Delaware County gets an update of the 10-year solid waste plan development

In the update of the creation of the Delaware County 10-year Municipal Solid Waste Management Plan, two things emerged.

One, officials need the public’s help in forming a Citizens Advisory Committee and, two, the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority is in triage stage.

At its Wednesday meeting, Delaware County Council heard from both Alex Danovitch of Zero Waste Associates and Jim Warner, the interim CEO of the SWA.

In November, council hired Zero Waste Associates for a 12-month period at a cost of $215,000 to help craft the plan, which must be submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection next year. The plan is meant to explain how the county plans to handle the processing of its trash over the following decade in accordance with the requirements of Act 101.

In addition to recycling measures, about 130,000 tons of municipal trash goes to the Covanta steam-to-energy facility in Chester to be processed. The ash produced from this is then sent to the Delaware County-owned Rolling Hills Landfill in Earl Township, Berks County.

The rest of the county’s trash, about 400,000 tons, is sent to two transfer stations – one in Chester Township and another in Marple. From there, it is consolidated and sent to Covanta, who burns it and sends the ash to Rolling Hills.

Covanta also receives trash from other parts of the country, processing about 1.3 million tons at the Chester facility annually.

Warner explained that the two transfer stations, which are decommissioned incinerators built in the 1950s, need investment to continuing servicing the county for the future.

“They are distressed facilities,” he said. “The most valuable part of these is the permits. They’re each permitted to receive and transfer out 1,200 tons per day.”

The Berks County landfill takes about 2,100 tons per day, although it is permitted up to 3,200, Warner said, adding that about two-thirds of what it receives is ash and the other third is incoming.

“While it’s an asset, it’s near out of capacity so we did receive a permit in the fall to expand it,” Warner explained. “That would allow anywhere from 10 to 20 years of additional capacity with the driving force of that time being determined by how much and what you are putting in … At our current rate … this landfill would last about 17 to 20 years.”

He said the landfill is not a distressed asset but the authority does not have the money to fully build it out. It does have the money to pay for the first phase of an expansion, something anticipated to be completed by September.

In fact, Warner said, the entire authority needs an overhaul.

“The Waste Authority … is in a triage phase,” Warner said. “When I came in December, there was absent leadership … Our systems are lackluster at best internal and some of our external standards and they will be improved and brought up to the where they should be.”

He said budget standards need to be set, system financial modeling needs to be implemented, transparency and accountability need to be increased, the finances need to be improved so that the authority can be self-sustaining and staffing is needed.

“We’re going to create a new authority,” he told the council. “We have a long way to go.”

Warner outlined the authority’s main issues at present as the need for the Rolling Hills expansion, the Covanta agreement April 30 expiration, a review of multiple agreements that define the operation and administration of the authority and the need for more staff.

Also at the meeting, Danovitch gave an update of where the 10-year Municipal Solid Waste Management Plan stood.

“We’re currently in the process of doing background data gathering, including an inventory of solid waste facilities and analysis of waste quantities and compositions generated in the 49 municipalities,” he said, explaining that they would then analyze it to determine waste management strategies including the impacts of zero waste measures.

He said this plan will include economic, environmental and social impacts of different strategies.

“This plan will go further to align with a sustainability plan and department goals by including zero waste strategies such as countrywide policies and programs, opportunities for new diversion and reuse infrastructure and the establishment of metrics and zero waste goals,” he said.

In addition, Danovitch said the county is now recruiting for an advisory committee that will help guide the public outreach process as the plan is developed.

While public representation is required under Act 101 with certain partners like municipal leaders, business community members and solid waste operators, he said Delaware County has gone beyond the minimums to ensure that all voices of the community are represented such as schools, recycling market development organizations , faith-based groups and community groups.

Those interested in serving on the Citizens Advisory Committee have until March 4 to apply. Information about applying to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee can be found here: https://delcopa.gov/clerk/boardscommissions/vacancies.html

As part of the plan creation, he said Zero Waste Associates was evaluating three scenarios: status quo in which most of the waste continues to go to Covanta; moving waste to Rolling Hills landfill and limiting what is accepted there to Delaware and Berks counties waste; and utilizing the current waste management contract with the waste authority to go to Fairless landfill or other regional locations

“Our preliminary analysis concluded that each scenario is economically and technically feasible,” he said, adding that their goal is to see if there are viable alternatives to the status quo.

As part of the analysis, Danovitch explained, Dr. Jeff Morris, an economist on their team, has created an environmental benefits calculator, which measures a variety of factors including climate change, public health and air quality and the impact of those and their cost.

Danovitch also explained there will be various opportunities for public engagement throughout the process.

“Everyone is welcome and encouraged to be part of the public outreach process over several months. We will be a next series of listening sessions and public sessions,” he said.

Public workshops are scheduled for 6 pm on April 28, May 26 and June 30. A tentative public hearing is scheduled for 6 pmThursday, Aug. 25.

“In the meantime, our team is going to continue working and exploring opportunities to leverage existing infrastructure such as the Solid Waste Authority’s transfer stations to enhance diversion and also evaluate zero waste strategies to reduce the generation of waste in Delaware County,” Danovitch said.

Councilwoman Christine Reuther asked if the impact of trucks on road endurance will be examined.

“I literally have multiple huge trash trucks coming up and down my road every single day,” she said. “It’s not one. It’s not according to a schedule. I get them every single day.”

Reuther warning of the wearing down of road infrastructure related to any scenario that would require an increase of trucks to move materials like trash, ash or recyclables.

Councilman Kevin Madden asked Zero Waste Associates to evaluate how to make diversion programs like recycling or community composting programs easier for people.

“It may be an investment on the part of the county to make it such that people are going to opt into doing more recycling, doing more composting and therefore getting close to the zero waste,” he said.

Danovitch agreed.

“We’ll be surveying all of the 49 municipalities to understand what their challenges are to increasing diversion and what role the county could play in helping facilitate making that more cost-effective and easier,” he said.

Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer summed up the task before Delaware County. “I think we all recognize that we have some pretty complex decision-making ahead of us,” she said.

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