Daniel Willems is a fellow in the 2019 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. As part of the LEAF Fellowship, Daniel worked with Envirolink over the summer of 2019. Daniel is a second year Masters candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC. He currently works at the EFC as a Research Assistant on a water and wastewater regionalization project.
Across the country, communities are dealing with a shortage of water and wastewater treatment plant operators. This shortage – largely due to retirements occurring in an aging workforce – is leaving many municipalities in need of immediate replacements or short-term transition plans. Without qualified individuals to ensure state and federal standards are met for our drinking water and our wastewater, communities run the risk of failing to provide an essential public health service to their residents and local businesses.
Small, rural towns are particularly at risk. Many of these municipalities rely on operators to be far more than just operators. Small water system operators are often the system record keepers and have extensive system knowledge that may not be written or stored anywhere but in their own minds. A sudden retirement, illness, or extended leave has the potential to significantly impair system operations.
I learned about the importance of skilled operators and the issues that may arise when they are not present this summer as an EFC Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) Fellow at Envirolink, a private utility management company. Envirolink operates under a managerial capacity sharing model, which is a public-private regionalization solution. Below are three possible solutions I evaluated to forestall and alleviate the consequences of an impending operator shortage. Continue reading
Municipal governments use a number of different strategies to pay for public recycling services. These approaches can differ in who is expected to pay, the amount that is paid, and the means in which the payment system is carried out. Across North Carolina, local governments typically rely on one of two main sources of funding for recycling programs: solid waste fees and general tax revenue. I chose to look into the questions of who pays for recycling and how they pay as one of the topics of my 2018 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) fellowship program research. In particular, I studied the approach used by several communities to highlight the different strategies of paying for recycling with a particular subset of the population in mind: residents of multifamily housing.
Previous research has suggested that residents of multifamily housing may experience lower levels of access to recycling service than residents of single-family homes. Since multifamily properties are commonly treated as commercial businesses which are often ineligible to receive public recycling services, residents of multifamily housing may have a greater likelihood, depending on how the program is funded in their community, of indirectly paying into a municipal recycling program that they are ineligible to receive service from. This is especially true where recycling services are funded by a tax or fee that is universally distributed amongst residents. Two municipalities in North Carolina, Orange County and the City of Durham, were interviewed about the payment strategies that are used to finance multifamily recycling services. Continue reading
Lily Schwartz is a fellow in the 2018 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. As part of the LEAF Fellowship, Lily spent the summer of 2018 working as a technical assistance intern for The Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit organization that leverages corporate partner funding to improve recycling in cities and counties across the United States. Lily helped The Recycling Partnership to assess the nation’s current landscape for multifamily recycling and examine policies for moving forward.
There are many examples where families living in multifamily properties, such as apartment buildings and condominiums, have different levels of access than residents of single-family homes to important environmental services and programs. In the past, the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (EFC) has carried out applied research on a range of multifamily services, including access to energy efficiency programs and water bill assistance programs. Multifamily housing makes up nearly one-fifth of the total housing stock in the United States, with more than 20 million occupied housing units. In spite of this, a recent study found that less than 4 million people live in communities where recycling services are automatically provided to multifamily properties. Increasing access to convenient recycling services for multifamily residents can lead to environmental benefits by increasing resource recovery and reducing the water and air emission impacts of landfills and virgin material use. Better understanding current service practices and barriers to service expansion can help improve future service.
During the summer of 2018, a Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) fellow from the EFC worked with The Recycling Partnership to assess the nation’s current landscape for multifamily recycling by conducting interviews with recycling programs leaders for all 50 states and 67 different municipalities.