Tales from the Pit
A highlight of our tour for most student visitors is when they get to see the huge pile of garbage that they helped generate. Dropped off in the warehouse by garbage trucks, the spectator experience is unforgettable.
The ground-shaking noise of a bulldozer shoving the garbage into the belly of a transfer truck below, the stench, and the sight of unclaimed treasures – a suitcase, teddy bear, or baby booster seat – are the most tangible and memorable experience students take away because it engages their senses. The smell of garbage reinforces that methane is released when people throw away organic matter into their trash cans. The sight of cast-off resources reminds them that no one sorts through their garbage, that their hands are the last to touch something once it is thrown into a garbage can.
"Why do people care about creating less garbage?" we ask students. "So that the Earth will not have so much litter," writes one student. "Because landfills waste a lot of space," writes another. Aside from one of my favorite pieces of feedback, "I want to work here [as an Educator] someday!" students also write us about ways they will continue to practice the 4R's:
- Buy less. Use less.
- Buy in bulk.
- Think before you use or buy something.
- Don't buy bottled water; buy less junk food.
- Donate your old clothes that don't fit you anymore.
- "I'd use less stuff to save money."
The students aren't the only ones learning about the 4R's on the field trips to the Ed Center. It's surprising how many of the questions throughout the field trips come from the chaperones.
Chaperones get most involved when I'm teaching at the Rot or compost station. After showing a short video on how the decomposition process - thanks to the FBI (fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates), and we talk about how anything that was once alive can go into the green bin, including food scraps and yard waste. Then, we do a quiz with the students where we hold up a picture and they have to tell us whether or not the item can go into the green bin. For example, we have pictures of food, yard waste, plastics, paper napkins and cups, and food soiled cardboard. The chaperones always participate in this activity and their faces are priceless when they realize food-soaked paper products, like napkins, paper towels, paper plates, paper coffee cups, and even greasy pizza boxes can go into the green bins.
Something else that the chaperones are surprised to learn is the best way to recycle plastic grocery bags. A lot of people are under the impression that you can put them into your recycle bin. However, when you do that, the bags get pulled out by hand-sorters at the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and sent to the landfill because they wrap around the machines and harm them. Instead, the best way is to make a bag of bags and take them back your local grocery store for them to send directly to a plastic bag remanufacturer. Some cities do offer "bag of bag" services for curbside pick -up, though it's still best to take them back to where you shop.
At the end of each tour we give the chaperones a survey to fill out asking them general questions such as: what were your waste disposal practices before the field trip and what are your plans for implementing the 4R's afterwards? In almost all occasions, chaperones pledge to do a better job of recycling and composting than before. We've even had a few requests from chaperones for us to visit schools and give presentations to just the teachers and parents.
It's a great feeling when the students and parents are both involved and invested in the 4R's and leave our field trip wanting to make a difference in their waste practices at home, school or work.
Although I have been a Fremont resident for the past 10 years, I am still discovering what this part of the East Bay has to offer. It’s great to have access to the Fremont Transfer & Recycling Station as my hub for many different types of waste.
For a fee, I can drop off excess household trash and yard waste. At no cost, Alameda County residents can also bring in their electronic waste and household hazardous waste (HHW). Afterwards, I like to visit the Reuse Area where I might find used paints, varnish, etc. for free. Its HHW drop-off is one of four facilities in Alameda County where I can bring products such as motor oil, household batteries, CFL light bulbs, garden products such as pesticides, and also, more recently, expired medication and sharps from home. The only challenge for me in bringing material to drop off at HHW was backing up my car into the parking space, but that could just be me.
There is one last material collected for recycling here – mattresses.· Inside a truck gets filled floppy mattresses and old box springs that resemble multi-colored pancake stacks and that will be trucked off to a mattress recycling factory or, if they’re in good condition, donated for reuse. Although the curbside recycling program does not collect mattresses or other bulky items, that doesn’t mean they can’t be recycled. Imagine all the different materials that go into a mattress! The textiles and cotton are bundled and sold in the textile market, the metal springs are sold to scrap metal dealers, the wood is chipped for mulch or fuel, and the polyurethane foam can also be recycled. ·
It is always a delight when the students and their parents who attend a field trip to the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station through the irecycle@school program discover that most items can be recycled- it’s just a matter of knowing when and where to bring them!
For more information about Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station: http://www.fremont-recycling.com
How do I recycle this? Find out using the Recycling Guide at http://www.stopwaste.org
When I tell people what I do for a living, they often wonder how I came to work in the field of garbage. Is it because I dumpster dived through college? Is it because my friend had the master key to all the dumpsters in Sonoma County? They are surprised to hear that I first got involved with the issue of waste diversion through my work at Sonoma State University's cafeteria. As a dishwasher, you have the painstaking job of scraping off mountains of uneaten food from students' plates whose eyes are obviously bigger than their mouths. After doing this for 3 years, I got angry and wanted to find a way to divert all that food waste from the landfill. Through my liberal studies class, "Garbage," I took on the project of working with the dining services director to implement an organics recycling program.
Through this project, I had made many valuable contacts in the waste field and found an employment opportunity with a local hauler as a Recycling Coordinator upon graduating. My initial enthusiasm in waste reduction transformed into working with local businesses, schools, and housing complexes all over Sonoma County. I learned the ins and outs of garbage and recycling from the people that know best – the hauler. I found myself going on routes with drivers at 3:30 in the morning, or looking through maggot-infested trash cans with flashlights to check for contamination (my dumpster diving skills came in handy after all!)
Upon my move to the East Bay in early 2010, I received an internship with the City of Hayward, again as a Recycling Coordinator, and learned about garbage and recycling from a city standpoint (being on the other side of a franchise agreement).
Now I am excited to be working in recycling education and teaching students all over Alameda County about the 4R's; Stopwaste.org is a wonderful home for me.
Although the majority of the tours we lead at the Education Centers are for 4th graders, ailment we also give tours to middle and high school students who are part of the Service-Learning Waste Reduction Project (SLWRP). SLWRP is a partnership between StopWaste.Org’s irecycle@school program, order the Alameda County Office of Education for middle and high schools in Alameda County. We have tailored our education program to teach students about local and global issues related to garbage. We are able to meet their needs with our extensive outdoor tour, order power point presentation, and hands-on activity. Teachers choose one of three themes for the students to learn about: Integrated Waste Management, Bay-Friendly Gardening, and Green Building.
Students might not come on the field trip with many questions, however a lot of what they see and hear on the outdoor tour seems to spark their interest and more questions arise the further we walk. What seems to strike high school students the most is the garbage pit where the smell can be overwhelming. Students see that most of the material in there could have been reused, recycled or composted. Many students want to know how much money the Transfer Station employees make and what education level you need to complete to get a job here. Working in waste management is green job and the field is growing. In addition, the students are very interested in the electronic-waste drop-off station as electronics are a very big part of their lives.
At the end of the presentation, students do a hands-on activity to practice some of the concepts they have just learned about. For example, depending on the theme, students work in teams to design a Green Building or a Bay-Friendly landscape for a school, home or business. For the Integrated Waste Management theme, students learn about the product cycle of a common object, like a soccer ball or cell phone, and do a life cycle analysis. The activity is the highlight of the tour for me because the students are coming up with their own great ideas to reduce waste, save energy, reduce their carbon footprint. I hope they apply these ideas to use in their everyday life.