Integrated Solid Waste Management

Roger W. Flint
Director, Public Works & Utilities
City of Spokane, Washington
Chair, APWA Solid Waste Management Committee

Throughout the United States, solid waste management continues to be a major struggle for communities. Past practices often led to environmental problems, and now we must not only clean up the sins of the past but build systems to deal with our waste responsibly in the future; simply disposing of our waste in a landfill is no longer the only option.

To encourage positive steps, some states have mandated reductions of 50 percent in the total waste that has historically been disposed of by the community. Some communities have already established or are in the process of establishing mandatory recycling programs to meet these goals and, in states like California, we are seeing initiatives that are pushing for zero waste.

Because of this new focus, proper management of our solid waste is no longer hidden from public view. Dealing with our waste in a cost-effective and environmentally sensitive manner is now a major component of good public policy. One way to deal with this complicated issue is for communities to implement what are called Integrated Solid Waste Management Systems (ISWMS).

What Is Integrated Solid Waste Management?
ISWMS combine a variety of disposal, recycling, and reuse options into a custom program that will meet the goals and needs of an individual community. An effective ISWMS program will respond to the local waste stream characteristics, have a built-in flexibility to deal with ever changing regulations and account for fluctuations in markets for recycled material.

  Transfer station recycling center

Because no single solution completely answers the question of what to do with our waste, each community has its own unique profile for dealing with its solid waste. The composition of the waste also varies depending on factors such as population, density, how much commercial, manufacturing and industrial business in an area and even the weather. The views and attitudes of your citizens toward varied options will greatly impact your decisions. Community differences and waste compositions are two reasons why no single solution to waste management has been accepted as the absolute best method for managing the waste stream. Therefore, each community must develop its own best approach to managing waste, even though the basic options available to each community are certainly similar.

What are the key components?
In developing the best strategy for an ISWMS we must identify the highest levels at which each type of material can be recovered. To do this we start with waste reduction. Waste reduction is using less and reusing more, thereby saving material production costs, resources, and energy in the first place. At the bottom of the process is final disposal of the remaining material that could not be reduced, reused or recycled.

While ISWMS are designed to fulfill regulatory requirements, they often provide cost savings over the standard practices of disposal as well. The cost to reduce waste and collect and process recyclables is generally lower than costs of other disposal practices.

Planning is an important component
At the City of Spokane, Washington, where I work, we are updating our county's Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) with an eye toward the next 20 years. Our goal is to forecast trends and provide direction for county-wide solid waste decisions both now and into the future. These forecasts not only look at how much garbage we will be creating but also attempt to project the categories of garbage and what we are going to do with it all. It is difficult to project that far into the future, so we review our plan every five years and revise or amend it in order to remain current and provide for best practices. This plan helps us keep on track with the optimum methods required for us to maintain a truly Integrated Solid Waste Management System.

Final thoughts
The term "solid waste" includes many components that range from recyclables, moderate-risk waste, construction and demolition debris, organic material, and the other usual trash you think of when you hear the term "solid waste." As professionals, we must do our best to provide information to our citizens and advise our policy makers as to "best practices" that will protect our communities both financially and environmentally. Everyone wants to do the right thing—knowing what's right for your own community is the first step in developing an Integrated Solid Waste Management System that will work for your citizens.

Roger W. Flint can be reached at (509) 625-6272 or