Overseeing Solid Waste Authority

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By: Robert S. Weinroth Palm Beach County Commissioner Dist. 4 Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

One of the responsibilities assigned to the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners is to oversee the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County as its Board of Directors.

During its most recent organizational meeting, I was elected by the county commissioners to be the vice-chair of the SWA board. And so it was inevitable that I (along with my legislative aides, Alexandria Ayala and Jon Carter) would take some time to become more familiar with the operations of this essential government agency.

The Solid Waste Authority is responsible for providing an economical and environmentally conscious Integrated Solid Waste Management System for Palm Beach County. Big words for a pretty fundamental task, dispose of the tons of solid waste created by our residents each and every day in a cost effective and environmentally sound manner.

With approximately 400 employees, the SWA provides solid waste disposal and recycling services and programs to the county’s 1.4 million residents and businesses and also provides solid waste and recycling collection services to the residents and businesses in unincorporated Palm Beach County through private haulers.

The mission of the SWA is to manage the materials discarded by county residents and businesses in a manner consistent with its legislative mandate, applicable local, state and federal ordinances, regulations and laws.

The SWA has built an award-winning integrated system of facilities that combines recycling, renewable energy and land filling to effectively manage the county’s waste.

The SWA’s system includes two waste-to-energy facilities, landfills, a materials recycling facility, a biosolids processing facility, seven household hazardous waste collection facilities and a network of six transfer stations.

The programs developed and implemented by the SWA are designed to integrate solid waste transportation, processing, recycling, resource recovery and disposal technologies, protect the environment while achieving the state’s 75 percent recycling and waste reduction.

Recycling is supported by a continuing educational program to help residents understand how and what to recycle. Many well-meaning residents, however, do not recycle effectively causing the recycle stream to be contaminated thus increasing costs to the county. If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember used pizza boxes are not suitable for recycling due to the grease they absorb.

The SWA provides businesses with Waste Reviews so they can better manage their garbage and recyclables.

For residents, the SWA offers onsite tours for school and community groups (over 1,400 since 2009) and educational presentations coupled with recycling education materials.

In the first five months of 2018, over 30 tons of paper was recycled for net revenue to the county of over $1.5 million. The combined total of recyclables (including paper, glass and plastic) exceeded 48 tons with net revenues exceeding $3.7 million.

Since 2010, under a revenue share program, over $9.5 million in net revenue was distributed to Palm Beach county cities. Boca Raton has received the biggest share of those funds ($1.4 million), followed by West Palm Beach ($1.3) and Delray Beach ($885,000).

Events generate a significant amount of recyclable material. The 2017 Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl produced 3.2 tons of recyclable material.

Residents, however, need to understand that unless the materials are properly separated, its value is diminished. One simple behavioral change is to refrain from placing contaminated materials in with the recyclables.

It is also important to realize that materials placed at the curb (e.g. cardboard boxes) that have not been cut down to fit in the yellow bin will not be recycled. Those materials will likely be handled as a bulk pickup item and, ultimately, used to generate electrical energy as part of the county’s Waste-to-Energy program.

The SWA Waste-to-Energy facility reduces the volume of waste disposed in the landfill while producing clean energy from household garbage.

According to the EPA, WTE plants are a “clean, reliable, renewable source of energy” that generate electricity “with less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity.”

In fact, WTE plants improve air quality by decreasing the consumption of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas.

Additionally, the SWA uses landfill gas, which consists primarily of methane, as a renewable energy source to produce clean energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.

At the SWA’s Biosolids Processing Facility, landfill gas is used to power the sludge dryers as an alternative to natural gas. The SWA and its partners constructed this facility to provide for the efficient and environmentally safe disposal of sludge from wastewater treatment plants. Sludge is dried, pelletized and sold to fertilizer blenders as a natural and nutrient rich component of commercial fertilizers.

To learn more, visit SWA.org