with aggressive waste reduction efforts. (Large corporations have embraced Zero Waste as a goal, changed their procedures, and saved millions of dollars.)
      • Introduce the transfer stations and recycling opportunities to new residents through real estate agencies, etc.
      • Create a countywide advertising campaign with posters, bumper stickers, media partners, booth at the County Fair.
  5. Understand the transfer station “audience” and the County's waste profile.
    • Find out more about who uses the transfer stations and who doesn't. Identify the barriers to their use and figure out how to overcome them.
    • Similarly, characterize what is in the garbage people dispose of. This research will help prioritize what materials should be diverted from the waste stream.

III. Set a County Goal for reducing waste through recycling, composting, and waste reduction.

Establishing a goal is motivational. It also gives us something to measure, so progress can be evaluated objectively. The County should set a target of increasing the amount of materials that will be diverted for recycling and composting.

The state of California mandated that municipalities divert 50 percent of their municipal solid waste into recycling and composting by 2000, and imposed steep per day fines when municipalities failed to meet this goal. Now a number of cities and counties are aiming for Zero Waste. Certainly Washington County can aim for 50 percent by 2011.

IV. Require private haulers to file reports and collect and deliver recyclables for recycling.

As private haulers have expanded their customer base, even in rural areas, the usage of the transfer stations has declined in recent years. Currently only a minority of County residents use the transfer stations. Yet private haulers operate outside of the County's solid waste program. [There are a number of mechanisms for bringing haulers into the system. This may be the subject of another briefing paper.]

It appears that the only regulation we have is the County's 1992 Source Separation Law. It covers private waste haulers, but the law is not being enforced. Without County oversight, the haulers are unaccountable. Assurance that separated recyclables are being recycled, rather than mixed with trash, would also likely increase the willingness of residents and businesses to bother to comply with separation rules.

We also have no way of knowing how many households and businesses contract for services with private haulers. Nor can we estimate to what extent these haulers are capturing the potential recyclables generated by their clientele.

The County should require all haulers collecting waste in the County to file monthly reports with basic information about their operations. These reports would include, on a town and village basis, the number of households and businesses they service, and the tonnage and destination of both the garbage and recyclables they collect. The County should compile this information and use it for planning (and funding) purposes.

The County should also require mandatory recycling, with all curbside waste collection to include recycling services in the cost of the service.

Enforcement must be integral to these regulations. Private haulers must be subject to spot inspections and tough penalties for failure to comply. The tonnage they report should be recorded on certified scales.

V. Expand sources of funding so the program can have a bigger impact.

  1. Sale of recyclables
    Last year the County received about $425,000 for recyclables collected at its five transfer stations. The budget shortfall for the program was over $800,000. Boosting the volume back to the levels achieved about five years ago would double the revenue and cover more than half of the budget gap.
    There is a lot of room for growth. The County currently collects only a small percentage of the recyclables generated by Washington County residents, businesses, and institutions. The transfer stations also have considerably greater capacity than is being utilized.
 Today's global demand for all types of resources has created an extremely strong market for recyclables. It is an excellent time to sell good quality recyclables, which the County is known for.
  2. NYSDEC Recycling and Household Hazardous Waste Grants
    • Recycling Grants: DEC grants to municipalities cover half the cost of a Recycling Coordinator (salary and fringe benefits) and Recycling Equipment. Counties have a very high likelihood of getting these grants, which are awarded in the order they are received. The County must make a three-year program commitment in order to qualify.
      To get in the cue for funding, the County needs to submit the initial pre-application. Doing so does not commit the County to completing the application process.
      Due to inadequate funding, there is presently a two-year wait period. DEC is trying to get more funds allocated in the state budget for these programs. (Once a Recycling Coordinator position is funded, it continues to receive funding.)
    • Household Hazardous Waste Grants: These DEC grants to municipalities are funded on a quarterly basis. There is no backlog. The deadline for the next round is July 30, 2008.
  3. Solid Waste Fees from Private Haulers
    An untapped source of funding for the County's recycling program is private haulers, with assessments based on the amount of non-recycled waste they collect. This funding method also creates an incentive for recycling. Research is needed to determine if the County has the authority to levy such a fee.
    Vermont Solid Waste Districts collect a fee (i.e. $17.61 per ton of garbage) from private haulers operating within their jurisdictions. This funds a big share of the Waste Districts' operations, and education and technical assistance programs. A compliance officer shared by the Districts helps ensure that haulers file accurate reports and fully pay the fees they owe.
    The Onondaga County Resource Recovery Authority requires all residential waste collected in the County be disposed of in OCRRA's waste to energy incinerator. The per ton charge of $65 paid by haulers provides ample funding for OCRRA's comprehensive recycling operations and education programs.
  4. Member items from State and Federal Legislators
    Stopgap funding should be requested from elected state and federal representatives.

Conclusion: The fiscal implications of this proposal are overwhelmingly positive.

Washington County already has the infrastructure and physical plant workers in place for an effective recycling program. We have already paid for the transfer stations and the existing equipment. The DPW employees are already on the County payroll and the County has been successfully marketing the materials collected at an excellent price.

But the County lacks an essential element in its recycling enterprise. Would a business owner run a factory without a sales division? Unlikely. Or would a shopkeeper cut out advertising and window displays and expect his store to thrive? Not usually. However this is precisely what the County is doing. As a result of shortchanging the recycling program, collections have dropped by about half.

The immediate goal must be to significantly increase the numbers of residents and businesses using the transfer stations and to boost the amount of recyclables the County has to sell. The County should embrace this as both a financial and a conservation goal.

Achieving this goal requires a minimal investment, relative to the expenditures that the County has already made and continues to make. With as little as $56,000 (salary and fringe) for the Waste Reduction and Recycling Coordinator and a small budget for printed materials, the County can take a big step toward putting the transfer stations in the black.

Hiring the coordinator promises a tremendous rate of return.

By doubling the annual amount of recyclables collected, the County would also double sales revenues, from $425,000 in 2007 up to more than $850,000 (a very conservative estimate, given the ever-increasing value of recyclables).

On the other hand, indecision will likely result in no change.

For funding the recycling program, the County need not entirely depend on its taxpayers and the revenues from the sales of recyclables. It should also solicit funds from other sources, a few of which are discussed in this proposal.

By submitting a pre-application to the DEC now, in two years the County is very likely to begin receiving a State award of half the coordinator's compensation and half the cost of needed recycling equipment.

Let's not lose any more time.