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St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Solid Waste Program

National Pollution Prevention Roundtable Tribal Workgroup Conference Call

Tuesday June 16, 2009 at 2 pm EDT, 1 pm CDT, Noon MDT, 11am PDT

Guest Speaker: Laura Weber, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe

Laura covered one of the priority topics identified in our Spring 2009 survey — solid waste. She provided a history of the Tribe’s solid waste program and its evolution in dealing with open dumps, codes, and a waste oil pilot project.

The St Regis Mohawk Tribe is a federally recognized tribe in upstate New York. Laura has been working with the tribe since 1995. When she began, they had no solid waste program in place. Several haulers from outside the community were available, but most didn’t want to use private haulers. Open dumping and open burning was rampant. Her mandate was to develop a program to manage solid waste.

First mandate was to conduct a waste stream feasibility study for a tribally owned and operated solid waste program. A consultant went door-to-door in the community interviewing residents on their practices. Materials were even separated for recycling, but haulers were trashing them. Laura highly recommends a feasibility study as the first step in the process. She worked to understand how much solid waste was being generated, what types of materials they’re dealing with, and what type of system would best help the community.

There are 5 components to the St Regis Solid Waste System:

  • Development of the solid waste regulations. Air regulations cover open burning (what you can and cannot burn). The regulations also require haulers to get permits from the environment division and fill out annual reports to tribal compliance officers. Facilities on the reservation also need a permit.
  • Four R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Respect. Respect is important as that is the base of the work — respect for others and respect for Mother Earth. Behavior needs to change and much of outreach efforts focuses on this. Target audience is children to help shift parental behaviors. They developed a comic strip with local Mohawk artist. This has been a BIG HIT!
  • Solid Waste Community Service Agency: Tribal solid waste transfer station opened in 2005. Since 2002, they’ve had curbside recycling. Pay-as-you-throw system: 30 gallon bags pre-purchased and then taken to recycling depot. Recycling depot has been free for blue bag customers.
  • Sustainability: Entire program should be sustained from revenues. However, anyone who operates a facility knows it’s challenging to have it break even. They form partnerships with other entities to reduce costs, do joint marketing, and otherwise leverage activities. They even spent a few years studying the feasibility of blending veggie oil into diesel, and resulted in one of their trucks went down, and they ended up dropping the project.
  • Monitoring: Curbside collection, recycling depot, and other elements generate a lot of data. She spends time making forecasts and monitoring performance. Their Solid Waste Management Plan has been in place since early 2000. They established a committee this year working on a plan update. They also want to look at regulations and revise to make them more effective and clarify grey areas.

Future Efforts

  • They are always looking at other types of materials to collect. The tribe received an EPA grant for waste fluorescent lamp recycling (if broken, they become hazardous waste; if they remain intact, they can be handled under universal waste rule). They now accept fluorescent lighting at their station and recycle 1-2 times per year. They’ve developed a waste lamp training manual, designed to help other Indian Nations to design their own program.
  • They’re investigating getting a transfer trailer to carry municipal solid waste (MSW), and are exploring adding electronics recycling.
  • They’ve done composting studies looking at their casino.

Q&A:

  • Who’s on the updating committee for SWMP? (Donna Trumbley, Thunder Environmental (non-profit) in Anchorage AK.)
    It’s an internal committee, with her, solid waste management clerk, and directors and compliance staff of the environmental department. Once revised, they’ll submit to tribal council for approval.
  • Do you have advice for people who don’t have a solid waste division on how to form a committee?
    AK situation is different than lower 48. When they were looking for land for a transfer station, she developed a community out reach plan. That could be part of a solid waste training community engagement.
  • Have you seen a decrease in open burning?
    They have. There’s a misnomer that people make money on recycling. They make no money as a small program, and it costs money. It would be cheaper to dispose of all recyclables as garbage.
  • How can one get a copy of the DVD for their solid waste management plan?
    Go to their website, http://www.srmtenv.org, and go to the Solid Waste Management resources section of the website.
  • What are examples of “grey areas” that need to be clarified in regulations?
    The definition of “solid waste”. They took the RCRA definition, rather than break it down by other areas, which has been problematic. So, for example, the hauler needs a permit to pick up recyclables (because solid waste is defined as any generated material?)
  • What about household hazardous waste?
    They’ve had two household collection days in the past, funded by the EPA regional office, and which have been successful. Last fall, they collected more than the previous two years combined, and it came way under budget, so they’ll hold a third collection this fall. They held it at the transfer station which helped things run smoothly. They’ve also scheduled earlier to capture good weather. People in the community would like to have it on a more regular basis. Also, they have an annual spring clean-out for bulky items.