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Recycling and Waste Disposal in the District of Columbia

Friday, September 28, 2012
Testimony of William O. Howland Jr, Director, DPW

Government of the District of Columbia

DC Department of Public Works

Testimony of
William O. Howland Jr.

"Recycling and Waste Disposal in the District of Columbia"

Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation
Mary Cheh, Chairperson

John A. Wilson Building
Room 120
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
September 28, 2012


Good morning, Chairperson Cheh, members of the Committee and staff. I am William O. Howland Jr., Director of the Department of Public Works. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss solid waste disposal and recycling. We also would like to share Mayor Gray’s vision of how a Sustainable DC is refocusing our view of the District’s waste stream.

Today, we are developing an integrated solid waste management system that values these materials as resources, not waste. The waste industry itself is undergoing a transition from a landfill perspective, or making trash vanish. Now, we are identifying how all elements of the waste stream can be used.

We are at a point in time when the opportunity presents itself for bold thinking about waste management. In 2015, our current trash disposal contract expires, so we are developing a strategy that will integrate recycling, composting and waste disposal that anticipates future needs, while we continue to provide our traditional waste-related services.

Residual waste can serve as feedstock for DC’s preferred energy producing technologies. We are asking these questions:

  • Is there an opportunity to replace coal with solid waste as a fuel source?
  • And, is there an opportunity to work regionally with partners to manage waste?

The District collects 200,000 tons per year of solid waste, 25,000 tons per year of recyclables, and up to 10,000 tons per year of leaves.

I would like to note that 80 percent of solid waste requires disposal even after enhanced recycling, composting and waste reduction efforts.

Today, we export our waste to the Fairfax County Waste to Energy facility in Lorton, Virginia for disposal. The total annual cost, including transfer station operations, is about $18 million to $20 million.

The current strategy relies on contracting for all solid waste disposal, recycling and composting services. The District does not have control of the embedded energy and economic value of all our waste.

We already have captured the economic value of some of the waste through recycling. Now, we are redefining the remaining waste from a burden that needs to disappear to a resource with economic value. We want to develop a self-sufficient or regional solid waste management system to turn our waste into an economic opportunity.

That means integrating recycling, composting and waste to energy conversion into an integrated system. The benefits include: Green Jobs, natural and built infrastructure improvement, and maximizing the energy and embedded value of waste.

The US Conference of Mayors adopted the US Mayors Climate Change Protection Agreement, which identifies waste to energy as a clean, alternative source that can help reduce greenhouse gas emission.

Waste-to-energy facilities offer a safe, sustainable and technologically-advanced means of disposal of post-recycled municipal waste that generates clean, renewable energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and supports recycling.

Today’s waste to energy plants exceed the strictest federal requirements for effluent for all media (air, soil and water) and are clean additions to any community.

Major metropolitan cities around the world are embracing new and varied waste to energy technologies.

Our next steps include crafting a scope of work that requests a comprehensive understanding of the District’s current solid waste management program and the program needs of surrounding jurisdictions.

This will help us determine the potential for partnership, describe the technologies that exist on a commercial scale, and establish selection criteria that maximize utility and minimize risk.

Additionally, we will identify regulatory, institutional and legal requirements that need to be addressed and create a financial model that includes a full accounting of capital and operating costs.

Further, that model will summarize costs on a tipping fee basis for the District’s use in comparing it with other available disposal options and arrangements.

This effort will be incorporated into the Sustainable DC process, initiated by Mayor Gray this year. DPW led the Waste Working Group. This group of more than 40 people included interested residents as well as representatives of industry and non-profits who volunteered their time to give structure to the Mayor’s vision.

Its overall goal was to set a direction to achieve a wide range of goals over the next 20 years. And for waste, which for millennia was considered worthless, now has value to produce energy, other products, even art.

For DPW this means recycling takes on a much broader definition.

First, I would like to discuss our vision, goals and actions.

DPW envisions a city where its people, businesses, and government work together to minimize waste and optimize resources.

Mayor Gray’s Sustainable DC goal for waste management is “To achieve zero waste by producing less waste in the first place, capturing value from everything else through reuse, recycling, composting and energy production.”

Using the “One City Action Plan” to achieve a Sustainable DC, the Waste Working Group will pursue these four goals:

  • We will create a system of teaching environmental literacy.
  • We will eliminate litter by 2030.
  • By 2030, we will achieve a reduction in waste generation of 25 percent from 2012 levels.
  • By 2030, 75 percent of all waste generated in the city is recovered or recycled.

Our intention is to identify the implications of reproducing this operation on a larger scale. I will be happy to keep the Chair and this committee informed of our progress.

In FY 2013, we will initiate a pilot program for an in-town food waste transfer operation based at the Benning Road Transfer Station. The pilot will provide a convenient transfer site for companies collecting separated food waste in the District. Right now, these firms must drive almost one hour north to a transfer site in Maryland.

Among the action items associated with the first goal of recovering or recycling 75 percent of all waste is converting a section of a transfer station to receive compostable food waste.

With Mayor Gray’s leadership, we are taking actions to transform our waste management system. And simultaneously, we are carrying out our traditional operations associated with trash, recycling, and yard waste collections and disposal.

I would like to highlight our upcoming leaf collection program, which begins Monday, November 5. This is our most labor-intensive program, involving more than 160 temporary staff working alongside 150 permanent employees who will work up to six and sometimes seven days a week, except Christmas and New Year’s Day, collecting about 8,000 tons of leaves citywide.

We will provide households that receive DPW trash and recycling services a brochure describing how the program works, the ward-based collection schedule and what we need residents to do to make this a successful collection season. The brochure also will be available online at www.dpw.dc.gov.

When you get the brochure, check the dates for your neighborhood’s two collection cycles. To make sure your leaves are collected, the weekend before each collection cycle, please rake your leaves into the treebox space, not the street, in front of your house. Or you may bag your leaves and place them in the treebox space.

Leaves raked into the street can cause flooding because storm drains are blocked. They also can cause fires and reduce available curbside parking.

Leaf collection season and snow season overlap, which means we may need to suspend collecting leaves to fight a snow storm. Once the storm is over, we will resume collecting leaves.

This program is a real win-win for everyone. First, we get the leaves off the street, which become slippery when wet and can cause vehicle and pedestrian accidents. Then, we compost the leaves and provide the free compost to residents and neighborhood beautification projects. So, please help us help you by getting your leaves ready for collection.

I would like to conclude my testimony by quoting representative FY 2012 workload statistics generated through July.

Since October 1, 2011, DPW has collected 80,000 tons of trash, 29,000 tons of recyclables, 91 tons of e-waste, 111 tons of shredded paper and 8,000 tons of leaves.

In July 2012, following the derecho and other storms, we collected and composted more than 1,500 tons of storm debris.

We removed more than 2,100 tons of street litter and debris through our residential and commercial street sweeping program; and we collected almost 5,700 tons of trash from our street litter cans.

The District of Columbia is a cleaner, more attractive environment because of the work of the hundreds of DPW employees.

Thank you, again, for this opportunity to appear before the committee. I am prepared to respond to your questions.