Wyoming city to maximize 50-year landfill capacity with full-cost accounting
- Cheyenne, Wyoming is pursuing an addendum to its integrated solid waste management plan, to be completed by Burns & McDonnell through a new contract, with the goal of making its multi-faceted operations financially sustainable for decades to come.
- As detailed in an RFP, the consulting firm has been tasked with completing a full-cost accounting (FCA) report on all municipal waste and recycling operations, creating an RFP to purchase routing software and writing a report on the city's yard waste composting operation.
- 2018 state approval for an expansion of the city's Happy Jack Landfill that will give it 49 years of capacity is a key driver behind this new work. “With that transition, it sparked the need to update our accounting procedures," Public Works Engineer Matt Theriault told Waste Dive. “We’re taking this opportunity also to implement some efficiencies that are going to help, hopefully, stabilize costs moving forward."
Wyoming's capital city handles waste and recycling collection for more than 22,500 residential and multi-family customers, along with waste collection for commercial customers and curbside yard waste service for more than 9,100. In addition to the landfill, the city also operates its own transfer station, household hazardous waste facility, recycling facility and composting operation. All of this amounted to a nearly $12.44 million operating budget in FY16, with $13.61 million in revenue.
By shifting to an FCA system, Cheyenne hopes to tighten its budget further. Having a more detailed accounting breakdown is also expected to be helpful when approaching local legislators about funding requests or potential fee increases. Exploring ways to change collection shifts to four 10-hour days is another possible opportunity for increased efficiencies.
Faced with challenging commodities markets — and unbound by state recycling requirements — Cheyenne could also choose to follow the trend of targeting its recycling program. Many other local governments with multi-decade landfill capacities have been tempted to do the same.
"[Recycling is] one of those things that we’ve been doing it now for 14 years and the community has come to expect that service. Of course with that expectation comes an efficiency ideal that we are expected to recycle as much as possible and divert as much as possible out of our landfill, so that hopefully we can get even more time," he said. “The FCA no doubt is going to show that really diverting is a fraction of the cost of burying it in place."
Having just come off a lengthy and expensive permitting process, Cheyenne has learned the value of maximizing this asset. Happy Jack has been operational since the early 1960s but appeared destined for closure by the early 2000s due to state regulatory requirements. In 2008, Cheyenne started exporting MSW to a landfill in Colorado, but by 2017, with permit approval imminent, the city ended that arrangement.
Now, Cheyenne's recyclables still go to market in Denver after being sorted by local company WYCO Recycling, but everything else stays local. Even with this distance factored in, Theriault said Cheyenne is saving money compared to disposal.
That kind of holistic thinking isn't always common, but with a 2020 state deadline for new state plans approaching, it may begin to catch on in Wyoming. Burns & McDonnell has seen similar interest from others around the country and believes this new project could have further potential.
"If they see that Cheyenne can do it, they’ll think they can do it," said Matt Evans, associate civil engineer at the firm. “Burns & McDonnell is very excited about working with the city on this project and looking forward to partnering with them on this challenge."
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