If you complete all of the “homework” before the design process is in full swing, you will help jump start the design process and increase the likelihood of developing an excellent HHW collection system that meets your needs now and in the future.
By David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C.

As many of the pioneering first generation HHW collection facilities from the 1980s and 1990s are at or near their expected end of useful life, many of those jurisdictions are looking to revive or replace their original structures. In many cases, the originally anticipated level of customer demand for HHW collection service was forecast way too low, leading over time to woefully under capacity and overburdened facilities.

If you are in either of these positions or if you are looking to build your first permanent HHW collection structure, there are some fundamental strategic things that you can do in advance of hiring a design firm to help you create that new or upgraded facility. This article will review some key actions and activities that will help you and your design team get started in the direction best suited to your future needs.

HHW collection is a relatively new municipal activity compared to garbage collection, recycling, landfilling, water supply, police, fire, and other traditional government services. In most jurisdictions HHW collection is not required by state law. Nonetheless many see such an investment as a prudent use of resources to reduce the occurrences of chemical exposure to residents, solid waste staff, and critical infrastructure.

Not every jurisdiction feels obliged to develop an HHW infrastructure. They may rely on the occasional HHW collection event run completely by contractors. On a national basis this makes the demand for designing and building HHW collection less than for other government services. Consequently, most engineering and architectural firms have relatively limited experience with the design and operations of HHW collection facilities.

Even national engineering or architectural firms typically have designed a handful or less HHW facilities over the past decade. Therefore, to leverage their design talent it is very beneficial for you to provide a set of guidelines through the development of criteria, analysis, and HHW specific project requirements so they can most effectively meet your needs now and in the future.

Following are some things you can do to develop specific criteria and requirements that will help guide your design firm in meeting your HHW facility needs.

Figure 1
Functional process and materials flow.
Figure courtesy of Special Waste Associates.

Visit Other HHW Facilities and Find the Positives and Negatives
Seeing what others in your region have done to collect HHW safely and efficiently can be a real eye-opener. You will likely find things that inspire you as well as things you want to avoid. Depending on your location, you might have to go out of state to see a variety of different operating models and design approaches.

Look at all the processes others use and think about how that would or would not work for your situation. Ask the workers and managers what they most like as well as dislike about their facility. What would they do differently if they could build a new facility from the ground up? What saves them the most operating costs? How has their customer count changed since they opened? If they offer HHW for reuse to the community, how does that work for them and what have they documented regarding benefits to the community or operating cost savings?

Observe the adequacy of ventilation where wastes are consolidated; if you smell gasoline or solvents, it is most likely inadequate. Look for examples of natural lighting. Does the facility have a sloped floor or trip hazards built in? Do they use forklifts or other ergonomically friendly equipment to move supplies and wastes? Does the workspace look organized and relatively clean? Does the facility operating area look cramped and crowded or is there adequate space throughout?

Serve All Your Residential Customers
It is common for HHW collection services to disproportionately reach single-family homeowners who are older, well-off financially, English-speaking, and Caucasian. Do you know if the demographics of the customers you serve match your overall service area demographics? If you do not know, you might not be equitably serving your customers.

This introspection may affect how you design your HHW collection program of the future. Understanding any underserved areas or demographics of your population can influence the location chosen for a new facility, change the kinds of collection services provided, and modify your outreach and advertising approach.

Project Robust Participation for All Groups
I usually suggest planning for at minimum annual level of participation of 10 percent of households and an optimal service level of at least 13 percent. To ensure equity, the planning service level needs to be applied to all major geographic areas and demographic categories in your service area. If you are not measuring the level of participation by subgroups, especially disadvantaged or lower-income households, you will not know if you are adequately serving them.

Of course, in thinking about future needs, anticipated population growth needs to be part of the planning process. Most jurisdictions have some planning entities that routinely project future population growth. You can integrate that work to project your future needs for HHW collection.

Know Your Data
Compile your customers count per year and how that varies by season or months. Calculate how many customers per hour and per day you currently process with your current methods. When you visit other facilities, you can compare your data with theirs to get a feel for the relative magnitude of customer and waste throughput. In determining your staffing levels and how long you may want to have customers in line, your customer throughput data will be pivotal.

Parse Your Waste Data by Vendor
Determine how many containers of each material are sent for offsite management by vendor. This will help establish optimal storage requirements and shipping infrastructure requirements to leverage the most economic transportation rates using full truckloads.

Visualize Best Case Process Inter-relationships and Materials Flow
After you have performed site visits to other HHW facilities and done the other tasks above, it is time to start melding all your homework into a design. Take a blank piece of paper and list out all of the materials, wastes, and supplies, involved in your ideal HHW collection facility.

Then, graphically sketch out what happens to each of these materials from the point they are received from the household to the point where that material is taken offsite. The physical inter-relationships of these processes and material flows can provide your design team with a more intimate understanding of what material and processes need to be adjacent to other materials and processes. This will help envision both the required functional areas and how they need to physically inter-related. A hypothetical and abbreviated materials and process flow sketch is shown in Figure 1. This process can also be accomplished collaboratively with the selected design team as a pre-design exercise in a design charrette.

If you complete all of the “homework” before the design process is in full swing, you will help jump start the design process and increase the likelihood of developing an excellent HHW collection system that meets your needs now and in the future. | WA

David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C., is a NAHMMA Director and Principal at Special Waste Associates (Olympia, WA), a company that assists communities in developing or improving HHW and VSQG collection infrastructure and operations. They have visited more than 155 operating HHW collection facilities in North America. Special Waste Associates works directly for program sponsors, providing independent design review for new or upgrading facilities—from concept through final drawings to create safer, more efficient and cost-effective collection infrastructures. Special Waste Associates also published the book, HHW Collection Facility Design Guide and most recently published the Chronicle of the HHW Corner. David can be reached at (360) 491-2190 or e-mail [email protected]

1. Nightingale, David, HHW Collection Facility Design Guide: Charting Your Path Through the Household Hazardous Waste Facility Design Process, Special Waste Associates, Figure 10.4, p. 250, Olympia, WA, 2009.