Six Ways to Make Waste Management Easier After Hurricanes And Flooding

Whether it is the unprecedented downpour of 35.93 inches after Hurricane Florence, or the impact of Hurricane Michael – the most intense landfalling hurricane in the past 49 years, one of the major challenges after hurricanes is the tremendous task of waste collection.

Types of Waste Management Issues After Hurricanes and Floods

Apart from the spread of waste material during hurricanes and subsequent flooding, there is a range of significant issues that need timely and efficient attention.

  • Delayed Debris Collection – Floodwaters, unsafe street conditions, displaced animals like snakes, lack of diesel for collection trucks, and employees trapped in homes due to flooded roads, are all factors that often delay debris collection. These delays can also lead to more toxic chemicals leaching into the floodwaters since waste and debris are not being cleaned up immediately.
  • Recycling Challenges – Piles of waste sitting in contaminated water for days or sometimes even weeks before being picked up by haulers means additional cleaning and sanitization of the material needs to be done before reuse. This, along with other factors, delays the recycling process.

Materials like electronics that can be easily cleaned and recycled are disposed of because people typically have an urge to throw away everything after a disaster. With all of the damage that hurricanes cause, people scramble to recover as quickly as possible, which means that the additional task of properly separating the items for recycling is not usually a priority. This results in a majority of debris finding their way into landfills instead of being recycled.

  • Hazardous Industrial Waste Spills – The disposal of hazardous industrial wastes such as coal ash, a toxic waste product of burning coal during energy production, is often carried out by storing it in landfills. However, sometimes this can go wrong. An example of this would be a landfill collapse at the Duke Energy power station near Wilmington, North Carolina during Hurricane Florence that involved displaced coal ash that could fill nearly 180 dump trucks. Coal ash and other industrial waste spills can cause the contamination of water with heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, and selenium, which are highly toxic for the environment and for humans.
  • Biological Waste Spills and Their Impact – Besides chemical waste, there can also be incidents of biological waste spills, an example of this being the overflow of pig waste during and after Hurricane Florence. This untreated waste is hazardous for the environment and can negatively impact marine life, in addition to exposing humans to health hazards.

There can also be accidental wastewater contamination due to heavy rainfall such as the incident in Greensboro, where nearly 63,000 gallons of untreated sewage water flowed from the sanitary sewer main into North Carolina’s Cape Fear River basin tributary.

While it goes without saying that the humongous task of waste collection and disposal must be undertaken as early as the conditions become safe for the haulers to start waste management, taking these steps can make waste management efforts safer and less chaotic.

  1. Planning is key – Before any natural disaster, organization and staff responsibilities should be established at national, regional and local government levels along with agencies and departments. Estimate the types, amounts, and characteristics of waste that are usually generated during hurricanes and floods.

It’s also important to create an inventory of existing solid waste management facilities including composting, recycling, combustion, and disposal facilities with their normal capacity and ability to manage the additional load.

Transportation options to such facilities should be assessed to carry the debris. Roll-off and dewatering containers, and vacuum boxes to store different kinds of waste material can be rented from suppliers who specialize in disaster relief.

  1. Identification of temporary waste storage sites– Hurricanes and floods are capable of generating much more debris than you expect. This is why it is imperative to select temporary sites at a convenient location for storing and processing debris that reduces travel time and expedites debris clean-up.
  2. Proper separation of waste – With waste separation and waste reduction techniques, hurricane waste disposal can become easier and more efficient.
      • Volume Reduction – Ideal for woody debris, this method reduces debris volume by as much as 75% by producing mulch.
      • Reuse and Recycle – Scrap metal and C&D (construction and demolition) debris from collapsed bridges, roads, and demolished buildings, vegetative debris, and other wood products can be recycled and reused. C&D debris and damaged automobiles form a major part of hurricane and flood debris.
      • Waste to Energy – Vegetative and C&D debris can also be sent to waste-to-energy facilities that use combustible materials for energy production by reducing their volume by 85-90%.
      • Landfill Waste Disposal – Landfills can help with waste management after reuse, recycling, and energy recovery.
  1. Improve industrial waste disposal – Strengthening industrial waste management procedures can help reduce future incidents similar to the Duke Energy coal ash spill. One way is to mandate that energy and industrial businesses dispose of waste at safe, lined landfills.
  2. Debris removal strategies – Having an effective debris removal strategy in place can significantly help get life back to normal in the shortest time possible. It can be achieved by prioritizing clearing main roads and roads connected to health care facilities, providing clear routes to emergency vehicles and law enforcement, as well as the resumption of critical services.
  3. Inventory equipment and supplies – Taking inventory of the type of equipment and supplies along with fuel and fueling facilities should be planned ahead of time. Roll-off containers and boxes can store and carry massive C&D waste, making them ideal when it comes to solid waste management during natural disasters.

Ironclad Environmental Solutions offers emergency storage solutions for municipal, construction, oil and gas, and other industries. Our team of experts can work with you to get the right inventory ready to help stay equipped and manage hurricane aftermaths better. We also offer portable spill containment berms to prepare your business for any tank leaks. Request a quote to tell us your specific storage and containment needs today.