Annually serving an average of more than 22,000 residential customers, Lee County’s Household Chemical Waste Collection Facility is led by a passionate group who truly care about proper disposal and diversion of household chemical waste.
By Kenneth Miller
Welcome to NAHMMA Corner! This month we are spotlighting one of our members’ permanent collection facilities, because these facilities are one way our members help ensure the proper management of hazardous materials. This year, the NAHMMA conference (July 17 – 22) was in Ft. Myers, FL, located in Lee County, which we felt made them a natural fit for our first member spotlight. We want to thank Lee County Staff for taking the time out of their busy schedule to share with us.
Lee County, population 787,976 (2021), opened a permanent, full-time Household Chemical Waste Collection Facility in April 2008. The facility is located at 6441 Topaz Court, Ft. Myers, FL 33966 and currently employs six full-time employees and one temporary employee. When Lee County was considering how to build a proper facility to manage the household hazardous
materials and Small Quantity Generator materials, they had to consider several factors:
• Location that would best served the needs of their customers and operational considerations
• Average quantity of materials received
• Average number of customers
• Population growth to ensure the location had the capacity of expansion
Factors Impacting Operations Since Opening the Doors to the Current Facility
Lee County chose to build a centrally located facility, and that decision has paid off well because the population of Lee County has increased by 33.95 percent since they first opened their doors in 2008. The facility currently operates Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Additionally, the facility is also open the first Saturday each month from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
The Household Chemical Waste Collection facility annually serves an average of 22,737 residential customers and their facility helps to facilitate an average of 194 Small Quantity Generator meetings with a hazardous materials management vendor. These combined activities annually ensure the proper management of more than 1.2 million pounds of hazardous materials.
The permanent collection facility is not the only way Lee County residents can dispose of their hazardous materials. Lee County has also increased the number of mobile collection events from five to 26 by performing them on a quarterly basis for the municipalities that they serve. These mobile collection events allow residents to take advantage of an easy drive through and drop-off process in their local neighborhood.
In addition to the materials collected at both the permanent facility and mobile events for proper disposal, Lee County also opened a Reuse Center in December 2018. Since 2018 the Reuse Center has diverted 267,597 pounds of household chemicals (latex paint, household cleaners, and pesticides) away from final disposal. These items are provided free of charge to local residents and businesses. Operating a reuse facility not only helps out residents through no-cost access to products, but it also helps to reduce the facilities disposal costs.
Tackling the Management of Hazardous Materials
It starts with the team of employees at their facility. Staff describes the atmosphere at the facility as “laid-back”. The team is well-trained and are knowledgeable of their responsibilities, whether it is receiving materials from a resident or conducting business with a vendor. All team members complete their own lab packs and manifests and assist with hosting the mobile events throughout the county.
Having a well-trained team is critical to overcome challenges as they arrive, and Lee County has experienced some challenges over the past 15 years since the facility has opened. Sometimes those challenges involve unique materials, such as a resident who brought in railroad dynamite or another resident who brought in a container labeled Napalm. Another time, it was an expansion of their mobile collection. At the time of the event expansion, the facility was short staffed and relied on assistance from other departments to staff the mobile events in addition to the permanent facility and their Reuse Center, until they were able to add additional staffing. Then came a global pandemic.
During the last two years the facility has seen a 43 percent increase in the total amount of materials managed. Some of that increase is also fueled by the previously mentioned explosive population growth. These factors have led Lee County to see increased participation in all the services offered by the facility.
An Efficient Program
Lee County Public Utilities Operation Manager Amanda Condomina really summed up what it takes to operate an effective and efficient program: “We are very proud of our HCW program and ReUse facility. Led by Earnest Outlaw, this passionate group truly cares about proper disposal and diversion of household chemical waste. Through their dedication and the support of our community, we are able to provide the citizens and businesses of Lee County a responsible, sustainable, and cost effective integrated solid waste management program to ensure the health, safety, and general welfare of our community and its environment.”
This is the second article in the first part of our NAHMMA Corner series, which is designed to tell you, the reader, more about who we are. This part will conclude next month with a recap of the conference. Future article themes will cover Mobile Collection, Materials Management, and Collection Facilities. | WA
Kenneth Miller began his duties as a scale operator with Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency in May 2011. Prior to that, he served as a Logistics Team Leader with the Target Corporation. In his role as the Solid Waste Agency Administrator, Ken is a member of multiple professional organizations, including SWANA, the Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operator, the Iowa Recycling Association, the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association – National Board Member, NAHMMA Heartland Chapter President, the US Composting Council, and the Iowa Composting Council – Board Member. He can be reached at (563) 581-2874, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.NAHMMA.org.