Thousand Oaks Household Hazardous Waste Facility

The City takes HHW management to a new level.

Credit: iStock/NoDerog

The City of Thousand Oaks, CA, has operated a successful monthly collection event for the past two decades. As the monthly events were reaching maximum capacity, it was time for the City, a family-oriented community with a population of approximately 126,000 residents, to consider a permanent Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facility. This option would provide the residents and operators with a safer, more convenient, and more environmentally sensitive infrastructure to dispose of the City’s HHW.

What Is HHW?
HHW refers to the waste resulting from products purchased by the general public for household use, which—because of its quantity, concentration, physical, chemical, or infectious characteristics—may pose a substantial known or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, disposed of, or otherwise managed. Household hazardous waste also includes materials that, in combination with other solid waste, may be infectious, explosive, poisonous, caustic, toxic, or exhibit any of the characteristics of ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity. Some common HHW items may include antifreeze, household batteries, television/computer monitors, oil based paints, motor oil, rodent poison, fluorescent lamps, used oil filters, weed killer, latex paints, and such. (Visit for additional information.)

According to a California 2008 Statewide Waste Characterization Study, HHW makes up 0.3% of California’s overall disposed wastestream. Although this is a small amount of the overall wastestream, the impact is significantly more harmful on the environment and human health if not handled properly.

Advantages, Disadvantages of Building a Permanent HHW Facility
A permanent HHW facility has various advantages and disadvantages that each community should consider when deciding whether or not to build one.

A permanent facility serves to protect the environment, as well as provide a safer and more flexible way to collect and dispose of hazardous waste. A major environmental concern is having hazardous waste material end up in the landfills and increasing the toxicity of the leachate getting into the groundwater. Therefore, a HHW facility provides a community with a safe and permanent location to dispose of HHW. With the facility nearby, residents have greater flexibility and convenience with expanded hours to drop off their HHW. Combined with community outreach and education, the facility can result in greater participation and reduced illegal dumping. The facility operator benefits as well as they can prepare for the amount of material being dropped off and plan accordingly. Furthermore, a permanent HHW facility can provide a safe and effective infrastructure to handle hazardous waste in the event of a natural or human-caused catastrophic event.

Among myriad challenges in developing a permanent facility, the capital cost expenditures to acquire the land and build the facility can be prohibitively high. Additionally, ongoing operational and maintenance costs may be significant. Obtaining the proper permitting and land use approval can be time-consuming, complicated, and require a long-term political commitment.

Collection History
For almost two decades, the City of Thousand Oaks operated a monthly HHW collection program for the public and small businesses. These events were extremely successful, averaging 400–450 participants, with some events exceeding 550 participants in a five-hour period. The collections were averaging 35,000 pounds a month, and occasionally exceeding 40,000 pounds.

Although successful, the monthly events were reaching maximum capacity and could not be expanded to add additional weekends. Staff frequently received calls from residents who could not make the available event dates and needed an alternative schedule options. To meet these needs, and to offer the public greater convenience, flexibility, and safety, the City decided to open a permanent HHW facility that would offer more operating hours.

Credit: Eugene Tseng Area where residents drop off HHW materials

Credit: Eugene Tseng
Area where residents drop off HHW materials

Design of the Facility
The 3,900-square-foot facility was built with the goal of becoming a “reference benchmark” in environmental leadership. The facility was designed to maximize operational efficiency and environmental sustainability. The facility incorporated the best HHW design features by drawing on key findings from a CalRecycle study of more than 30 HHW facilities conducted by Professor Eugene Tseng of the UCLA Extension, Recycling/MSW Management Certificate Program. Furthermore, since environmental leadership is a core value of City of Thousand Oaks, it was important to build an environmentally sustainable building. To achieve these goals, Mainstreet Architects & Planners Inc. was selected to design the facility, as the firm specializes and has documented experiences in creating “environmentally sustainable architecture that enhances the communities.”

