The most asked question, “Should our local community have a permanent HHW collection facility?”, occurs after some years of occasional HHW collection events, and there frequently emerges a local desire to find a more convenient, year-round opportunity to manage hazardous materials from the home.
By David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C.
Shelly Fuller from Boulder County, CO called me recently questioning when it makes sense to consider the development of a permanent HHW collection facility. Shelly is the President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association (NAHMMA) and manages the Boulder County, CO, Hazardous Materials Management Facility, one of the premier HHW collection facilities in the U.S. She was calling on behalf of one of her NAHMMA chapter members that does not yet have a permanent HHW collection facility. This is a question that has been asked by local waste professionals across the U.S. for decades. For that broader audience, I will provide some background facts and thoughts on this question in this month’s HHW Corner and will expand on this issue in next month’s column.
Historic Growth in Development of Permanent HHW Collection Facilities
The Waste Watch Center used to track the number of HHW facilities and collection events in the U.S. and counted 96 permanent HHW collection facilities in 1991.1 By 1996, the tally was 314 HHW facilities and in 1998, that number had increased to 450 permanent HHW collection facilities in the U.S.2 Because the Waste Watch Center no longer exists, there has been no comprehensive estimates of the number of permanent HHW collection facilities in the U.S. or Canada since the late 1990s. The count is likely in the thousands, but certainly is continuing to grow. What has been the impetus behind that continued growth?
HHW Collection Events Lead to Permanent Facilities
The most common context in which the question of “Should our local community have a permanent HHW collection facility?” occurs is when there has been a history of HHW collection events. After some years of occasional HHW collection events, there frequently emerges a local desire to find a more convenient, year-round opportunity to manage hazardous materials from the home. This trend away from collection events was recognized as early as 1989 by Dave Galvin with King County, WA.3
In the past month, I have talked with local organizations in Vermont, Illinois, Florida, California, Washington State, Colorado and Massachusetts who are responding to local desires for more convenient, year-round opportunities for managing HHW. Some are starting to build local momentum for their first permanent HHW collection facility while others are in the planning or design phase for their first or second HHW collection facility.
As public awareness and participation in HHW collection events increases over time, so does the logistical strain of hosting increasingly large or more frequent collection events. Managing hundreds or even thousands of customers over a weekend tends to be chaotic; sometimes traffic backs up onto surrounding streets; the need for speedy operations leads to not very efficient waste packaging; seldom is there time or space for any good materialsdelivered to be reused; and significant mobilization costs are
experienced each time for set up and tear down. This naturally leads to local discussions of more cost-effective, more convenient, and less chaotic options for HHW collection and management.
Local Demand Case Studies for HHW Collection Services
Douglas County, CO with a 2019 population of 351,154 people provides a good example of the evolving need to look beyond collection events. In a planning document prepared by their Tri-County Health Department, the following quote supported the consideration of a permanent HHW collection and recycling facility. Their local collection events had “evolved from one event in Douglas County in 1993 collecting 9,174 pounds in a year to three events collecting more than 300,000 pounds of material in 2016.”4 This increase was primarily due to higher levels of public awareness, not population growth.
The Tri-County Health Department serves three counties near Denver, including Douglas County. In 2019 Tri-County Health conducted a survey of 2,828 customers asking them to rank the most needed drop off services. The highest ranked drop-off materials were household chemicals and household recyclables. Each garnered about one-third of customers’ responses as the highest ranked priority. Electronic waste came in a strong third place with nearly 19 percent of the remaining customers citing that as the most needed drop-off material. All other categories were in the single-digit percentages. Household chemicals are a mainstay category for HHW collection programs and many HHW programs also accept household electronics.
For each drop off material type in the Tri-County Health Department, survey customers were also asked at what frequency they would use that drop-off service. Thirteen percent indicated that they would drop off household chemicals at least monthly and more than 34 percent said semi-annually. This implies that 47 percent of customers would anticipate dropping off household chemicals twice per year or more often. A follow-up question asked if the customer had ever needed the drop-off services outside of the occasionally-scheduled collection events. More than 81 percent said “Yes” to this question. The health department is evaluating how to meet these needs, including the option of establishing a permanent facility to collect HHW and certain recyclables.
The Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District’s (CVSWMD), service area contains more than 52,500 people and the district has been tracking their customer needs for HHW services since at least 2012. CVSWMD tracked customer calls and conducted a series of surveys to gauge the public need for HHW as well as other services. Over time, the proportion of customers asking for HHW services has increased. The latest survey of 330 customers found that 80 percent of respondents said that they would bring HHW to a recycling or materials reuse facility in their service territory. With support from a state grant, CVSWMD is planning to build a permanent year-round HHW collection facility.
For these two local agencies, listening to their customers have made the case for HHW collection beyond the occasional event. Increasing public demand for HHW collection services is a common driver for development of permanent HHW collection facilities.
Considering a Permanent HHW Collection Facility
The ability to enhance the HHW collection infrastructure with a permanent HHW collection facility depends on available resources, existing or new. Part of the local evaluation should compare the long-term costs of continuing collection events to the long-term capital and operating costs of a permanent HHW collection facility. Such analysis is subject to local conditions including facility design, labor and construction costs and operating choices, which are beyond the scope of an HHW Corner article. However, there are some experiences and analyses that can help conceptualize future operations with a permanent HHW collection facility.
