There’s a new, but experienced hand at the helm of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority.
Former chief operating officer Richard P. “Rick” Watson, 57, assumed the job of chief executive officer on Jan. 1, replacing Pasquale S. “Pat” Canzano, who retired after seven years on the job.
Watson was named to the position by the Authority’s board of directors in October; he was replaced as COO by Robin Roddy, former senior facility manager at the Authority’s Cherry Island Landfill in Wilmington.
Watson’s new job caps a 32-year record with the DSWA, a statewide agency established in 1975 with a mission to develop and run solid waste management programs in the state.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Watson holds a master’s degree in engineering, and, following a three-year stint as an environmental engineer with Conrail, came to the DSWA in 1981.
He had barely settled in when he was given the job of finding a site for a new Sussex County landfill.
“It was really a pretty interesting project,” Watson said, adding that not only did engineers have to pick a site, they had to hold public hearings, and then design and oversee construction and operation of the new landfill.
But before much of anything could be done, however, Watson had to do a little legwork.
“When we selected the site, it was actually three parcels divided by dirt roads,” he recalled. “We wanted those roads closed, so we had to go to any property owner that bordered those roads and get permission.”
“I went out, knocking on doors, saying ‘We’re building a landfill, and we’d appreciate it if you would allow us to close this road.’
“It wasn’t too bad, but it was a little scary the first time for me,” he said.
The Jones Crossroads landfill was opened in September 1984 and occupies 572 acres between Millsboro and Laurel.
The state has two additional landfills, an 834-acre site near Sandtown in Kent County, and the 513-acre Cherry Island site in Wilmington.
Delaware operates under a universal recycling law, which requires all trash haulers to provide single-stream service to their customers. This allows consumers to toss all recyclable trash − newspapers, cardboard, glass, plastics, etc. − into one container, the contents of which are hauled to one of three transfer stations, and eventually to a central materials recovery facility in New Castle, where the various categories of waste are separated, baled and eventually sold.
Waste that cannot be recycled – mostly organics such as food – is sent to the three landfills.
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Looking to the future, Watson feels one of the biggest challenges DSWA will continue to face is keeping down processing costs, primarily because of competition from private trash haulers.
In addition, Delaware has seen a drop in the amount of material going into the landfills over the past few years, partly because people and companies have become more aware of the waste they generate and have taken steps to reduce what they throw away, Watson said.
Many large retailers see it as a way to reduce their expenses because if they generate less waste, they don’t have to pay as much to have it hauled away, he said.
Individual households also are generating less trash, Watson said. A decade ago, the average household discarded approximately 1.6 tons of waste annually; that number has dropped to approximately 1.1 tons, he said.
The amount of material going to landfills also has dropped, Watson said, with 1.2 million tons of waste put into landfills back in 2006; that number has dropped almost by half, to 675,000 tons last year, he said. Today, the state is recycling approximately 40 percent of its waste, compared to approximately 23 percent seven years ago.
“It’s a combination of things,” Watson said. “Construction waste has really dropped a lot, due to the recession, which also means people aren’t buying as many things.
“On top of that, we’re just not seeing as much waste generated to begin with,” Watson said. “There’s been an increase in recycling and recovery, and we’re recovering a lot more than we used to.”
This increased amount of recycling also means the state’s three landfills may last much longer than anticipated. Assuming landfill use continues at its current pace, estimates place the longevity of the Jones Crossroads facility at 15 to 20 more years, Watson said. The Sandtown landfill will be useable for at least another quarter-century, while the Cherry Island facility will be operational until approximately 2050.
“If we can reduce the amount we put into the landfill, they’ll last much longer,” he said. “All three have space to expand and we’re in really good shape now with our facilities, well into the next century. We want to be able to use those assets, our land, to the maximum extent possible.”
For additional information about the Delaware Solid Waste Authority and its programs, visit www.dswa.com.