Managing the waste stream: a cooperative effort

Ann Murphy
Education Coordinator
Spokane Regional Solid Waste System
Spokane, Washington

The Spokane Regional Solid Waste System ("System") in Spokane, Washington, is charged with managing the nearly 1,300 tons per day of solid waste generated in this county of 450,000. Roger Flint, Director of Public Works and Utilities for the City of Spokane (and member of APWA's Solid Waste Management Committee), believes that "the only way a community can truly have a successfully integrated solid waste management system is to have a broad-based cooperative effort to effectively manage the entire waste stream."

The System's integrated plan employs waste reduction and recycling programs including composting and hazardous materials, energy recovery at a waste-to-energy plant, and landfilling of both the non-processibles and the minimal ash residue. Accomplishing all of that requires cooperation with other agencies as well as the private sector. The System is guided by a Regional Solid Waste Liaison Board comprised of representatives from the City of Spokane, Spokane County, City of Spokane Valley, and a representative of the remaining 11 regional cities and Fairchild Air Force Base.

Battery recycling program recognized
The System has worked with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) to develop an award-winning battery recycling program. The System received the National Community Recycling Leadership Award for 2004 from RBRC, a nonprofit public service organization dedicated to recycling rechargeable batteries and cell phones. The Spokane Regional Solid Waste System has been part of the RBRC community recycling program since February 2003 and since then has collected over 25,000 pounds of rechargeable batteries.

"The Spokane Solid Waste System is proud of its accomplishment as a leader in community recycling and is honored to work with RBRC to reach our environmental goals," said Dennis Hein, Director of the Solid Waste System. "Our dedication to environmental education is greatly enhanced by relationships such as these."

The Spokane Regional Solid Waste System program, operated by Scott Windsor, Hazardous/Infectious Waste Coordinator, received special recognition for its efforts. The System educates community members about the importance, and ease, of recycling rechargeable batteries through website linking, and the inclusion of RBRC's Battery Lesson Plan in its community recycling guide and use of RBRC's PSA.

Gary Schimmels of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste Liaison Board and a City of Spokane Valley Council member, accepted the RBRC award at the Washington Recycles Day luncheon in November 2004.

Both the large-scale centralized compost operation and home composting activities demonstrate cooperative efforts.

Yard waste collected in curbside programs throughout Spokane County is composted at Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, Oregon.

The "Clean Green" material collected at System sites under a contract with Waste Management is transported to Threemile Canyon Farm. The compostable material is first used in bedding material for the cows in a large-scale dairy operation. Finished compost is also marketed.

Since backyard burning of yard debris contributes mightily to air pollution and destroys reusable natural material, the System works with Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority (SCAPCA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to encourage residents to give up yard debris burning for better alternatives. Outside the no-burn areas of the County, residents can burn their yard trimmings during a designated short period of time each year. With a goal of expanding the no-burn areas in the county, SCAPCA is working to present alternatives to these residents.

The single day workshop includes:

  • The opportunity to bring in yard trimmings to be chipped at no charge. DNR then uses the resulting mulch for land application.

  • The System's Master Composter volunteers provide a hands-on seminar to learn more about home composting. Residents of the County may then take home a home composting bin to begin the activity in their own backyards.

  • DNR provides information about defensible space around homes for fire protection.

  • SCAPCA provides other air quality information, particularly about burning clean in a wood stove.

  • The System provides additional information about waste reduction and recycling and explains the "Clean Green" program at its facilities.

  • American Recycling, a private recycler, collects old burn barrels for recycling as scrap metal.

In 2004, events promoting these no-burn options were held in two different, outlying sections of the County. Plans are underway for more events in other parts of the County in 2005.

Spokane's waste-to-energy facility is one piece of the integrated solid waste system that serves all of the 430,000 residents in Spokane County.

Public/Private Partnership
The energy recovery piece of the integrated plan is unique in that the waste-to-energy plant was built and is now operated by Wheelabrator Spokane Inc., a private company. The facility is owned by the City of Spokane, and the System contract manager works with Wheelabrator to implement constant facility improvements.

Wheelabrator recently received the VPP STAR award from the Washington Department of Labor and Industry for its exemplary safety programs. Wheelabrator had to meet a three-year average injury rate below that of its industry average and demonstrate safety programs that greatly exceed the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) standards. The System contributed to the safety program by financing several tipping floor upgrades.

Education programs combine forces
System staff work with educators from other area agencies such as SCAPCA, Washington Department of Ecology, Washington State University/Spokane County Extension, Spokane County Conservation District, Spokane County Environmental Health, Spokane County Water Quality Management, Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (Living Green program), and Washington State Fish and Wildlife to provide programs for Spokane County students, community groups, and individuals. All of the entities working together effectively present a combined voice on sustainability.

In the spring of 2005, the System will be a partner in a variety of coalitions to present:

  • The 8th Annual Spokane Youth Environmental Conference, "Sustain the Earth—for all," a one-day, high-energy event for students in grades 7-12. Students participating in this conference demonstrate mastery of Science and Language Arts Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) and get great preparation for assessment tests.

  • Earth Day, April 23, 2005, is being planned by a coalition of government agencies and community groups and will have a sustainability theme.

  • The Green Zone - The System works with a coalition to create a permanent exhibit promoting actions for living a sustainable lifestyle.

The Spokane Regional Solid Waste System has successfully initiated many partnerships with businesses and local, regional, and state agencies to promote responsible and effective waste management programs. The combination of all of those efforts has contributed to the 54% recycling rate in Spokane County. The effect is a win-win-win for the System, our partners, and most importantly, the citizens.

Ann Murphy can be reached at (509) 625-6535 or at Photos courtesy of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System.

Students at the Spokane Youth Environmental Conference test their recycling knowledge in a sorting activity as part of "Eco-Survivor."