Operating costs per customer at permanent collection facilities are almost universally significantly less than per customer costs for collection events. A statewide cost analysis for 60 HHW collection events compared to 47 permanent HHW collection facilities in Washington found that you pay a premium for HHW collection events. Your excess cost of using HHW collection events is between 21 percent on a cost per pound basis, and 56 percent on a cost per customer basis, versus using a permanent HHW collection facility.5 For example, if you are now paying $75/customer for HHW collection events, you might realize a cost savings of perhaps 30 percent to about $53/customer using a permanent HHW collection facility. Cost savings per customer at facilities is often attributed the following:
• Ability to divert significant amounts of good products to local community reuse, (see the May 2020 HHW Corner article for examples of diversion and cost savings for HHW reuse programs),
• More efficient packaging and consolidation of wastes, which reduce packaging supplies, shipping and disposal costs,
• Leveraging existing administrative and operational resources such as cross-training employees to reduce reliance on contractor staff,
• Purchasing supplies and PPE in bulk quantities,
• Avoidance of higher weekend labor costs, as collection events tend to include weekends,
• Avoidance of mobilization costs for setup and tear-down for each collection event.
Of course, operating costs can vary significantly by location and how you choose to operate a facility. While your cost per customer will typically be less, your operating budget might actually increase due to the higher total number of households served per year. With more convenience, you will attract more customers per year. This can be managed by metering the participation through an appointment only system. For example, the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency in Iowa serves customers by appointment every 10 minutes from 7:30 AM until 3:20 PM on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.6 If you have hard and very limited budget constraints, an appointment system may be necessary. An HHW collection program in Naperville, IL reportedly reduced participation from 5 to 3 percent of households annually by instituting an appointment system.7
On the other hand, for local programs that want to meet the local demand for service, I typically recommend planning for a future where at least 10 percent of households are served per year for an effective service level.8 Some programs started with an appointment system, then transitioned to an open drop-in system while others have never had an appointment system. The level of advertising or promotion of the HHW collection service can also have a dramatic effect on participation levels. The more the public is made aware of HHW collection opportunities, the more households participate.
Your choice on how to restrict or allow participation will depend on the balance between level of concern for operating cost uncertainty versus the desires to maximize customer participation. A few questions that can help frame this discussion might include:
• How important is waste stream toxicity reduction for your jurisdiction?
• What level of funding flexibility is allowable if we underestimate participation or costs?
• What are the potentially available operating and building funds?
• What are the potential environmental and operating risks associated with improperly managed hazardous materials?
• Are their potential synergistic partnerships for in-kind or direct financial assistant available from:
• local businesses,
• natural resource associations or agencies,
• fire departments,
• neighboring jurisdictions,
• stormwater or wellhead protection programs,
• wastewater treatment operators, and
• other local or state agencies?
One operating risk was highlighted in the January 2021 HHW Corner article. The proliferation of lithium-ion batteries spontaneously combusting in the bulk waste stream have led to many destructive transfer station and MRF fires. These batteries are commonly collected at HHW collection facilities without incident, which reduces the operating risk to the solid waste staff and infrastructure.
Finding Capital Funds
The hurdle that prevents or delays some local jurisdictions from instituting permanent HHW collection facilities is the capital cost of property, facility design and construction. The most common method to fund HHW programs is through a solid waste tipping fee surcharge, although wastewater treatment programs, stormwater utility fees, wellhead protection programs, property taxes and other funding sources are also used by some local programs.
Some state environmental agencies financially support the development of permanent HHW collection facilities with grants where there is a locally-demonstrated need. USDA has similarly supported development of HHW collection facilities in some rural communities. In those cases, the financial capital threshold can be significantly reduced.
One method that a number of small and large local jurisdictions have used to generate the capital for an HHW facility is to create a dedicated fund to accumulate a positive balance from tipping fee surcharges or other funding sources. Depending on the rate of funding, it might take many years to generate sufficient funding. However, this savings method avoids the expense of issuing bonds or other financing methods. | WA
David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C., is 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 145 operating HHW collection facilities in North America. As a specialty consulting firm, 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. David can be reached at (360) 491-2190 or e-mail [email protected]. Feel free to contact him with thoughts on this column or ideas for future columns.
1. Dann, Carolyn, Budgets, Proceedings of the Sixth National United States Environmental Protection Agency Conference on Household Hazardous Waste Management, U.S. EPA, Washington State Dept. of Ecology, Dana Duxbury & Associates and SWANA, December 3-7, 1991, Seattle WA, p.172.
2. Waste Watch Center, Household Hazardous Waste Management News, Vol. VIII, No. 31, February 1997, p. 1, and personal communications with Stephen Bickel, Waste Watch Center, November 26, 1999.
3. Galvin, Dave, Maximizing Participation – Part 1: What and Why, U.S. EPA’s Proceedings of the Fourth National Conference on Household Hazardous Waste Management, November 6-8, 1989, p. 375.
4. Considerations for Proposal Planning, Permanent Recycle and Resource Recovery Center, Household Chemical Roundup Program, Ellen Kennedy, Tri-County Health Department, November 2017, page 12.
5. Nightingale, David, and Ellis, Elizabeth, Moderate Risk Waste Collection System Report, Washington State Dept. of Ecology, December 2000, Table 6.
7. Monte, Susan, Bartels, Bart, et. al., Improving Household Hazardous Waste Collection Options for East Central Illinois, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center – Prairie Research Institute – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, TR-063, June 2016, p.116.
8. See the November 2020 HHW Corner article for a discussion of HHW Collection Effectiveness Metrics.