2007 Solid Waste Management Plan
4.4 Special Waste Management
Special wastes are those that require special handling or disposal because of their physical, chemical or biological characteristics. Examples of special waste types include waste tires, vehicle batteries and motor oil, household hazardous waste, medical (bio-hazardous) waste, liquid waste (e.g. septic pumping), petroleum contaminated soil, appliances, junk automobiles and electronic wastes (e.g. computers, monitors etc.). For the most part, Nevada's municipal waste programs have developed suitable facilities and procedures for managing these wastes; however, there are a few persistent or emerging problems with special wastes as noted in the next sections.
4.4.1 Waste Tires
Nevada has adopted regulations governing the management and transportation of waste tires but is one of the few States that still allow the landfilling of whole tires. Owing to the fact that most landfills accept tires, and that waste tire haulers are required to document proper disposal, Nevada does not have a large illegal tire dumping problem. On the other hand, because of the low-cost disposal option and the relatively high cost of tire recycling, waste tire recycling markets have not developed in Nevada. The landfilling of whole tires is operationally challenging, however, and is an inefficient use of disposal capacity. As a result, some landfill owners/operators have recently raised waste tire disposal fees, which could result in recycling being seen as a more attractive means of managing waste tires. Nevada's Waste Tire Management Plan (1994) recommends the development of tire-derived fuel (TDF) markets, such as cement and lime kilns, as a viable means of reducing waste tire landfilling while recovering their energy value.
4.4.2 Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)
Materials that have the characteristics of hazardous waste, if generated in households, are exempt from hazardous waste regulation. While household wastes such as solvents, cleaning compounds and pesticides can be legally disposed in municipal landfills, many citizens and local governments seek environmentally preferable methods for their disposal or recycling. NRS 444A.040 (Appendix 7) provides that municipalities with populations greater than 40,000 shall have a program for HHW management. In the Las Vegas valley, Douglas County and Carson City, a comprehensive HHW drop-off service is available to residents at no charge. In the Reno-Sparks area a private hazardous waste management company provides this service (drop-off) for a fee; however, it is unlikely that it serves the purpose of diversion of HHW from the municipal waste stream. Residents are far less likely to use such a service if they must pay to do so. Many rural counties collect used vehicle batteries and oil for recycling, but few of them have comprehensive HHW programs.
Elemental mercury recently received media attention following several incidents in Nevada. This attention has caused many citizens to inquire about proper disposal of elemental mercury from their homes, perhaps discovered in household storage or generated from discarded mercury-containing devices such as thermostats and thermometers. As a result, the NDEP developed a webpage and an informational brochure to provide information regarding the proper disposal of household waste mercury. The local waste disposal company or district health department remains the first point of contact for specific information regarding proper disposal. Information and assistance regarding the disposal of household hazardous waste may also be obtained from the NDEP.
4.4.3 Medical Waste
There are services throughout the State for the collection and disposal of medical waste generated in health care and veterinary facilities. Services for home-generated medical waste are not available, however. Sharps, medical instruments such as needles or lancets that are generated in the home are of particular concern because, they may become contaminated with blood-borne pathogens and are able to create a route of entry to the body. Sharps in the municipal waste stream pose a health hazard to sanitation workers who transport or work at facilities that manage household waste. While it may never be possible to fully eliminate sharps from the ordinary municipal waste stream, services that encourage separation from the municipal waste stream and the proportion of the use of sharps containers could further reduce the hazards to sanitation workers.
The Southern Nevada Health District solid waste management authority intends to adopt ordinances to provide for the storage, handling, processing, and disposal of medical waste to insure the safety of the public's health in Clark County. The Washoe County District Health Department has comprehensive Biohazardous Waste ordinances in place to regulate medical waste, including sharps. The Washoe County District Health Department is currently working with the garbage franchise holder to implement a "Sharps by Mail" program for sharps generated within households.
4.4.4 Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products
Disposal of excess pharmaceutical products has gained the attention of solid waste managers because of objections to the formerly-favored method of flushing unused drugs down the sink or toilet. Recent studies have shown that common drugs, and chemicals contained in personal care products, have appeared in the nation's surface waters at low concentrations (See USEPA webpage: http://www.epa.gov/esd/chemistry/pharma/faq.htm#Inwhattypes). While advances in chemical analysis have made it possible to detect these contaminants at trace levels in drinking water sources, little is known about their potential effects on human health or the environment at these levels. Although the potential for human health effects due to the presence of pharmaceutical wastes in drinking water is of concern, the effects on aquatic organisms may be more pronounced due to their continual exposure.
While the discharge of pharmaceuticals from manufacturing and the medical profession is already well defined and controlled, quantities released from diffuse sources (e.g. household waste) are harder to estimate or control. Diffuse sources include human excretion of ingested drugs and the disposal of excess drugs in the sanitary sewer or home septic system. A useful introduction to the complex issue of excess medication disposal can be found on the USEPA webpage: http://www.epa.gov/esd/chemistry/pharma/faq.htm#disposal. It is recommended that Nevada solid waste managers monitor emerging data on the environmental impacts of pharmaceutical wastes and the development of new management programs for them.
4.4.5 Electronic Waste
This wastestream (televisions, home computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment) is generated in increasing quantities in homes, schools and businesses throughout the nation. Some of these wastes fail hazardous waste toxicity characteristic tests and must, therefore, be managed according to hazardous wastes rules. Most notably, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) - the glass screen component of TVs and computer monitors - typically contain several pounds of lead. There is a cost to properly dispose of a standard sized monitor, or ship it to a glass recycling facility. Due to the waste management cost, electronic wastes are often stored indefinitely in warehouses and garages.
The electronic waste problem is not unique to Nevada. The States of California, Maine, Maryland, and Washington have already adopted laws and regulations to identify the responsibilities for funding and building the infrastructure to manage this waste. The National Electronics Products Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI), a multi-stakeholder effort to develop a national program for electronic waste recovery, dissolved in 2005 after failing to reach an agreement among manufacturing interests whether the program should be based on the collection of an "advance recovery fee" at the time of retail sale of the product, or on assigning responsibility to individual manufacturers to take back their waste products for proper management. A bill introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2004 that would begin to address this problem on a national level also failed to gain the support of stakeholders. In Nevada's 73rd Legislative Session (2005), AB-65 was introduced. This bill, which died in committee, would have imposed a ban on the landfilling of, "CRTs, laptop computers and similar video display devices" and would have required the NDEP to establish a program to recycle these wastes. The bill did not include funding provisions, however, without which an effective program would be impossible. "End-of-life" management of electronic wastes is an issue that is likely to become more pressing for Nevada unless a national program is established through Congressional action.
4.4.6 Items for future consideration, Sec. 4.4 - Special Wastes
1. Waste Tires: Continue to evaluate tire landfilling practices (ex. whole tire versus quartered), hazards, and disposal costs and investigate the current potential for TDF and tire recycling markets in Nevada.
2. Household Hazardous Waste: Continue to provide household hazardous waste startup grant funding to rural local governments that are willing to cover program maintenance costs.
3. Mercury: Continue to assist with and promote the collection of elemental mercury from the public. Continue with development of public education on the hazards of elemental mercury and the availability of non-hazardous alternative products.
4. Medical Waste: Promote the development of community collection programs for household sharps. Provide public information on existing sharps mail-in programs.
5. Electronic Wastes: In consultation with stakeholders, assess the current state of e-waste management in Nevada, identify potential health and environmental threats, and provide program recommendations. Continue to provide support for electronic waste collection events.