As the 2011 busy season is about to dawn for restroom contractors, industry veteran Lee Sola shares his views on trends in service and regulation
After nearly 40 years in wastewater management, Lee Sola has a well-rounded view of the industry. The owner of S & B Porta-Bowl Restrooms Inc. in Aurora, Colo., also chairs the Industry Standards and Legislative Committee of the Portable Sanitation Association International. S & B operates three locations in Colorado, where Sola works with three of his children. With 45 employees and 4,700 restrooms, S & B’s operation also offers industrial/residential pumping.
Sola wants to see the portable sanitation industry viewed more seriously as a profession. With that in mind, he shares the trends he sees for the 2011 busy season and beyond.
Pumper: What positive trend do you see in portable sanitation?
Sola: We’re becoming more adept and professional in the handling of waste. When I entered the industry, we had crude methods to create vacuum for the waste tanks. There was also little attention paid to leakage from the truck or, in some cases, to where the waste was disposed.
We’re professionals in our industry and we need to be proactive in how we manage our responsibility. With the population of the vast majority of countries increasing rapidly, we will have to develop faster and better ways to deal with the huge influx of human waste.
Pumper: How about a negative trend?
Sola: Unfortunately, there are still a number of operators who don’t take their work seriously; the folks wearing a baseball cap with a plastic pile of excrement on the bill. While they think they’re being cute, I see them continuing to disrespect themselves, their businesses, their employees and our industry.
How can we expect the public, our customers and the government officials we deal with to take us seriously if we show such total disregard for ourselves? I’d like them to think of themselves as sanitation experts. Our industry is a vital aspect of daily life: As long as people eat and drink, something has to happen to that effluent. We need to be the experts in handling it safely, and to think of ourselves that way.
The SARS epidemic a few years ago was traced to farmers in China putting untreated human waste in their fields, then selling the produce without protecting it from that waste. I think we sometimes miss how important what we do is.
Pumper: What is a significant trend in portable sanitation regulation?
Sola: One of the most noticeable regulation trends concerns rules governing construction site stormwater contamination, especially for homebuilders. The (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is taking a very hard stand on where portable restrooms are placed, and making sure they’re anchored. Contractor fines can be severe.
Unfortunately, after we deliver the restroom and secure it, we have no control. Site workers move units for a variety of reasons … causing the units to end up in the street or, worse, getting tipped over. The contractor believes it’s our fault and our responsibility to move the unit back and re-stake at no cost to him. This could become a significant problem, one we have to be prepared to solve.
Pumper: How have recent economic challenges impacted restroom revenues?
Sola: I see significant belt-tightening from all levels of government: federal, state, county and municipal. One disturbing related trend over the last few years is the concept of reverse auction bids beginning to take hold with government agencies. Essentially, no regard is given to the quality of work performed, only to the lowest price. Bidders are able to see exactly what each competitor is bidding, and given an allotted time to lower each price.
In the parks and recreation market for portable restrooms, not only does this lowball price generate mostly substandard service, it also encourages the agency to put even more emphasis on cost savings. Adequate service scheduling and equipment take a back seat. As operators, we should demand to be treated as the expert when it comes to sanitary requirements, or refuse to have our company name sullied in the public’s eyes.
Pumper: What regulatory trend has an impact on pumpers in general?
Sola: As financing continues to be a drag on government, there may not be many new wastewater treatment facilities built in the near term. While these facilities overwhelmingly handle domestic sewage, they’re also an integral part of our whole waste management system. Hauled waste is and will continue to be a very small portion of the total gallonage treated, but as the volume of domestic sewage pushes existing plants near capacity, they will look to limit acceptance of hauled waste. We must be proactive and develop solid working relationships with wastewater plant managers and operators.
Pumper: How does portable sanitation waste enter into the dumping restriction argument?
Sola: Restroom providers must remind (treatment plant officials) that portable restrooms actually save hundreds of millions of gallons of treated water from re-entering the waste stream. The typical portable unit with a five-gallon charge of water and deodorizer can handle 125 to 150 uses between charges. If our end-users instead flushed that many times at a gallon of fresh, treated water per use, the waste created would overwhelm the treatment plants, based on the tens of thousands of portable units in use today.
Pumper: What looks important in new technology and equipment?
Sola: The public is becoming aware of advanced facilities, such as restroom trailers, heated sinks with clean water, flushing portables. We need to feed off this trend to take sanitation in a more positive, clean direction.
If you look at Europe, the majority of construction site units flush and the sites themselves are cleaner. I wonder why construction workers in our country shouldn’t be given the same regard as those who work in an office building. As a matter of human dignity, why should this guy who brings a brown bag to work everyday not be allowed to wash his hands just like the office worker, before he reaches in that bag and takes out a sandwich to eat?
Pumper: How can restroom contractors start to change the attitude on minimum sanitation services?
Sola: We need to pressure construction site managers into doing the right thing. We should suggest sinks and hand sanitizers, and actively sell needed amenities. We must not accept a customer who orders the one unit and doesn’t allow us to service it properly. If they won’t work with us as a sanitation partner, we need to have the fortitude to fire the customer, because our job is to provide adequate sanitation on every customer’s site.
My fervent desire would be to have a flushing stool, the ability to wash your hands, and daily service for every single one of our restrooms. Barring that, we need to demand ever-improving units, trucks and cleaning products from our suppliers so we collectively keep portable sanitation relevant in this fast-paced, changing environment.
Lee Sola may be contacted by phone at 303/341-6800 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.