Effort more than drop in the bucket
On a back parking lot off School Street in Glenwood Springs Saturday, John Fodor and Drew Illman were doing their small part to, in Illman’s words, help “save the world.”At least, that’s how Illman explained his desire to put on a white jumpsuit and gloves and handle the smorgasbord of hazardous items being delivered by Glenwood-area residents who share Fodor and Illman’s desire to clean up the environment.The two Boulder residents were part of a crew from Clean Harbors Environmental Services, which the city of Glenwood’s South Canyon Landfill hired to collect hazardous materials Saturday, the day after Earth Day.By noon, between 30 and 40 cars had come by with everything from paints and solvents to motor oil and antifreeze. Clean Harbors expected to drive off with barrels and cardboard containers holding 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of waste.That waste otherwise might have ended up going down the drain and requiring treatment by the city’s water system. Or perhaps some of it would have made it into area rivers. Or it could have been dumped at the South Canyon Landfill, although such wastes aren’t allowed there, and could reach groundwater or pose other environmental threats.Even the landfill took advantage of Saturday’s event.”We brought a pickup stacked two layers high with paint cans that people sneak in,” the landfill’s superintendent, Doug Oliver, said.Most commercial trash haulers are pretty good about screening what they bring to the dump, but people with pickup loads sometimes break the rules, Oliver said.Others do their best to follow the rules, sometimes calling the landfill as early as January to find out when the year’s hazardous waste collection day is. This is the sixth year the landfill has offered the service, which is free to city residents and costs nonresidents $25 apiece.
Glenwood resident Marilyn Hotz took part in Saturday’s event, bringing by old wood stain, insecticides and lawn-care products.”I decided it was time to get rid of them,” she said.”I think this is a great thing,” she said of Saturday’s event.At the collection site, Illman and Fodor helped sort what was dropped off. Separate barrels held acids and bases, which every good science student knows create a chemical reaction when mixed. Both Fodor and Illman have science degrees, which helps when it comes to combining substances before they are transported. When they started opening containers and mixing materials, they don respirators for extra protection.The job may seem a bit hazardous itself, but they pointed out that they are trained and equipped for handling the substances they do. They’ve collected dangerous substances at some workplaces where, by contrast, employees weren’t protecting themselves properly.Clean Harbors picks up from companies, high school labs, pharmaceutical firms – you name it. But only a little of what it collects – batteries, for example – can be recycled.”Most of it gets incinerated, some of it gets landfilled, some of it gets treated,” Fodor said.What is incinerated is burned at high temperatures to reduce pollution, and with smokestacks that use scrubbers to keep the air cleaner. Paint can serve as fuel for incinerators, reducing the need for other fuel to help a fire burn.During a typical collection day Clean Harbors sees just about everything: bleach, pool and spa chemicals, drain cleaner, perfume, suntan lotion, aerosol cans, rust remover, concrete stain, old medicine … and the list goes on.
Illman remembered an Avon lady who came bearing decades’ worth of her products.”She brought the funniest things,” he said.Another time, someone brought a chemistry set dating back to the early 1900s.Not everything that shows up is hazardous. Fodor has seen deliveries of such things as flour and sugar.”We’ve even gotten water, like a five-gallon can of emergency water,” he said.Someone else brought some old champagne.”We opened up the champagne, and it didn’t even pop,” Illman said.They recommend disposing of such things in traditional ways. But if people still insist on leaving what they’ve brought, into Clean Harbors’ witch’s brew it goes.Clean Harbors doesn’t accept explosives, biohazards or radioactive materials. But it sometimes will take mystery substances if workers can determine through the shape and color of packaging and some basic chemical testing what the substances are.
“That’s the fun part,” Fodor said.Though it may reduce the demand for the waste-collection business, Illman and Fodor have some advice for all who care about the business of cleaning up the planet: People should think more carefully about what hazardous materials they buy, in order to reduce what they use and throw away.If people were careful to buy only the amount of an item they need, it also would reduce waste, Fodor said.Illman said he also sees a lot of unopened motor oil and antifreeze containers dropped off, when these fluids have no maximum shelf life and still can be used or given to someone who can use them.People also could seek to reduce pesticide use through means such as planting more native species that stand up better to insects, Illman said.Illman, 25, studied environmental management and biology, and said he considers saving the environment to be the most important cause of his generation.”Maybe this isn’t the best way to go about it, but at least we’re doing something,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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