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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Solid Waste Management on Tribal Lands

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Developing Solid Waste Codes and Ordinances

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What is a Solid Waste Code?

Solid waste codes are a formal legal method of promoting or preventing behaviors. For example, one might develop a code to promote recycling and another to prevent illegal dumping. Code development is the first step in developing a solid waste regulatory program.

There are three main steps when establishing a solid waste regulatory program:

  1. Code development
  2. Implementation
  3. Enforcement

Why might a tribe want to develop a solid waste code?

Codes can be used to promote tribal waste management goals, to protect public health and the environment, or to protect natural resources.

What are the suggested steps to develop a solid waste code?

The number, complexity, and importance of waste management issues can differ significantly among tribes and therefore the approach will vary from tribe to tribe. Generally, the first step in code development is to determine an approach that meets your tribe’s specific needs. Some tribes find that certain issues are better addressed through non-regulatory or combination regulatory/non-regulatory approaches rather than a strictly regulatory approach.

Non-regulatory approaches can include education and outreach campaigns, setting voluntary goals, or incentive-based campaigns for a variety of programs including recycling, composting, source reduction, or household hazardous waste collection programs.

Before development, the tribe's solid waste management plan (SWMP) should be consulted. A SWMP identifies common problems and possible solutions, as well as identifies all the various aspects of solid waste management. Once areas are identified as issues that require a code, it is helpful to identify which portion of your solid waste program requires codes and what the scope of these codes should be (i.e., comprehensive vs. targeted). If limited funding, staffing, or time is a concern, it may be more viable to develop codes that address a single, targeted priority issue rather than developing a comprehensive solid waste regulation. Examples of targeted codes could include:

  • Open dumping
  • Cleanup and closure of open dumps
  • Open burning
  • Abandoned vehicles and vehicle-related wastes
  • Abandoned large appliances/white goods
  • Construction and demolition waste
  • Solid waste facility siting and permitting

When developing a solid waste code, it is helpful to work with a lawyer, the Tribal Council, the Tribal court, the local community, other departments within the tribal government, and other relevant parties to ensure it will be appropriate and useful for the tribe. Keep in mind that initially, other tribal representatives may not agree that solid waste codes are necessary. It may be helpful to have a presentation outlining existing conditions and needs on hand for these first meetings.

What are the elements of a tribal code?

Although Tribal regulations differ significantly from one another in their scope and complexity, they generally include the following elements:

  • Purpose and Scope – Includes the who, what, where, and whys.
  • Definitions – Defines terms that are important for understanding, implementation, and/or enforcement.
  • Program Requirements, Procedures, or Standards – Describes how the regulations will be carried out and might include waste management procedures, permitting and operating requirements, and prohibitions.
  • Enforcement – Includes a schedule of fees or penalties for violations and might include other enforcement mechanisms and authorities.
  • Administration – Identifies the procedures for implementing, revising, and/or updating the regulations.

How does a tribe implement a solid waste code?

To effectively implement a regulatory program, tribal members will need to understand the specific requirements of the regulations and why it is important to follow them. Tribal members should understand the benefits of compliance and the consequences of non-compliance. Education and outreach is key to implementing a successful program. A successful program has various levels of support:

  • Financial support – Determining how to adequately fund a long-term program can be a major challenge for tribes and is often the primary limiting factor for a successful program. Program funding can come from internal sources, such as user fees at solid waste facilities or through penalties for violations, or from outside sources.
  • Technical support – Technical support can come in a variety of forms and may include federal, state, or local agency staff, other tribes, tribal organizations, consultants, or other waste management organizations.
  • Public support – The ability to successfully develop and implement regulations depends on the willing compliance of Tribal members. Even a well-funded program might not be successful if it does not receive support and approval from Tribal members. Involve the community in all aspects of code development and implementation, as an open and inclusive process is likely to have more support.
  • Intergovernmental support – Successful implementation may require coordination with other local, state, or regional regulatory programs.

Once a tribe has a solid waste code in place how does the tribe enforce requirements?

To be most effective, enforcement should focus on the highest priority issues. Remember, regulations are only as effective as their enforcement so it is important to enforce consistently and equitably.

Examples of tribal solid waste codes

Model solid waste codes

Pacific Southwest tribal codes

Assistance with Developing a SWMP

The Tribal Solid Waste Team is available to review plans and can provide templates and examples.  For assistance, contact your Tribal Solid Waste Team representative.

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