Fed up to here
Faced with running out of room at the landfill, Butte County gets creative with recycling
Visit the Neal Road land fill a couple of times, and it’s easy to see exactly why Butte County officials are projecting open space at the site will be completely gone within the next 30 years.
During a couple of recent trips the scenario was nearly the same. The first time, two men spent a few minutes dumping cardboard boxes, wood, along with other construction materials and plastic milk crates crammed with magazines and newspapers into a heap that would eventually be buried.
A week later, a man tossed out an array of items that also could have been recycled: plastic bottles and bags, cracker boxes and canned cat food. In other spots, crushed soda and beer cans, plastic bottles, cereal boxes, sheets of cardboard, lumber and wooden crates were the most noticeable items being dumped at the tipping face.
“It’s amazing what people will throw away,” said recycling coordinator Steve Rodowick, who represents the county’s solid waste division. “Some people have a mindset—it doesn’t creep into their heads that things could be recycled; either that or they are really, really lazy.”
In 2007 alone, Butte County generated about 213,000 tons of refuse, the majority of which went to the Neal Road landfill (a small percentage was eventually taken to the Ostrom Road landfill south of Marysville in Yuba County). Rodowick stressed the importance of preserving the main dumping grounds, since it is highly unlikely that another suitable landfill site would be available locally.
The estimate on the landfill’s capacity is based on projected population growth, but also upon what people continue to throw away on a daily basis.
With the widespread movement to eliminate waste, as well as the county’s mandated curbside recycling program and green-waste program, the public may think the landfill is free of recyclables. But of all the waste that could be recycled in Butte County, Rodowick says a little more than 50 percent is diverted from the landfill. And a lot of the things that shouldn’t make it to the site are taken there by garbage companies, small businesses and individuals.
Some items currently collected at the landfill do get recycled, namely scrap metal and electronics, and Rodowick estimates the county receives about $200,000 in return each year. The money helps subsidize additional recycling programs.
Additionally, the landfill accepts green waste, concrete, bicycles, tires and agricultural oil for recycling. These items must be separated from the waste load. After being stripped of toxic materials, appliances such as washers and dryers are recycled as scrap metal.
But for a lot of waste, a trip to the landfill is a dead end.
“If you dump it, all we do is cover it up with dirt,” Rodowick said.
Currently, the landfill allows the public to drive down the hill after paying a fee and unloading waste that will eventually be buried, but Rodowick said this practice is going to change. To curb waste, officials plan to implement a trash-sorting program, and the public will pay higher fees if they don’t do the sorting.
“Eventually, we will not have the public go down to the tipping area,” he explained. “That will dramatically reduce the amount of materials brought that could be recycled.”
He hopes to have a new dumping area and sorting program fully in place in about a year.
The county is in the process of developing proposals to bid for a company to construct the sorting yard, “primarily aimed at the ma-and-pa groups and businesses that may come out and dump their loads,” he said. Essentially, this sorting yard or transfer facility would have an area designated where people unload their waste with some type of sorting mechanism installed.
Bill Mannel, manager of the county’s solid waste division, said this process could include a floor-sorting program or some type of conveyer system.
Existing recycling efforts will be expanded, and a new office and inbound and outbound scale system will also be constructed. The project will be funded with a bond the county sold in November 2006 with revenues of more than $10 million, Mannel said.
In addition to the recycling efforts, the landfill is embarking on another important sustainable venture that uses the gas generated by the breakdown of organic material at the site and turns it into energy.
Since 2004, the county has developed a gas-collection system in which about 99 percent of the landfill’s methane is burned to prevent it from seeping into the atmosphere. After several years working on a project that measures the byproduct, Mannel said the gas is now slated to be converted into electricity.
The Butte County Board of Supervisors recently selected a firm to do the conversion, which should generate 4.3 megawatts of electricity and $500,000 yearly for the county.
“That’s enough electricity to provide the needs for 4,000 homes,” Mannel said.
To encourage the public to recycle, Mannel notes that the county has made the process more convenient. In 2007, for example, the county required all garbage companies operating in Butte County to offer curbside recycling, which expanded recycling to the rural areas of Durham, South Oroville, Thermalito, Kelly Ridge and Magalia. Next year, all companies will be required to offer green-waste recycling curbside as well, though many areas already offer these services.
Still, Mannel thinks the only way to instill a mentality of recycling is through education. The county operates a Web site (www.recyclebutte.net) that offers tips and links.
Events also encourage the practice. In March, for instance, the landfill held Tire Amnesty Day, allowing the public to drop off tires for no charge. The 125 tons taken in were shipped to a plant in Livermore where they are used for rubberized asphalt or other track and playground coverings.
Steel Mills Recyclers buys scrap metal collected at the landfill. Bicycles are donated to nonprofit organizations and schools that refurbish them. The county often reuses concrete collected for roads at the landfill, and computers are donated to Computers for Classrooms, which supplies electronics to low-income families for a small fee.
Rodowick says the landfill eventually will open a re-sale operation for electronics, since many of the electronics are either repairable or in working condition when they are taken to the landfill.
“If we are going to have a really effective recycling program, all residents in the county have to take the initiative,” Mannel continued. “Remember the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.”