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Dealing with hazardous waste disposal.

Cost and liability are among the concerns driving small businesses to seek new solutions

Fairbanks painting contractor Bill Bush generated 180 gallons of hazardous waste in the back of his shop last year while doing $1.7 million worth of commercial and military jobs. Not enough solvent and sludge to pay a waste hauler to take it away, but too much for him to ignore under state and federal laws.

Over a 12-month period, he took four 55-gallon drums of thinners, solvents and sludge to the hazardous waste roundups sponsored by the city of Fairbanks, which paid a waste hauler $520 a drum to dispose of it.

Bush is what the law calls a "conditionally exempt small-quantity generator": someone who accumulates less than 220 pounds per month of hazardous material, but who is still legally responsible for its disposal. Hazardous waste from small-business generators accounts for from 10 percent to 40 percent of the waste stream going to city collection programs in Alaska.

But this year Bush has a different plan for getting rid of at least part of his waste, a plan he believes will not only limit his legal liability, but cut down on the 265 gallons of solvents and thinners he buys each year.

Since July, Bush's company has been the laboratory for a pilot project started by the Fairbanks painters union with a grant from the Alaska State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). A $3,000 distillery bought with the grant money has been recycling solvents at Bush's company, and the Alaska Health Project, a non-profit organization that helps small businesses manage hazardous materials, is auditing the waste stream for content, volume and the cost-effectiveness of recycling.

"This experiment will help us find simple, cheaper ways to comply with state and federal laws, to save our members money, to reduce pollution and liability, and to make money through the on-site distillation of solvents," says Mike Andrews, the union's business manager and overseer of the project.

Andrews says if the project works, the local wants to take the distillery to the shops of the other 99 union members in Fairbanks and do solvent recovery on a regular, scheduled basis. "The word we get from the Lower 48 painters who have used this is that the still pays for itself in a year," he adds.

But even if the project recycles 90 percent of his waste, Bush still will be making trips to the Fairbanks roundup to dispose of sludge. In the future, though, he may not get a free ride from the city.

Mountains of Waste. No one has exact figures on how much hazardous waste small business is sending to municipal collection programs around the state, though DEC says the figure is at least 10 percent of the 462 tons collected annually. Northwest EnviroService, the hauler for about 13 municipal roundups, believes the number is much higher. "Last year, business generated 44 percent of the 600,000 pounds of waste collected by Anchorage, even though business amounts to only 11 percent of the generators," says Larry Wilkinson, a chemical engineer for the firm.

Local governments, in turn, pay a waste hauler to dispose of hazardous waste, primarily by exporting it to other states. Currently, 90 percent of Alaska's waste is shipped to 13 other states, primarily Washington, under agreements made with the Western Governors Association.

Much of the waste is recycled once it is exported. Northwest EnviroService estimates that it recycles about 55 percent of the waste it collects in Alaska, including solvents, batteries and waste oil.

If Bush's experience is any indicator, the municipal roundups are not the only outlet for hazardous waste. Last year he left some of it with the clients who hired him for painting and stripping work.

"Nowadays, when I sign a contract with a client, I let them know that hazardous waste disposal is going to be partly their problem. I leave the leftover paint, thinner and rags behind for them to deal with," he explains. One client had the waste incinerated at his own cost.

Cost is the key reason for splitting the disposal responsibility. Haulers charge anywhere from $350 to $1,250 a drum to pack, transport and dispose of regulated waste. There are promising alternatives to exporting waste -- bioremediation and new kinds of incineration, for example -- but either their true costs are unknown or their applications have not been thoroughly tested in Alaska's demanding weather and terrain.

Figures to export waste do not include the cost to the generator if the drum's seal is broken or if the hauler disposes of the waste illegally. "That happened to us," says Stan Pepito, maintenance manager of Anchorage Chrysler. "The regulators came after us because our hauler disposed of the waste illegally." The experience was a key factor in Chrysler's decision to start recycling its waste oil, anti-freeze, Freon and solvents on-site.

The cost savings from recycling can be impressive. "We used to spend between $60,000 and $80,000 a year on disposal," says Pepito. "But now it's down to paying a hauler about $5,000."

Compared to other states, Alaska's hazardous-waste output is tiny: only about 5,288 tons a year. But Alaska business and government pay $11 million a year to get rid of it. Says Randy Easley, project manager for an Anchorage oil-spill cleanup firm, Oil Spill Consultants, "Money spent on disposal is wasted money. It doesn't generate any revenue, unless you're also recycling. It only keeps you out of legal trouble."

Bearing the Burden. Given the high cost of disposal, both government officials and environmental industry experts applaud the collective approach that trade groups such as the painters union take to reduce the amount of hazardous wastes generated. "Small businesses can do a lot by banding together through trade associations and unions to deal with hazardous waste," says Paul Kaplow, president of a Pennsylvania consulting firm bringing new disposal technologies to the marketplace. "It's often cheaper for them to finance cleanup or recycling programs through professional associations; otherwise, they cost too much."

Local officials, too, are encouraging self-help programs initiated by business, because Alaska state government is cutting the amount of money it is putting toward the municipal roundups. "The state used to foot the entire bill for these collections," says Stephen Willingham, environmental specialist with DEC. "But this year's budget is only $80,000, or 36 percent of the cost. Local governments will have to find the rest."

The reduced state subsidy means that small-quantity generators such as Bush won't continue getting a free ride. Anchorage now charges business about $400 a drum to drop off waste, and Juneau, too, is considering a fee schedule for business based on the type and volume of waste.

"We refused all waste from small business during our recent roundups, mainly because of the liability to the city," says Cindy Johnson, waste management specialist with Juneau's program. "But we're trying to find a way to bring them into the next collection. It means, though, that they'll probably have to pay."

If the union project succeeds, then painting contractor Bush will be joining the ranks of Alaska businesses finding creative -- and cost-effective -- ways to meet their legal obligation to manage waste. "The old days -- of pouring waste down the drains or dumping it out in the woods -- are over," says the Fairbanks painting contractor.

"Now we can't even take it to landfills, and it would cost me too much to have a waste hauler come in and ship it out of state. I think in the long run it's going to be cheaper to do this right."

Business writer Marjorie Murray has a certificate in hazardous waste management from the University of California at Los Angeles.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Hazmat Guide, part 4; recycling of hazardous wastes in Alaska
Author:Murray, Marjorie
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:1287
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