Recycling is not a sufficiently robust enough waste remediation strategy for today’s economy.
When I decided to pursue this sneaking little suspicion of mine, I quit my job and starting driving roll-off. Roll-Off is the delivery of large open top containers that literally ‘roll-off’ the truck and sit stationary while you load it, usually for a home remodel or home construction project.
When you speak to a customer at a trash company, you have to ask ‘what are you putting in the dumpster?’. Most people find this a bit odd, because they think ‘well, trash duh’. But, it makes a difference. Disposal for spent boron rods from a nuclear power plant isn’t the same as a baby diaper. So in this particular case the customer was a school. When questioned, the customer answered a clean-up project for the library. Great that’s easy, work books and coloring books; it was a grade school. So when I arrive at the site for pickup, sure enough it was books. A whole bunch of them. I lift it; I haul it; I dump it.
There was a computer lab in the library they just got rid of. The school placed the computers well, right in the center in the bottom. I couldn’t see it until the load left the container. Damn it! The guy at the landfill saw it too. I had to pick it up. Old Apple G1s, the kind that were a light green and had the whole computer in the monitor, the damn things were heavy. So I picked them up. When I saw how many fell out, I just laughed. This is nuts. It was September in New Orleans. It was silly hot. Amazingly humid, and I am standing in a dry dusty landfill picking through trash.
Well I wanted to see trash firsthand, I think to myself.
I look up for a second and I watch a dust devil form. This is surreal. The wind grabs a-hold of a plastic bag and sends it flying into the atmosphere. The bag disappeared in the sky. There was a bridge in the distance, maybe 4 miles off. It would easily reach that distance from how high I watched it fly. It disappeared before the bridge. It would probably find the Atlantic gyre. I get back to work. i start to lift the unknown number of computers back into the truck. I laugh.
The landfill employee helped me then, as if reading my mind, looked at the remaining pile and said ‘Man, F&*k this, I’m not paid to pick through trash. Leave it, you’re good.’ We loaded a dozen computers and monitors already. There were at least as many remaining. This meant I could leave. This meant he gave me permission to leave a load of illegal electronic waste in a landfill. I look over at the industrial canal. C&D landfills don’t have plastic liners to collect leachate, i think. I look off in the distance in the direction the bag had flown, the direction of the Gulf of Mexico. i think about the remifications of what will happen in some years time when that trash broth seeps it way through the soil to the Gulf.
‘¡OH WELL!’ I said to myself.
I drive back to the shop, just a short trip from the landfill. I dump AGAIN, wasting more time. This time just the load of computers, I’ll deal with them properly later.
People throw things away for convenience sake. However, most are unaware of the consequences of what happens when they do something incorrect. Or by the time the trash hauler finds out about a contaminated load, it is too late. The simplest things compound to culminate in environmental problems. Mind blowing.
But what does this have to do with recycling? That school didn’t intend for that load to be recycled, you say. That’s correct. They didn’t; but the point is to illustrate the problem the entire industry has with contamination. Open containers are open containers. Away is away. And at this particular school, that got rid of a library’s worth of books, failed to tell us they needed to dispose of an entire computer lab’s worth of computers.
One call to the dumpster company to get rid of the books, one call to an electronics recycler to get rid of the computers. That is it. But these people didn’t know better, or didn’t care. Either way, the electronic waste schmutz that is going to leak out of that landfill will leach its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
This contamination isn’t restricted to the trash industry. People do what is convenient. People throw things in any open container available. Let me illustrate my point. How much trash on an annual basis is disposed of in the blue mail boxes you see in parking lots and on the side of the road? It happens. So when a dumpster shows up, consider the dinner bell rung for stuff you should have gotten rid of years ago.
The goal of this company is to create a material recovery process designed to catch this type of contamination. It’s that simple. But it will take huge amounts of work. I am look forward to creating this solution.
If you would like to develop trust with your waste hauler. Please feel free to shoot me an email or give me a call.
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