Tales from the Pit
Educators in our Bay Area have two great resources to encourage the practice of "reuse" in the classroom: the Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) in San Jose and the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse ("the Depot") in Oakland. We visited both facilities to get ideas on "reuse" projects to share with students, and certainly were inspired as we wandered through aisles of seemingly endless reuse materials and project ideas. The materials available at both locations are similar, but differ in their source: while the Depot will take donations from the general public, RAFT receives items in large quantities from businesses. For example, when a business closes down, they may donate all of their office file folders – the quantity of which may reach the hundreds – to RAFT.
We laud the merits of "reuse" particularly because there are so many possibilities that only require a bit of human persistence and genius! In the comfort of the classroom or home, one can easily create art, science, or math projects. RAFT and the Depot had some ideas for us: the many toilet tube rolls at the Depot can be turned into kaleidoscopes, and RAFT has a neat kit for a toy car propelled by rubber bands.
Components in this kit include straws, leftover pieces of polystyrene, and rubber bands – things that anyone can find leftover in abundance from packaging anywhere. Each individual piece, while at the surface seems like an item to be thrown away or recycled, can be combined to create a project that teaches students about the laws of physics.
The photo to the right shows the miscellaneous materials that can be found at the Depot – jars, mismatched jar lids, milk cartons, tins, and corks – all of which can become platforms for great science, art, and math projects in the classroom.
Back at our Education Center, I pull discarded plastic yogurt cups and empty egg cartons from a box labeled, "Creative Reuse Box" and ask students to talk amongst themselves about what they could do if they had thirty of these in a classroom. Less than five seconds into the activity, I can hear a buzz of ideas:
"You could separate different colored paints with the egg carton!"
"Or, we could put some dirt into each carton and plant seeds."
"For the yogurt containers, I would use them to store my markers/crayons/pencils"
Custodians are some of the hardest workers at schools, from maintaining classrooms, taking out the garbage and recycling, fixing everything from toilets to light fixtures, and just about everything else that makes a school operate. These important figures seldom get much notice, as they are usually behind the scenes and extremely busy.
Last month, we were honored to give a tour of the Davis St. Transfer Station to the Alameda Unified and Oakland Unified custodians, who came to see where all those garbage bags and recyclables go after it leaves their premises. Many of the custodians had been to the Transfer Station before on personal trips, in fact, a few had even been coming since they were children themselves, when Davis St. was still an operating landfill. None, however, had seen the inside workings of the MRF where recyclables get sorted, or the "Pit" where garbage gets dumped by the garbage trucks before going to the landfill.
This opportunity provided these custodians with the inside scoop on things that affect their day-to-day lives, like why they have to empty the milk cartons before recycling, or to use a liner for garbage but leave recyclables loose. They were able to receive the "why" for the work they do, and feel that much more connected to the bigger cause: that recycling is not just the effort of one person, but the collaboration of an entire industry, each step of the way.
Rebecca Jewell, Recycling Program Manager at Davis St Transfer Station (WM, Inc), as well as Rebecca Parnes, Recycling Specialist for Waste Management both led the tours around the site. I ended up befriending an Alameda custodian named Pete, who despite being on his week vacation, made it out to the tour. "If I don't have the right information, then how are the students supposed to get the right information about how to recycle?" Pete brings up a good point that was stressed later by Rebecca Parnes to the rest of the group, that a successful recycling program should actually be easier on the custodians, not harder. It's the kids that should be overseeing the program, teaching each other and taking responsibility. For example, having a "Recycle Monitor", who wears an apron and points the students to the correct container to dispose of their materials: trash, recycle, compost, or liquids.
This day was one among many efforts by StopWaste.Org to train our Alameda County custodians on how to reduce waste at their school and save their district money on disposal fees. StopWaste.Org hosted a Custodian Training Workshop at the Chabot Space and Science Center in October that featured keynote speakers, a panel of Oakland Unified custodians with successful recycling programs, as well as informational booths from various county and waste related organizations.
viagra buy CA unearthed perfectly preserved newspapers entombed in the former Oakland Scavenger landfill site. The excavation was part of a project designed to expand waste reduction efforts at the transfer station. The newspaper, printed on February 15, 1976, details the rezoning process of the San Leandro Planning Commision to permit the facility to become a modern transfer station. Other articles detailed plans to reject "rubbish" as the landfill scaled down its operations.A recent excavation at the Davis St. Transfer Station in San Leandro,
Because landfills are tightly sealed, the newspaper was protected from air and water for the last 35 years, which helped to prevent decomposition.
