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VALLEY BUSINESS | SUN VALLEY: CHANGE IS IN THE AIR

Landfill Manager's Work Piles Up in Recycling and Regulation

June 20, 2000|DAN GORDON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SUN VALLEY — The Bradley Landfill and Recycling Center is a $50-million-a-year business with 70 full-time employees and a customer base that includes the city of Los Angeles. But for the man charged with managing the site, conventional business concerns only begin to fill the job description.

For at least three hours a day, Scott Tignac dons hard hat and Redwing steel-toed boots, hops into his Ford F-350 pickup truck and observes the bustling waste disposal and recycling activities around the 209-acre site.

At the active portion of the landfill, he is studying traffic flow, making sure environmental and safety regulations are followed, and checking that the trash is covered properly.

Four-wheeling it over the bumpy dirt path to the other side, home of Bradley's recycling operations, Tignac wants to know that the facility's pricey equipment is operating effectively and efficiently.

Along the way, he sticks his head out the window to take a whiff of the odors being generated. In consideration of its industrial and residential neighbors, Bradley is required to mitigate the noise, dust and smell that go hand-in-hand with a busy trash business.

Back in the office, he'll attend to other concerns, from updating the facility's environmental compliance systems to monitoring weather reports. "A change in weather can affect our entire day," Tignac said. "It could be nice and sunny, then all of a sudden the wind picks up and we have to remobilize."

Close to the Golden State and Hollywood freeways, Bradley receives loads from about 1,100 trucks daily. They range from large transfer trailer trucks and municipal collection vehicles to the gardener-driven small pickups and any of the 270-or-so commercial haulers.

The trucks bring in about 10,000 tons of refuse each weekday (the maximum that Bradley is permitted to accept on a daily basis) and another 4,000 tons on Saturdays.

About two dozen field staffers at the landfill serve the dual role of looking for items not accepted (recyclables and hazardous materials) and directing traffic. "We probably have one to two accidents a month--fortunately, nothing serious," Tignac said.

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Bradley began operations in 1959 and was bought in 1986 by industry giant Waste Management Inc., which owns and operates about 300 landfills in North America as well as providing waste collection, transfer, disposal, recycling and recovery services to roughly 27 million commercial, industrial, municipal and residential customers.

While Bradley West and West Extension continue to receive solid waste for disposal, Bradley East was previously filled and is now used for recycling operations.

Wood--much of it discarded from movie sets--and green wastes, fed by the city of Los Angeles' curbside collection program, are processed for reuse as fuel for electric power, composting and other agricultural purposes. A landfill gas recovery system collects methane produced by the decomposing wastes and sells the recovered gas for use in electrical power generation.

A third operation, Construction and Demolition, produces materials used mostly on site as road base and daily cover for the trash.

These days, most of the city's residential waste goes to either Granada Hills' Sunshine Canyon Landfill or Bradley West. The municipal trash represents about one-fifth of Bradley's overall intake. A smaller amount is brought in by the public--landscapers and individual entrepreneurs who use pickup trucks to carry off residents' large items, for example.

By far, the biggest generators at Bradley are the many commercial haulers that contract with businesses for collection.

Although geography plays a major role in where the trash ends up (a shorter haul generally means a cheaper one), so does ownership. Landfill companies with their own collection services will typically "internalize" their own trash, meaning that their haulers may pass competitors' sites en route to their own.

"With all of the mergers, the trash is constantly changing direction," Tignac said.

Maximizing Its Key Asset

Bradley generates revenue from the landfill by charging tipping fees--an amount per ton of garbage dumped. The facility maximizes its profit margins by making the best use of its key asset: the hole it's filling. Like many dumps in the area, Bradley was once a gravel pit.

"The more tons you can get into that space, the longer you stay open and the more money you generate," Tignac said.

To that end, compactors are used to make the waste more dense and Bradley, like other landfills, substitutes recyclable material--in this case, wood-chip tarps from its Construction and Demolition operations--for dirt. The use of so-called alternative daily cover material saves air space, since the tarps, unlike dirt, will decompose.

The $32-per-ton tipping fee charged at the gate has remained relatively flat in recent years, but revenue has increased, partly because other nearby dumps are filling up--sending more trucks to Bradley.

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