CORRECTION: June Cantor was erroneously identified as June Santor in the original version of this article.
Household hazardous waste programs can vary as much as the materials they take in. They range from one-day drop-off events to permanent facilities that operate six days a week. And community size doesn’t matter; a small district might operate a full-time facility while a big city relies on events. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot depends on the community served and political will.
It’s hard to nail down concrete data on household hazardous waste (HHW) programs and how they’re trending in the United States, says Victoria Hodge, HHW program supervisor in Denton, Texas, and vice president of the Westminster, Colo.-based North America Hazardous Materials Management Association (NAHMMA). NAHMMA has about 450 members comprising municipal and private waste handlers. She doesn’t know of any programs that have shut down, but notes that the budget constraints facing many of the nation’s communities represent the main challenge for HHW program managers.
“Citizens keep asking for this service,” Hodge says. “Cities are trying to stay within budgets and listen to citizens and their needs.”
Yet HHW program popularity with residents is growing. In Minnesota’s Scott County, outside of the Twin Cities, the number of participants has increased from less than 1,000 in 1992 to nearly 8,000 in 2011, says Greg Boe, household hazardous program manager with the Scott County Environmental Health Department in Shakopee, Minn. In Philadelphia, the number of cars visiting the dedicated HHW facility grew from 2,700 in fiscal year 2002 to about 4,500 in fiscal year 2012, according to June Cantor, public relations specialist with the Philadelphia Streets Department, in an e-mail. The city collects about 250,000 to 300,000 pounds of material annually.
Denton offers what it calls a Home Chemical Collection program, which enables residents to call the city and have their HHW picked up along with other regular curbside collection. The city will collect a wide array of chemicals as well as solid items like batteries and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. Hodge says there are similar programs in other Texas cities, including Plano and Allen. “Residents know it’s there,” she says of the pickup programs. “They don’t have to collect and hoard. They can get rid of it when they need to.”
Denton, a fast-growing city of 125,000 north of Dallas, also operates a reuse store where workers pick out reusable products and residents are free to take home up to six items.
In the Northwest, Jim Quinn is hazardous waste program manager for Metro Portland (Ore.), which encompasses 24 suburban cities as well for a population reach of 1.4 million and 60,000 household customers. One of the bigger programs in existence, Quinn says operations include two year-round facilities that operate six days a week, as well as 35 one-day collection events.
One of the Portland program’s features is the PaintCare program, funded by paint producers, which includes 100 collection points around the city where paint is gathered for free. Metro Portland has operated a paint recycling program for 20 years and developed markets generating almost $1 million in revenue. But now with PaintCare paying Portland for the paint, “for the first time ever we’re totally in the black,” Quinn says.
Philadelphia, the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States, operates three HHW drop-off sites and seven drop-off events, Cantor says. The events occur from April to November; the drop-off sites are available year-round.
In the Midwest, Minnesota’s Scott County serves a population of 130,000 that mixes urban sprawl with rural residents, Boe says. The Scott County HHW center is open year round.
One of the benefits for Boe’s operation is that the state contracts for the hazardous waste processing. “Each program doesn’t have to look for pricing in Minnesota,” Boe says. “All hazardous waste companies are very interested because the volumes are huge, so prices are competitive. Otherwise, smaller counties would have to pay more on their own.”