Permanent year-round HHW collection facilities are typically built due to increasing local demand stemming from a history of increasingly large HHW collection events. However, we also see that these facilities are not the exclusive domain of large metropolitan service areas. Since the first of these facilities were built in the mid-1980s, HHW collection facilities have been developed to serve local populations as small as a few tens of thousands.
By David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C.
Last month’s HHW Corner article opened with a discussion of what leads local jurisdictions to consider developing a permanent HHW collection facility. This month we will conclude with a review of how HHW facilities have developed to serve different types of service areas.
Learn from Others
Instead of looking to hypothetical “what if” scenarios, it is often instructive to simply look to jurisdictions who have already developed permanent HHW collection facilities and learn from them. Because a service area population is an indicator of the level of resources locally available as well as potential local demand for services, we will look to historic and current trends regarding the size of population served per facility.
In large population service areas, we will examine the development of multiple facilities over time. For smaller service area populations, it is worthwhile to examine what size jurisdictions have found the will and resources to provide their customers with a permanent HHW collection facility. Along the way we will look at a few individual programs as well as an example statewide view of facility development.
In 1997, I worked with Bill McLain with the City of Tacoma to conduct a national survey of permanent HHW collection facilities that had been operating for at least six years. Although there were an estimated 314 HHW collection facilities operating by 1996 in North America, relatively few had a significant operating history longer than a few years. Table 1 includes 20 permanent HHW collection facilities operating for at least six years by 1996 and the population served by those pioneering jurisdictions.
Although there are a number of large metropolitan jurisdictions that pioneered HHW collection facilities, such as Toronto and San Francisco, there are a surprising number of smaller jurisdictions among this group of 20 pioneers. However, only five jurisdictions were serving populations of under 100 thousand people. All jurisdictions listed with more than 1 million people had already provided multiple HHW collection facilities by 1996. By 1994, the HHW program in Duluth, MN had already replaced their first generation facility with a “state-of-the-art” facility costing $750,000. This initial set of data established an early baseline of where HHW collection facilities first were developed and population service levels of those pioneering jurisdictions.
The first permanent HHW collection facility in the U.S. was opened to serve Whatcom County, WA citizens at Bellingham in 1984.1 Established in 1985, the San Bernardino County Fire
Department, CA built the next two permanent HHW collection facilities in the U.S., growing to the seven facilities by 1996 as listed in Table 1.2 Both of these programs have evolved since 1996.
Examining San Bernardino County and Whatcom County Histories
San Bernardino County is the largest county geographically in the continental U.S., at 20,105 square miles, approaching the size of the state of Delaware. To cover this very large area with convenient service, you need a lot of collection facilities. In 1985, San Bernardino County’s two permanent facilities were in the cities of San Bernardino and Fontana.3 By 1996, the San Bernardino County system had seven permanent HHW collection facilities. Their HHW collection system has since been doubled to 14 permanent HHW collection facilities serving an estimated population of 2,206,750, or an average of one HHW collection facility for every 157,000 San Bernardino County residents. This is a significant increased level of service from the 227,000 residents per HHW facility back in 1996. The growing population and sheer size of San Bernardino County has prompted them to expand with many permanent HHW collection facilities. This decades-long dedication to improved service has inspired many other jurisdictions to step up their game.
In similar fashion, the Whatcom County, WA permanent HHW collection infrastructure has evolved since its inception in 1984, but in a different way. The HHW collection facility is now at its third location in Bellingham. With each move, the size of the facility has been significantly upgraded and enlarged. The City of Bellingham, with a population of more than 91,000, is by far the largest city in Whatcom County and the commercial and social hub in the region. The next largest city has a population of under 15,000. Consequently, the Bellingham location makes their single latest generation HHW collection facility convenient to the vast majority of the population of Whatcom County. This third-generation HHW collection facility serves the 228,000 citizens of Whatcom County.
Enduring Presence and How Much Does Population Size Matter?
I am not aware of any of the 1996 HHW facilities listed in Table 1 that have been closed, except some recent temporary shutdowns due to the COVID pandemic. Once a community establishes a permanent HHW collection facility, they keep it operating.
Looking back on the 1996 survey data, I was surprised to see the three Minnesota jurisdictions with populations well below 50,000. And interestingly, none of those jurisdictions were serving populations below 20,000. What might be said today about these lower population service areas relative to establishment of permanent HHW collection facilities?
Looking closer to the present, there are a few states that have historically required or strongly encouraged local jurisdictions to implement HHW management programs and have long histories of supporting those programs with grant funding for various population sizes. Those states have more than their share of permanent HHW collection facilities and include at least MN, FL, CA, OR and WA. Let’s look at Washington State as an example.