The HHW facility incorporated design elements to enhance the efficiency of the operational flow with the emphasis on health and safety. For instance, the facility was designed with clearly delineated functional operational areas for receiving, unloading, transfer, processing, consolidation, storage, and loadout/shipping areas. This allows materials to move with ease within the facility with minimal internal cross-traffic and congestion.

The facility was also carefully designed to ensure operational safety, and to meet both safety and environmental regulatory requirements. For instance, easily visible and accessible emergency eyewash basin and shower and special fire suppression systems were placed throughout the facility. The storage floor area was built with concrete block partitions and grating over secondary containment to provide additional protection from accidental spills. Furthermore, the secondary containment area of was significantly increased over the capacity of a typical facility. The capacity of the secondary containment area of this facility accounts for the amount of water and other materials that would be used to extinguish a fire in the facility, not just the volume of potential liquids in storage.

An important design goal was to build a sustainable building that could achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Hence, sustainable practices were implemented both inside the building, and within the project site to use energy, water, and other resources efficiently, and to reduce the overall impact to the environment. In particular, the facility made smart use of natural ventilation and daylighting in conjunction with high-efficiency mechanical equipment and fixtures to reduce energy requirements. These sustainable design features earned the facility LEED Silver certification.

Silver Certified Plaque
The facility’s design was adapted to suit the local environmental conditions. Given the location of the facility in drought-prone southern California, water efficiency and conservation was a particularly important sustainability goal. A high-efficiency irrigation system and the use of native plants reduced the water consumption of the facility. For stormwater management, the site incorporated filtration strategies such as bioswales and permeable paving systems. A roof was built over the unloading area to provide protection from the strong southern California sun, as well as rainfall/stormwater.

Operations of the Facility
The facility is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Residents are advised to make online registration by noon on the Thursday prior to each collection event, and appointments times are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. This appointment system helps the facility allocate appropriate staffing and manage the flow of drop-offs. In addition to the residents who register online, there are still those who come without appointments. Unlike the monthly collection events, the permanent facility has greater possibility to expand hours in the future should there be an increase in demand.

The City has historically used a contractor to conduct the monthly events and continues to do so in the permanent facility. Consideration was given to having City staff operate the facility, but the specialized expertise required and the significant liability associated with hazardous waste operations were a significant concern, and the City decided to continue with contract operations. After a thorough Request for Proposals (RFP) process, the existing contractor (PSC Environmental, now Stericycle) was ultimately awarded the new contract.

The City shifted more responsibility of managing HHW to the contractor and decided to eliminate the City’s HHW staff position once the staff member retired. In the place of the City staff, the contractor brought on a facility operations manager. The RFP was explicit that the contractor should operate the facility and take an advisory role, assisting the City in evaluating issues such as which materials to manage at the facility based on cost, customer convenience, and sustainability. Sustainability goals were also embedded in the RFP, and the contractor is therefore required to run a sustainable operation.

Social Elements
A permanent facility provides an excellent opportunity to educate and engage the local community and the broader public about safe disposal of HHW. From the initial planning phases, a core principle that has guided the design and programming of the facility has been the requirement to have a strong educational component. As a state-of-the art facility that integrates the industry’s best management practices, it serves as a teaching facility for the public and a case study for other jurisdictions. The facility has been committed to documenting and sharing its experiences through guided tours, online multimedia material, and collaboration with UCLA’s Recycling and Municipal Solid Waste Management Certificate Program.

Another important component of any environmental program is the outreach to local residents and businesses. The City’s Environmental Programs has a robust communications platform to share environment-related updates and news. Primary communications channels include the monthly Green Scene e-Newsletter, the City’s weekly blog, and the City’s GoGreen website, in addition to various social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. The City leveraged its existing communications efforts to provide information on hazardous waste and the facility.

A popular community program that the facility offers is the Material Reuse Store. A legacy of the temporary collections, the program used to give away over 1,000 pounds of usable material, such as paint and household cleaners, every month to the public for free at the monthly events. The design and layout of the permanent facility made the store an integral part of its operations, and the program continues to be popular with the residents. One frequent participant estimated that his family saved over $100 a month by using free material from the program.

