How High Are Your Disposal Fees?

A PSAI survey aims to shed light on a critical expense for restroom contractors

How High Are Your Disposal Fees?

Karleen Kos is executive director of the Portable Sanitation Association International. She may be reached at or 952-854-8300.

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Dumping. Tipping. Emptying the truck. Whatever you call it, “It’s waste disposal, dear,” as a member of the Portable Sanitation Association International explained to me early in my tenure here. It’s also one of the biggest issues faced by portable sanitation companies.

Contrary to how it may seem, the number of sewage treatment facilities is not shrinking. According to IBISWorld, treatment plants have grown by 6% to 7% since 2010. The challenge is that more than 60% of treatment capacity in the U.S. is dedicated to residential waste. Ongoing growth in the number of households producing waste means capacity for commercial waste treatment is suffering proportionately.

But it’s not just households. The volume of commercial waste that needs processing has also increased as the economy expands. The available treatment plant capacity is not growing nearly as fast, infrastructure is aging, and nobody likes to talk about it very much.

This brings us to today. We have overtaxed systems and frequent rate increases for disposing at publicly owned treatment works, or POTWs. In the private sector, the laws of supply and demand are at play, driving up costs and reducing non-POTW options for portable sanitation operators. On top of it all, any type of waste treatment must meet evolving environmental standards. Because of these requirements, what any plant accepts may vary considerably based on location, environmental realities and the plant’s capacity.

If only the solution were as simple as a “building boom” for waste treatment facilities! Unfortunately, the highly capital-intensive prospect of expanding waste treatment capacity is not one that appeals to most political decision-makers. Depending upon the location and proposed capacity of the plant, the cost for a new POTW can range from tens of millions of dollars to nearly $1 billion.

This reality has opened the door for private wastewater treatment solutions. Local governments short on tax revenue have begun outsourcing facilities and operations to meet public demand. In some instances, private companies are buying existing POTWs when governments decide to privatize. They then turn the aging assets into efficient wastewater operations. How this transformation happens can mean that customers like portable sanitation companies are no longer welcome.

In other cases, businesses ranging from manufacturing plants to waste haulers are building their own on-site systems — either because their go-to treatment plant has hung out the “not welcome” sign or to avoid having to deal with POTWs altogether. In still other instances, smaller cities are working with private companies to build new systems, sometimes wholly owned by the private company and sometimes in public-private partnership.


Whatever is going on in your area, the situation has probably been a long time in the making. Improvement, whatever that looks like, will also take a long time. Then there’s the “be careful what you pray for” aspect. I recently took a call from a portable sanitation operator whose disposal rates were being quadrupled to cover costs for a new treatment plant in her area. With “solutions” like these, how bad must the problem actually be?

The PSAI is seeking information about the realities of disposal for our industry. The results of the survey will be shared with those who take it — whether they are PSAI members or not — and will help the PSAI set policy goals for the next several years. Please take the time to fill out the survey at by July 31.

Fixing what is broken with our waste treatment system will take a generation, and the PSAI intends to be a voice at the table. Make sure your voice is heard.


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