New Trash Czar Says the Future Is Now for Solid-Waste Solution


Frank R. Bowerman--Orange County’s new trash czar--remembers when hogs ate most of the public’sgarbage and back-yard incinerators were as common as barbecues.

Bowerman, who started out as a Los Angeles County engineer for the sanitation department in 1948, remembers how trichinosis outbreaks brought an end to feeding pigs raw garbage (they wouldn’t eat it cooked). And how a few years later, homemade “ash cans” were outlawed when experts realized that they solved one problem by adding to another--air pollution.

Now, the 67-year-old former college professor, who once gave Hollywood his technical advice for a science-fiction film, is about to become the first director of the county’s Integrated Waste Management Department. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is expected to make it official.


Bowerman sees the problem of getting rid of solid waste as being closely related to other pressing environmental issues--like air and water pollution and the deterioration of the ozone layer. He said solutions to the problems have to be sought now and not “when we’re against the wall.”

“We can’t allow ourselves to be backed into a corner, it’s too dangerous,” Bowerman said. “If you could visualize the confusion that would result in an urban area if there was no place to take its waste, it would be an impossible situation. We just can’t allow it to happen. It would be like shutting off the water or food supply to a city. It is an absolute.”

In the early 1970s, Bowerman said, he gained a special sensitivity toward problems facing the environment when he served as a technical adviser to writer Stanley R. Greenberg and actor Charlton Heston for the science-fiction movie “Soylent Green.”

His job was to give the filmmakers “a correct prediction of what things would be like in New York City in 2022.” The futuristic yarn supposed that the 21st-Century nation would be overpopulated and rapidly outpacing its ability to produce food. In the plot, national leaders, attempting to deal with the dwindling food supply, introduce a new synthetic food called “soylent green.” But the new food, it turns out, is made from human corpses--older people who are enticed into death in exchange for being able to see movies about how the Earth looked before being ravaged by man.

“I guess working on the movie gave me a sense of focus about the environment and the serious threats that lurked out there,” Bowerman said, adding that an underlying theme of euthanasia in the movie made him think seriously about overpopulation.

Before coming to Orange County, Bowerman spent 18 years with Los Angeles County government, then worked as a private consultant and later as a professor--he holds an engineering degree--and department head at USC. He joined range County’s General Services Agency in 1983 as the director of the solid-waste program.


When supervisors voted to take the program out of General Services and make it an independent department last month, Bowerman was named acting director of the new Integrated Waste Management Department.

“We were very fortunate to get Frank in the early 1980s,” said R. A. (Bert) Scott, director of General Services. “He not only made a contribution with the best available technology, he also has a depth of understanding on how to deal with staff.”

Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez praised Bowerman for his “credentials that command respect” not only in the county and state but throughout the country. “He has brought the county’s solid waste program through a successful transition,” Vasquez said. He noted that when Bowerman joined the solid-waste program in 1983, it had a budget of $10 million--now its budget is $120 million and its staff about 290 employees.

“I don’t live in Orange County any longer,” said Charles Carry, chief engineer and general manager of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. “But if I still did I would feel very comfortable with Frank Bowerman heading up the solid-waste program.”

Carry, who worked for Bowerman in the early and mid-1960s in Los Angeles, said he was a man ahead of his time. “We were dealing with the basic designs (of trash disposal systems) and Frank would be looking at odor control--how 20 years down the road we could button up the plant and not worry about odors.”

As Orange County’s population moves toward the 2.5-million mark, trash has become big business. It is an expensive business too. Under the leadership of Bowerman, the county just opened its new $50-million, high-tech Bee Canyon landfill that officials hope will serve the disposal needs for parts of the county for the next 30 years. Trash disposal costs have jumped from $6 a ton seven years ago to $13.75 today. Experts figure the cost could hit $30 a ton by 1995.


Each day, Orange County residents and businesses generate 17,000 tons of trash. This averages out to just less than 11 pounds for every resident in the county, while businesses contribute the reminder of the tonnage. The county’s four landfills daily receive enough trash to fill nearly five giant garbage barges like the one from Islip, N.Y., that traveled 6,000 miles searching for a disposal port in 1987, finally docking in Brooklyn after being turned away by five states and three countries.

Orange County is better off than most places when it comes to available landfills. Bowerman said Prima Deshecha landfill in South County has a 30-year life, while Santiago landfill near Orange is good for another decade, maybe more with increased recycling. When the new Bee Canyon opened up in early March, the old Coyote Canyon dump near Newport Beach closed.

Consultants are now studying ways of extending the life of Olinda Landfill near Brea in North Orange County.

But Bowerman is optimistic that a new state law will extend the lives of all four landfills in the county. The law requires all cities and counties to divert 25% of their waste from landfills by 1995 and 50% by 2000. Officials hope to meet the goals by reducing the sources of refuse, increasing recycling, and enacting new programs to reuse yard wastes and old tires. Under the law, fines and penalties can be imposed on areas not meeting the requirements.