Performance to Date
The HHW facility in the City of Thousand Oaks started its operations with the grand opening celebration on June 4, 2014, that brought together representatives from academic, media, industry, and local councilmembers. The facility opened with great support and enthusiasm from the community.

The facility has been proactive and diligent about documentation and record keeping. Performance metrics were discussed and selected early on during the planning of the facility and have been used as an effective tool for monitoring the HHW program’s progress. During the eight-month period between the grand opening and the drafting of this article, the facility had served 2,976 vehicles with drop-off material, averaging 372 vehicles per month. The amount of waste collected and processed at the facility totaled close to 240,000 pounds. Through the Material Reuse Store, the facility removed 14,962 pounds of material from the wastestream and distributed to residents for reuse.

The average number of vehicles served at the facility has been slightly lower than the number at the monthly collection events. This can partly be attributed to a natural drop during a transition period when the participating residents learn about the new appointment scheduling system and drop-off process at the new facility. Also, the eight-month collection numbers at the facility include the typically low drop-off level during the holiday months of November and December.

An advantage that the permanent facility offers over the monthly collection events is greater flexibility and convenience. Whereas the residents had one day a month to drop off their HHW in the previous model, they now have the option to schedule a time to visit the facility any week of the month. The appointment system also helps to control the flow of vehicles, allowing the facility to offer efficient and fast service to each visitor.

Despite the early successes of the facility, there are some areas that could have been improved. First, the City staff needed to be more hands-on and engaged throughout the entire planning and design phases to create an effective integrated design that factored in practical operational considerations. The lack of a dedicated overseer throughout the planning process resulted in some last-minute changes and delays.

Second, the primary focus was on getting the facility operational in the early months, and, as a result, other areas such as community outreach were overlooked. Even for a community like Thousand Oaks with a track record of running a successful monthly HHW collection program, a well-planned outreach and PR effort is critical to publicize the new facility.

Best Management Practices
The following practices are based on the City of Thousand Oaks’ experience in building a permanent HHW facility.

Find a Suitable Operating Model
Every city should evaluate their abilities and limitations then determine a risk management plan for how they are going to operate or manage the facility. Does it make sense to partner with a private contractor to reduce the liability? What is the appropriate mix for a public-private partnership model? It is important to know where the role of the city ends and the private contractor’s begins. These are all valuable questions to ask when considering to build a permanent HHW facility.

Practice Good Documentation and Record Keeping
A good practice for any project that has a lengthy timeframe is to keep proper documentation and to have it easily accessible. This creates continuity, which is important, especially when individuals or groups may leave or move on during the project timespan. Another reason to keep good records is to be able to share the knowledge and enable others to learn from the experience.

Prioritize Public Safety and the Environment
The primary purpose of building a permanent HHW facility should be to create a safe place for residents to drop off material, provide a secure work environment for the operators, and protect the local environment from being polluted. These goals should be considered at every point along process from planning, permitting, financing, designing, constructing, to operations.

Establish and Maintain Performance Metrics
Once the facility is operational, it is valuable to track how the facility is performing. One way to monitor activity is to establish a metrics collection system. Some useful data involves tracking the number of participants visiting the facility, the amount of material being dropped off, and composition of the material collected. The data can be used to manage the facility more efficiently and can also be shared with the community.

Remember to Engage the Community
A HHW facility is a service for the community, and therefore understanding the residents is key. What is the demographic and socio-economic makeup of the community? What are their attitudes regarding the environment? Are the residents highly proactive and plugged into their community? These are some of the questions to ask in order to build and operate a successful facility.

When planning the facility, it is important to include a PR campaign that reaches out to the community. There are several ways to connect with the residents. One way is through education and another is the use of social media. Education includes both informing residents about the facility’s operating hours, and what items are considered hazardous waste and will be accepted. Social media includes posting on the city’s website, setting up a Facebook page, creating an e-mail listing and database, etc., and, if necessary, to create a multilingual campaign as well.

Visit for more information about the Thousand Oaks HHW Facility. MSW_bug_web


Leave a Reply

Enter Your Log In Credentials