Think of trash and you might not have a positive impression. But Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority is working to change that. “Most people view trash negatively. It’s material that no longer has value,” says Kathryn J. Sandoe, chief communications officer for the authority. “Our tagline is we believe waste is a resource for making great things happen in our community.”

The authority’s roots date to the 1950s and the creation of its predecessor, Lancaster Area Refuse Authority. “Our mission is managing waste disposal in Lancaster County,” says Robert Zorbaugh, chief executive officer. “Our original edict was planning for waste management in the county for the future.”

The authority stands out among waste management facilities, he says. “We are unique compared to other areas of the country because we have an integrated system and we use several facilities for waste management,” he says.

Among them are a transfer station and household hazardous waste facility, both located in Lancaster; a landfill in Conestoga and a waste-to-energy facility in Bainbridge. Very early on with the company, the focus has been on the environment, Sandoe says. “Because of the rich agricultural heritage of Lancaster County, we want to be sure we are minimizing landfill use and doing everything we can to protect the environment,” she says.

The core of the authority’s operations is its waste-to-energy facility, built over 30 years ago, Zorbaugh says. “Not every community has one of these in the U.S.,” Zorbaugh says. “In this country, the primary focus is landfilling. We wanted to combust our waste, reduce the volume of trash and preserve our landfill space, thereby preserving farmland.”

At the waste-to-energy facility, energy is created as a byproduct of combusting waste and is used as a fuel source. In fact, the authority powers one in five homes in the area with energy created from waste. Waste volumes in the county have varied over the years, Zorbaugh says. “They can be highly influenced by economic cycles,” he explains. “We have seen that repeatedly here in Lancaster County. If the economy is doing well, there is growth in waste volumes. When we hit the recession in 2008, those volumes declined.”

Although changes recently have been made to recycling programs in the county, Zorbaugh says it hasn’t affected waste volumes significantly. “The goal of the revision of our recycling program was to create a sustainable product for the single-stream recycling markets,” he says. “We needed to reduce the contamination that has been gradually occurring with wishful recycling.”

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