Change in California wood waste regulations to lead to greater challenges, costs, recyclers say

Change in California wood waste regulations to lead to greater challenges, costs, recyclers say

The mandate that treated wood waste must be discarded in hazardous waste landfills after Jan. 1 has C&D recyclers concerned about the ramifications of new legislation.

December 18, 2020

In late September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill (SB) 68. This bill would have allowed for an extension of alternate management standards that govern treated wood waste (TWW) in the state, which were set to expire on Dec. 31. While this extension would have allowed TWW to be continued to be accepted at Class II and III landfills, the bill was struck down.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) recently posted information clarifying how TWW must be handled within the state after Jan. 1, 2021.

DTSC says the sunsetting of the state’s alternate management standards will impose significant new regulations and requirements for how TWW is managed.

Specifically, DTSC Director Meredith Williams comments in a letter written Dec. 16, “Treated wood waste will no longer be eligible to be managed according to the alternative management standards, and instead will be subject to the full set of hazardous waste regulations. This includes the requirement that treated wood must be disposed in Class I hazardous waste landfills (or in landfills in other states that do not regulate treated wood waste as hazardous wastes).”

DTSC notes that treated wood waste contains hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, chromium, copper, creosote, pentachlorophenol, and other toxic and carcinogenic substances that can pose threats to human health and the environment “especially when mismanaged or disposed improperly.”

However, despite the effective date of the new regulation, DTSC says there will be a temporary variance that allows businesses short-term relief from complying with the standard. The temporary variance will allow the state legislature to explore and consider alternative options for the management of TWW within the state.

“To avoid the potential mismanagement and illegal disposal of treated wood waste that the additional requirements and disposal costs are expected to cause, DTSC intends to issue temporary variances to allow treated wood waste to continue to be managed pursuant to the alternative management standards and disposed in composite-lined landfills. … We hope that more protective, longer-term solutions can be found to replace the continuation of the alternative management standards and disposal in solid waste landfills,” Williams states.

Williams’ full letter detailing the legislative change is available online. The DTSC also has posted a TWW fact sheet on its website.

The vetoed legislation is poised to lead to widespread ramifications for material generators, C&D recyclers, landfill operators and other industry participants.

Michael Gross, director of sustainability at San Jose, California-based Zanker Recycling, told Construction & Demolition Recycling that the legislative changes will require greater due diligence, and cost, to sort incoming materials.

“We have notified all our customers, especially our debris box customers and transfer stations that ship C&D materials to us, that we shall be inspecting every load received,” Gross says. “Our land checking program starts at the gate, and if we see TWW in a contractor’s load, we will give them the option to remove the TWW prior to tipping and take it back with them or they will not be allowed to dump their materials. When we find materials in a load already tipped, our load checker along with the driver will take a photo of the TWW and the load will be charged an extra $100 service fee. We're still developing a cost to clean a load, but the ballpark price will be $100 to $300 per yard. Disposal of the TWW will cost us over $100 per yard and that is without all collection and processing costs, and since all materials at Zanker are sorted prior to disposal, we know we will find orphaned TWW. We’re just hoping for a quick solution by the DTSC, but like most things in life, we expect to be disappointed.”

Brock Hill, owner of the San Jose-based Premier Recycle Company, told Construction & Demolition Recycling that the change in legislation doesn’t allow the affected parties adequate time to address the changes that new regulations will bring about, and instead, presents a range of logistical hurdles for recyclers in the state.

“The veto of SB68 has caught the C&D recycling industry by surprise, to say the least. Sure, we can do better as a population to reduce the amount of toxicity in our landfills, but this was not the way to go about it,” Hill says. “Like the arbitrarily high landfill mandates of the past decade, this vetoed bill effectively places the onus of producer responsibility on the sorting facilities and processors themselves. There was no intention to speak to stakeholders and put the pieces of a plan in place. Instead, we are forced to cut off valued customers, leading them to feel like they were part of the problem.

“Logistical issues aside, there is only one landfill in the Northern California area, and another in Nevada, that can accept the TWW that is now considered a hazardous waste. The generators, being decking contractors, fencing companies and residential homebuilders, will face astronomical cost increases associated with TWW disposal. Most are still unaware of the changes. The problem is worsened by the lack of availability of HAZMAT and abatement haulers. My worry is that in a state with a rampant illegal dumping problem as it is, many small companies will resort to just that, as there was no time to build a robust infrastructure capable of handling the newly oncoming wall of demand.

“Industry groups are scrambling to look for a fix, but unfortunately, time is quickly running out. Facilities are lining up to reject the material.”