Washington State Case Study
Washington has 39 counties which contained 52 permanent HHW collection facilities as of 2021. Figure 1, shows counties shaded light grey with a number indicating the number of HHW collection facilities per county. Dark grey shading indicates WA counties that are planning to build a first or add another permanent HHW collection facility.4
The tally of Washington counties without a permanent HHW collection facility is grouped by population in Table 2. None of the three lowest population counties in Washington, all with
under 10,000 residents, have a permanent HHW collection facility. Twenty-one of the 27 Washington counties with less than 100,000 population have at least one permanent HHW collection facility. Six of those counties under 100,000 residents have anywhere from two to four permanent HHW collection facilities. Of the 39 counties in Washington, there are only two with populations over 50,000 people that currently do not have a permanent HHW collection facility. Benton County, with 205,700 residents, is planning to build a new HHW facility. When this facility goes live, there will be only one remaining Washington county of more than 50,000 population without a permanent HHW collection facility.
Many of the permanent HHW collection facilities in Washington were built with state grant support, first made available in the mid-1980s. Over many years, the map has filled in as local
jurisdictions have moved from periodic collection events to permanent HHW collection facilities. The specific use of state grant funds is largely a local choice, within a number of program options including HHW. While some grant dollars are occasionally used to fund capital building or facility improvements, when local decisions have been made to build or upgrade a permanent HHW collection facility, a majority of grant funds each year goes to day-to-day HHW collection operations. Smaller population counties, with a smaller tax base, tend to rely more heavily on grant dollars to fund their HHW operations and facility development while some larger counties use all of their state grant funds for other purposes and fund their HHW collection programs entirely with local revenue sources.
What Population Can Support an HHW Collection Facility?
Based on the Washington experience, my company’s assistance to clients in developing local HHW infrastructure around the U.S., as well as the pioneering programs listed in Table 1, a lower realistic population threshold for meeting expected local demand for HHW services using a permanent HHW collection facility might be around the 20,000 mark. For jurisdictions where there is a lack of state or other partners’ financial support, a realistic lower population threshold might be higher, perhaps a population of 50,000 to 100,000 people.
For service areas significantly under 100,000 population, some creative combination of local savings accounts, grant programs, local resources, and a phased-in approaches are often used to build and sustainably operate permanent HHW collection facilities. A recent successful example of this is Chelan County, WA, with 67,000 people. They, methodically, over a number of years, purchased a suitable property, created an HHW collection facility design, performed demolition and excavation, and finally built the facility. This was accomplished through a series of state grants, local jurisdiction funding and other local resources.
Similarly, Clatsop County, OR, with a population of 40,000, used a step-wise approach including state grant funds and a capital account reserve balance built up over time to design and construct their HHW collection facility. A persistent local initiative can often create long-term positive changes.
Service Levels for Urban Areas
For jurisdictions with a population of more than 100,000, where there is a demonstrated public demand/political will or strong state encouragement, there is often sufficient
resources available to plan, develop and operate a permanent HHW collection facility. As in most capital planning and funding efforts, these projects can take years of continuous effort to see them finally come to fruition. Similar to the 1996 survey data of larger jurisdictions, looking at the five most populated Washington counties shows that those urban service areas have all chosen to develop multiple facilities as shown in Table 3.
King County has the largest population and is in the design phase for a new permanent facility, which would then provide an average of one facility for each 565,000 residents. Importantly, King County has, for decades, relied on their Wastemobile to cover areas far from the existing HHW collection facilities. The Wastemobile provides collection events year-round and will be more available to those areas of the county that are still without a nearby HHW collection facility.
In urban areas, generally, the problem is often finding and acquiring a site to locate a permanent HHW collection facility. Suitable properties tend to be scarce and expensive and
neighborhoods can be reluctant or actively resist siting a waste facility of any type. On the other hand, with higher density populations, more residents are physically closer to each facility.
Looking at the service levels from the top five Washington urban areas as well as the pioneering facilities, it may be reasonable to consider a goal of one permanent HHW collection facility for every 100 to 250 thousand residents as realistic and feasible for most urban/suburban jurisdictions.
From last month’s HHW Corner article, permanent year-round HHW collection facilities are typically built due to increasing local demand stemming from a history of increasingly large HHW collection events. This month we see that these facilities are not the exclusive domain of large metropolitan service areas. Since the first of these facilities were built in the mid-1980s, HHW collection facilities have been developed to serve local populations as small as a few tens of thousands. A lower threshold for having the resources to build and operate a permanent HHW collection facility may be in the range or 20,000 to 50,000 people depending on availability of local or state grants or other long-term financial partners.
In higher population service areas, there are many examples of providing a facility for every 100,000 to 250,000 residents.
Service areas with more than 100,000 residents have often shown an ability and willingness to develop and sustain permanent HHW collection facilities for their customers. For urban/suburban jurisdictions a permanent collection facility for every 100 to 250 thousand residents may be a reasonable goal. | 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].
Evaluation and Comparison of Selected Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facilities, Energy Task Force of the Urban Consortium for Technology Initiatives and City of Seattle Office of Long-Range Planning, May 1990, p. 3-13. Christensen, Diane, How to Manage Waste Efficiently at Permanent Facilties, Proceedings of the Sixth National United States Environmental Protection Agency Conference on Household Hazardous Waste Management, US EPA, Washington State Dept. of Ecology, Dana Duxbury & Associates and SWANA, December 3-7, 1991, Seattle WA, p.169. Ibid.
Personal Communications with Megan Warfield, WA Dept. of Ecology, March 16, 2021.