Cost and liability are among the concerns driving small businesses to seek new solutions
Fairbanks painting contractor Bill Bush generated 180 gallons of hazardous waste in the back of his shop last year while doing $1.7 million worth of commercial and military jobs. Not enough solvent and sludge to pay a waste hauler to take it away, but too much for him to ignore under state and federal laws.
Over a 12-month period, he took four 55-gallon drums of thinners, solvents and sludge to the hazardous waste roundups sponsored by the city of Fairbanks, which paid a waste hauler $520 a drum to dispose of it.
Bush is what the law calls a "conditionally exempt small-quantity generator": someone who accumulates less than 220 pounds per month of hazardous material, but who is still legally responsible for its disposal. Hazardous waste from small-business generators accounts for from 10 percent to 40 percent of the waste stream going to city collection programs in Alaska.
But this year Bush has a different plan for getting rid of at least part of his waste, a plan he believes will not only limit his legal liability, but cut down on the 265 gallons of solvents and thinners he buys each year.
Since July, Bush's company has been the laboratory for a pilot project started by the Fairbanks painters union with a grant from the Alaska State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). A $3,000 distillery bought with the grant money has been recycling solvents at Bush's company, and the Alaska Health Project, a non-profit organization that helps small businesses manage hazardous materials, is auditing the waste stream for content, volume and the cost-effectiveness of recycling.
"This experiment will help us find simple, cheaper ways to comply with state and federal laws, to save our members money, to reduce pollution and liability, and to make money through the on-site distillation of solvents," says Mike Andrews, the union's business manager and overseer of the project.
Andrews says if the project works, the local wants to take the distillery to the shops of the other 99 union members in Fairbanks and do solvent recovery on a regular, scheduled basis. "The word we get from the Lower 48 painters who have used this is that the still pays for itself in a year," he adds.
But even if the project recycles 90 percent of his waste, Bush still will be making trips to the Fairbanks roundup to dispose of sludge. In the future, though, he may not get a free ride from...