How household hazardous waste programs have played an important role today and looking to the future.
By David Nightingale, CHMM

This month’s HHW Corner concludes the two-part interview with Dave Galvin, the “Father of HHW”, by delving into how the local hazardous waste program in King County emerged and why under Dave’s leadership it has played a pivotal role on the national stage, with an eye to the future.

HHW Corner: How did you coordinate the planning and funding for the King County local hazardous waste program?
Dave Galvin: In the mid-1980s, we organized a small committee that included key public agencies as well as the Suburban Cities Association. This committee collaborated on educational and outreach materials and established a solid working relationship among its members.

Then the Washington State legislature passed a law in 1985 saying that each local government or combinations of contiguous local governments had until the end June of 1990 to establish a local hazardous waste plan. These plans were to create a system to manage HHW and conditionally exempt small quantity generators’ (CESQG’s) waste, together called Moderate-Risk Waste or MRW in Washington. So, we leveraged this committee to create and coordinate implementation of a county-wide hazardous waste plan for all 39 local jurisdictions.

Ever since then, we collaborated on funding the regional HHW collection events and the county-wide programs. One of the keys to making this work longer-term was that a small fee was added to the solid waste and wastewater services by the King County Health Board, which has jurisdiction over all of the agencies, cities and unincorporated areas.

HHW pioneers (from left to right) Michael Bender, Dave Galvin and Scott Cassel on Dave’s houseboat in Seattle 2008. Photo courtesy of Special Waste Associates.

HHW Corner: What other advantages came out of that coordination?
Dave Galvin: The regional county-wide funding has provided revenue stability. Perhaps, just as importantly, because the public health department was the financial catalyst and had a significant role in implementing the plan. The program looked at the broader public health issues beyond just the purely solid waste or wastewater issues of each individual agency.

At other local HHW programs in the U.S., it is common for the solid waste agency to manage the HHW program and they are often focused almost exclusively on waste collection, reuse, recycling, and disposal and relatively little on wastewater and public health exposure issues that are really directly related to HHW and CESQGs. The King County Health Department funding and implementation structure allowed us to put a significant level of effort on education and development of upstream policy, supporting progressive legislation, and engaging in systematic and larger issues such as product stewardship at the state and national levels.

HHW Corner: How did you view your program’s role in working beyond the local collection and education efforts?
Dave Galvin: All of my professional career I had a working model in mind that we should work locally but influence nationally and globally. I believed that if we created good model programs at the local level that they could turn around and influence others beyond King County. I feel strongly about that and am proud that, as a local program, we were able to have statewide and national influence.

For instance, we were the first jurisdiction in the country to require dentists’ offices to install amalgam separators to reduce the amount of mercury entering the wastewater system. That resulted in a 50 percent reduction in mercury in the wastewater system. Later, we were one of the leading local jurisdictions along with some in California to pass ordinances requiring pharmaceutical companies to take back their leftover medications. Finally, Dave Waddell’s “Rehab The Lab” project has been a nationally influential and nationally recognized effort that came directly out of the King County program.

HHW Corner: From where in the U.S. did folks start sharing their work in this area? Who were the early movers?
Dave Galvin: By the early 1980s, there started to emerge an informal network of professionals working on HHW issues, including folks from Florida, California, Alaska, Massachusetts and Washington State.

HHW Corner: Why was the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association (NAHMMA) formed and what was your role?
Dave Galvin: In 1986, Dana Duxbury in Massachusetts received a grant from EPA headquarters to organize the first national conference on HHW and she asked me to help with that organizing effort. During the first six years, Dana had EPA grants financially supporting the costs of this annual conference. However, around 1991, EPA indicated that they were going to be reducing their financial support and this led to the need to form a national organization to continue this important work. Michael Bender spearheaded that effort and in 1993 at the national conference in Burlington, VT, NAHMMA was created as a membership-based organization. I was elected as the first President of the NAHMMA Board of Directors and served on the board for about a decade.

HHW Corner: What was your role in the early years of the Product Stewardship Institute?
Dave Galvin: The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) was the brainchild of Scott Cassel who had also served as the NAHMMA President for a few years and worked for the State of Massachusetts. PSI was originally formed in 2000 as an arm of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and within a few years was spun off as an independent non-profit organization. Around 2003 or 2004, Scott invited me to be on the PSI Board. Within a year or so I became the Board President and continued in that role for more than 10 years until I was within a year or so of retiring. It was rewarding to see the challenges and successes at the national level. Product stewardship calls on manufacturers to both take responsibility for the end of life management of their products that are problematic as well as encouraging them to redesign and reformulate their products, so they are not problematic at the end-of-life stage.

HHW Corner: What are remaining unfulfilled promises you see at the local or national level?
Dave Galvin: We still have a long way to go to shift the default financial paradigm from the local governments and taxpayers’/rate payers’ obligation to pay the cost for the management of HHW to the manufacturers of those products. We ought to have been able by now to develop a sea change towards product stewardship and extended producer responsibility that would rely on manufacturer funded programs. Of course, local governments can still be involved in the collection and get reimbursed for their efforts on the manufacturer’s behalf.

The other big thing that we need to work a lot on is to emphasize programs that are directed at non-white, non-middle-class people. This is a societal symptom of inequity as most of our programs do not effectively serve people of color or low-income populations.

HHW Corner: How would you advise folks that are not yet retired?
Dave Galvin: Think big and long-term. Try to stop thinking about waste and instead try to think about materials management. Work more on product stewardship and extended producer responsibility. Combine those with equitable services to all communities and there is a lot yet to accomplish.

This type of thinking is partially reflected in the name chosen for NAHMMA. It is not the local hazardous waste national organization. Rather, the name focuses on hazardous materials management, not just waste or wastewater management. This was a key point that Michael Bender stressed when the name of the organization was being chosen and is still just as salient today. There are some programs that have taken that approach to heart and are engaging with these concepts such as moving towards zero waste.

HHW Corner: Thank you very much for your time and sharing your career and thoughts for our future!
Dave Galvin: Thanks for asking. It was a good trip down memory lane for me. | WA

David Nightingale is the Principal at Special Waste Associates in Olympia, WA. Special Waste Associates assists local and state programs to optimize their HHW and VSQG management programs’ infrastructure and operations. Special Waste Associates also creates publications and provides trainings in collaboration with local and state programs, SWANA, and NAHMMA. David can be reached at (360) 491-2190, e-mail [email protected] or visit