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Developing Tribal Waste Management Codes and Ordinances

Waste codes and ordinances are a formal legal method of promoting or preventing behaviors in the area of waste managment. For example, one might develop a code to promote recycling and another to prevent illegal dumping. Codes and ordinances can be used to promote tribal waste management goals to protect public health and the environment and to protect natural resources. Developing tribal waste management codes and ordinances is the first step in developing a waste management regulatory program.

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

  • Code Development
  • Implementation
  • Enforcement

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What are the suggested steps to develop waste management codes and ordinances?

Because approaches to waste management issues can vary among tribes, the number, complexity, and importance of these issues can differ significantly. 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 a combination of  regulatory and 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.  These programs can include recycling, composting, source reduction, or household hazardous waste collection events.

Before development, the tribe's integrated waste management plan (IWMP) should be consulted. An IWMP identifies common problems and possible solutions, as well as the various aspects of waste management. Once areas are identified as issues that require a code/ordinance, it is helpful to identify which portion of the tribe’s waste management 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 helpful to develop codes and ordinances that address a single targeted priority issue rather than developing comprehensive waste management codes and ordinances. Examples of targeted codes 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

Helpful resources for developing a solid waste code include:

  • Legal assistance
  • Tribal court
  • Tribal council
  • The local community
  • Departments within the tribal government and/or other relevant parties

It is possible that other tribal representatives may not agree that solid waste codes are necessary. Accordingly, it may be helpful to have on hand a presentation outlining existing conditions and needs for these early discussions.

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What are the elements of waste management codes and ordinances?


Although the scope and complexity of tribal waste management codes and ordinances can differ significantly, they generally include the following elements:

  • Purpose and scope. Outlines why the waste management codes and ordinances were developed, who is subject to the codes and ordinances, where the codes and ordinances apply, and what activities are covered by the codes and ordinances.
  • Definitions. Defines terms that are important for understanding, implementation, and/or enforcement.
  • Program requirements, procedures, or standards. Describes how the waste management codes and ordinances will be carried out and waste management procedures, permitting and operating requirements, and prohibitions.
  • Enforcement. Includes a schedule of fees or penalties for violations and other enforcement mechanisms and authorities.
  • Administration. Identifies the procedures for implementing, revising, and updating the waste management codes and ordinances.

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How does a tribe implement waste management codes and ordinances?


To effectively implement a waste management program, tribal members need to understand the specific requirements of the waste management codes and ordinances 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 includes 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.  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.

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Once a tribe has waste management codes and ordinances in place, how does the tribe enforce the requirements?


Enforcement should focus on the highest priority issues to be most effective. Waste management codes and ordinances are only as effective as their enforcement so it is important to enforce consistently and equitably.

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Examples of tribal waste management codes and ordinances

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Assistance with developing waste management codes and ordinances


The Tribal Waste Management Team is available to review plans and can provide templates and examples. For assistance, contact your regional tribal waste coordinator.

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