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United Way of Lancaster County


LCSWMA eyes need for more landfill capacity, technology investments

LCSWMA Lancaster Waste-to-Energy Facility in Conoy Township. (Source: Klean Industries)

For the first two decades of the 21st century, favorable conditions allowed the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority to keep tipping fee hikes few and far between.

Robert Zorbaugh

Since, then, however, a range of “unique financial challenges” have necessitated a series of increases, and more are likely coming, officials said during a presentation Tuesday to the Lancaster County commissioners.

That’s because LCSWMA must continue making capital investments, both to increase its capacity so it can handle higher local trash volumes and to comply with upcoming environmental regulations, CEO Robert Zorbaugh said.

“If we don’t have to raise fees, we don’t want to,” he said. But given the cost increases of recent years, along with what’s ahead, the authority will be looking at making a series of “more frequent, consistent” increases, he said.

(Source: LCSWMA)

Between 2020 and 2024, LCSWAMA raised tipping fees from $78 to $97 per ton for trash and from $60 to $80 per ton for construction and demolition debris. Going forward, Zorbaugh said increases might be in the neighborhood of $2 per ton, more or less in line with the inflation rate. Typically by late August, he said, the authority has a good sense of whether an increase will be warranted for the coming year.

In 2023, LCSWMA spent $7 million on equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions during combustion at the Lancaster County Waste-to-Energy Facility, required to meet new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Millions more have gone to fire suppression upgrades at LCSWMA facilities to deal with the increased risk from lithium batteries, which are highly flammable. There have been several conflagrations overseas that have spooked insurers, Zorbaugh noted, making it harder for LCSWMA and its peers to secure coverage. Encouragingly, the authority was able to renew its property insurance with a premium reduction of 11%, or $467,000, bucking the trend toward sharp increases in the industry as a whole.

Then there’s the capacity issue. LCSWMA is in the midst of its Frey Farm Landfill vertical expansion project, which will provide disposal space through 2038. The authority is already planning for its needs after that, mindful of the long time it takes to go through the permitting process and put a site into operation.

All told, the authority is averaging $17.5 million a year in capital investment, Zorbaugh said.

Tipping fees are paid by trash haulers and ultimately are borne by residential and commercial customers. In Lancaster, for example, increased tipping fees motivated the $6-per-quarter increase in trash rates incorporated in the city’s 2023 budget.

In 2023, 20% of LCSWMA’s revenues came from energy production. While trash volumes and revenues are relatively predictable, energy revenues are extremely volatile. In 2020, LCSWMA was earning $93 per megawatt; that’s down to the low $20s, Zorbaugh said.

(Source: LCSWMA)

Asked about LCSWMA’s policy of limiting recycling to the “Big 4” (corrugated cardboard, plastic bottles, metal cans and glass bottles and jars) Zorbaugh said it is serving Lancaster County well, providing a cleaner recycling waste stream for J.P. Mascaro & Sons, LCSWMA’s recycling vendor. The county’s recycling rate is 48%, versus a national average of 32%.

A lot of “wishful recycling” still ends up in curbside bins, Zorbaugh said: The more that people can stick to the Big 4, the better.

Consumer education is also key to limiting the risk from rechargeable lithium and nickel batteries, Zorbaugh said. At present, LCSWMA is putting out battery fires every week or so, he said, calling them one of the most significant risks of the past 30 years.

Found in cellphones, computers, power tools and other devices, they should never be thrown out with regular trash. they should instead be taken to LCSWMA’s Household Hazardous Waste drop-off (1299 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster) or dropped off at a retailer that collects batteries for safe disposal, such as Home Depot, Lowes or Staples.

Dan Youngs

Zorbaugh is nearing the end of his tenure as LCSWMA CEO. At the end of September, he will hand the reins to Dan Youngs, who has been the authority’s chief financial officer since 2019.

Zorbaugh said the transition will begin July 1 and that he’ll remain on hand through the end of the year to provide consultation as needed.

LCSWMA is considered one of the country’s most innovative waste management authorities, having shifted to burning or recycling most of its trash ahead of most of its peers. As a result, only about 5% of total trash volume ends up as landfill.

Many residents don’t understand “the gem we have” in LCSWMA, Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said: “Keep it going.”

LCSWMA is an independent municipal authority, whose board is appointed by the commissioners.

Besides Lancaster County, LCSWMA also serves Harrisburg and its suburbs, where it operates a second waste-to-energy facility, the Susquehanna Resource Managment Complex.