Not many of us can say we've been to an actual landfill. But chances are, the area where you and your neighbors live, work, and or play was once a landfill! The iRecycle@School Education Center at the Davis Street Transfer Station is one such example. Students and chaperones raise their eyebrows in shock when they realize they are sitting on top of what was once the Davis Street Landfill from 1942 to 1979. Unsorted garbage was routinely buried in "dry tomb" landfills where materials were preserved. So in December of 2010 when 3,000 tons of 1976 material were excavated for a new green waste drop-off building, like the tip of an iceberg, we got a glimpse of our society and waste management at that time.
Many of the items were intact after they were allowed to get rained on and stayed damp for a month. However, the stink was awful - a sign that the decomposing process had finally begun with the presence of oxygen and water. Our gloved hands carefully turned the pages of local newspapers dated from Feb 10 - 20th, 1976, including The Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle to find countless ads and even an article about the closing of the Davis St. Landfill itself. There were plenty of Coca-Cola and 7 Up aluminum cans, a plastic 6-pack ring, glass bottles, and a Hunt's tomato sauce steel can. Cardboard packaging included flattened boxes of Kellogg's SMACKS cereal, Lucerne Sweet Cream Butter, and a box of Schilling mix to make Tostados. We also found a piece of math homework and a milk carton with a red, plastic straw still inside! When Katie was asked if she would wear one of the 70s outfits that was uncovered, she replied, without hesitation, "Yes, I would wear it."
One question I had was why were there so many recyclables? As Tom Padia of StopWaste.Org notes, "The earliest curbside recycling program only started in the late 1970s and early 1980's- most of them came along in the later 1980's and early 1990's. There was no separate collection of plant debris (i.e. yard waste) prior to the mid-1990's. Landfill was too cheap." Perhaps that explains the grass clippings (still green) and the corn cob we found.
Imagine what it was like here in Alameda County in the 70s, where, in San Leandro alone, the population grew from 426 in 1870 to 65,698 people in 1970. With a greater population came the growing need for livable space and so the wetlands became prime locations for landfills. That is why the San Francisco Bay is lined with landfills. One chaperone who came along on a field trip at the Fremont Transfer Station noted her surprise when she found out that many of her co-workers were living on top of a former landfill in Union City! What we didn't realize back then was just how important the wetlands and marshes were in providing ecosystem services such as water purification, flood control, and habitat for wildlife. Nowadays, these landfills are closed and are managed for methane production. Some are even becoming places for recreation, such as San Leandro's Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline, which is next door to Davis St. Transfer Station, allowing the coastline to reclaim itself over time.
The Davis Street Transfer Station is an example of land reuse. Now, a Materials Recovery Facility, one of the largest of its kind on the West Coast, is sorting up to 700,000 lbs. of recyclables every day, in hopes that we will not have to waste anymore of our natural resources. Thousands of those aluminum cans still buried in our landfills will take 500 years to break down. Rebecca Jewell, Recycling Program Manager Waste Management (Davis St.) writes, "Now our folks have the opportunity to actually demonstrate that materials buried 34 years ago are still relatively pristine." The materials will be preserved for display by WM and for use at the iRecycle@School Education Center.
Landfills tell us a lot about ourselves and are full of fond memories. Tim, a driver for Waste Management here at Davis St. since 1980, still remembers when it used to be a landfill. The materials will continue to be there for years to come however, and will also serve as a reminder of how we value the places where we live, work, and play.
BLT Enterprises is the owner and operator of the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station. Besides having received notable awards for their safety and clean operations, this is now the first transfer station in Alameda County that runs most of the facility on solar power. The facility has a total of 1,700 panels that span over half its 40,000 sq ft. roof, as well as a new car port covered in panels in the front parking lot. The energy generated from the panels accommodates for 90% of the facility's energy usage. In considering the type of machinery at the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station, such as their heavy-duty balers, this is a remarkable achievement.
There are two monitors, one inside the reception area and the other in the Education Center, that displays real-time data of the solar power generated hourly, daily, and monthly, with graphs that even our fourth grade students can understand. In just two months, BLT has already prevented over 42,000 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and that number increases by the hour!
And that's not all! BLT is in the process of replacing its existing high energy metal halide lamps in their warehouse with low energy fluorescent bulbs. These new lamps will reduce the energy demand for lighting by more than 50%. BLT pays close attention to first reducing energy where possible in order to make their renewable energy most efficient.