by Dave Wilson
Braving a chilly morning on November 5th, 13 members of the Sierra Club enjoyed an educational and enlightening outing to the Alachua County Transfer Station (ACTS) at the Leveda Brown Environmental Park and Transfer Station off of on Waldo Road. Sally Palmi, the Assistant Public Works/Solid Waste Director, guided the group around the facility in the “Recycle, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink” Trolley. Patrick Irby, Recycling Programs Coordinator, also joined us providing detailed information on numerous aspects of the operation. Along the way, we saw piles of old tires, wood chips, steel, and glass as well as bales of aluminum cans, cardboard, and paper. As we stood there trucks of fresh garbage were being unloaded from the UF’s Gator Growl. In the new Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center, Mike Keim showed us barrels of old oil (both crankcase and vegetable) and paint as well as piles of computers and TV monitors. While a number of the young people in our group immediately asked if they could have the memory chips and CPU’s from these old computers, Mike pointed out that computers had to be stripped of any possible personal information before recycling. In particular, disk drives had to be shredded. Mike also pointed out a portable BioDiesel Powered Generator, which provides 10% of all the electricity used by the Center. This unit is powered by the old vegetable cooking oil collected from local residents and businesses. In addition to piles of junk, Sally pointed out an array of solar panels which are used to for generating electricity which is put back into GRU’s grid through a Feed In Tariff Program and a station where the fleet of long haul tractor trailers trucks (costing $150,000 + each) were being washed. A retention pond in the back of the facility is the temporary home for 7 different kinds of migrating ducks.
During the tour, Sally led a discussion of the costs, benefits, technologies, and goals of the operation. At the current time, the estimated market value (on a per ton basis) of cardboard is $200.00, paper is $150.00, clean white paper is $300.00, plastic is $760.00, and aluminum is $1500.00. While the State and County’s goal is 75% recycling, Alachua County currently recycles at a rate of 44%, which is the second highest in the state. When asked about communities such as San Francisco, where a rate approaching 100% is claimed, she responded that it depends on how and what you count. Namely, numerous small entities in Gainesville recycle even though no records are compiled for them. She remarked that the large businesses in the area (e.g. Walmart) are at a high level of compliance because it is in their financial interest to do so. Surprisingly, residential customers recycle at only a 30% rate. Other pieces of information: it takes thousands of plastic bottles to make a bale; plastic bags are such a nuisance to collect few businesses, outside of large stores such as Publix and Walmart, are willing to recycle them; Alachua County is too small and too rural to benefit from some of the newest and best technologies such as plasma arc gasification; while a bottle bill would be great, many retailers would hate it because of the space requirements for collection; rural people find collection centers social and so prefer to drive their trash to local collection sites rather than have curbside pickup; while a single stream system (i.e. no residential separation such as orange and blue) is popular and sounds good, fiber is the biggest challenge because broken glass mixed with paper will ruin the fiber and possibly the equipment designed to shred it; and while we have plenty of space for landfills, it makes no sense to discard valuable commodities; florescent bulbs should be recycled at the Hazardous Waste Collection Center or one of its drop off locations at the Rural Collection Centers. Many local lighting and hardware stores will accept them for recycling as well; the budget for ACTS is $12,000,000/year and is net positive; ACTS has about $4,500,000 in reserves for the maintenance and purchase of new trucks, technologies, etc.
While most of the members of the tour have been involved with environmental issues for a long time, Daniel Freed (the driving force behind the Saints for Sustainability group on the Santa Fe College Campus) cajoled 6 Santa Fe College students to join us. These young people were particularly interested in the different technologies associated with the center. We are hopeful that they will continue to be involved in such efforts.
All in all, our outing was an enjoyable learning experience. Sally, Patrick, and Mike did an excellent job providing detailed information about our County’s efforts to dispose of solid waste.