Guest post by Irvington Senior Sophia Chan
I toured the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station with several questions in mind: how does Fremont organize its trash and what do the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station and Household Hazardous Waste Facilities do?
I met with Bruce Fritz, my tour guide, who began the tour with a model of the facility in the front office. He first explained the general logistics of the facility and its purpose to the city.
"We don't actually recycle the paper and cardboard," said Fritz. "Garbage trucks from curbside collections and businesses drop off their garbage and recyclables here; we separate the trash as much as we can, and large trucks either take tons of it to landfills or businesses take what they want for a fee to turn it into a new product."
After the general introduction, I put on my hard hat, bright orange jacket (so I wouldn't get run over by trucks), and lab glasses, and I left the safe and comforting office models to see the dusty and odorous world of trash and recycling up close and personal.
Main Drop-Off Floor
We entered the main room with all the bales of cardboard, plastic, and wood. Fritz pointed to the plastic bales and noted the facility also packs cardboard, mixed rigid plastic (think playground structures), natural clear plastic (think plastic bags), wood, and other recyclables into individual bales to organize all the trash a bit more. He elaborated that yard waste and general trash goes into their own separate piles, where large trucks or businesses can take them away.
"We categorize and then compress what we categorize," said Fritz. "The paper bales are predominantly newspaper, and the mixed paper is mostly notebook paper. The bale of aluminum is 1,500 pounds, while the one of tin cans is 1,800 pounds."
I followed Mr. Fritz down the main drop-off area that had multiple trucks dropping off trash items, and I noticed dozens of carpets along the driveway.
"Here you can see one of our innovative ideas," Fritz nodded toward the carpets. "We get so many carpets so we put some of them here to clean the trucks' tires that leave so the trash on their tires won't wash into the Bay."
Other innovative ideas Mr. Fritz pointed out along the way were mattresses that were brought in to be either recycled or striped down for the raw material and having three large donating bins to organize all the used—but still clean—clothing.
Then, he led me to the dispatch room, where I had a bird's eye view of the separation rooms. Up there, I could see the giant pits that are twenty feet deep. Employees use bulldozers or brooms to push piles of general trash to seven-ton garbage trucks that will drive to a landfill to dump out the trash.
"We used to bury the trash by alternating dirt and trash, but the toxic chemicals leaked from this landfill and contaminated the [San Francisco] Bay," Fritz explained in the dispatch room. "Now, we use conveyor belts to organize the trash as much as we can and bury what we really can't recycle in landfills lined with plastic liner."
Fremont's facility has two main conveyor belts. The smaller conveyor belt is for curbside recycling with newspapers, plastic bottles, tins, and aluminum, which are all separated by four different cages. The larger and more recently built conveyor belt is for business-sized cardboard and plastic. The bins separating the recyclables in this conveyor belt is more flexible and depends on what is brought in.
As we watch the bulldozers push the trash inside the pits, I noticed several things.
- In the general trash pile, there are many things that I can see that can be recycled. "Up to 60% of the trash in this pile is recyclable," said Fritz, "but it's so mixed and wet that it can't be retrieved, so we have to transfer the trash to the landfills. What residents can do is separate their trash before it comes to the facility to keep things out of the landfills."
- There are dozens of sprinklers hung on wires above the piles'. "The spray wets the dust in the air and weighs it down, so employees don't have to inhale too much. It also contains an odorant so the main floor doesn't smell that bad."
- There is also an earthquake-like rumble. "The employees on the main drop-off floor won't be able to tell if there's an earthquake, but up here, we can feel it."
Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Room
From the dispatch room, we climbed down the steps, walked around the building into the HHW room, where the facility collects hazardous waste such as paint, car oil, pesticides, electronics, and cleaning supplies.
There were about a hundred paint cans, cleaning supply bottles, and cooking oil cans sitting on a rack on one side against the wall. The cans and bottles on this rack contain old paint that people bring in that they ended up not using and cleaning supplies that other people bring in. The facility requires the paint to contain full info, be usable, and non-toxic before being put on the shelf. Residents or businesses can take these unwanted supplies as a form of reusing, another form of the innovative ideas Fremont's HHW Facility has for the city.
"The cleaning supplies and cooking oil cans always disappear quickly," Fritz explained, "but the paint that's put on the shelves is usually white or beige-colored, so it usually stays on the shelf until somebody needs to paint a fence or something and doesn't care what color they use."
He also elaborated on the new city ordinances for paint recycling. When you buy a can of paint, there is an extra seventy-five cents or so that is a redemption fee that is given back to you when you return the empty/semi-empty/completely-full paint can to Paint Care, which sends trucks to pick up the paint cans so Fremont will not paying for it. This is a prime example of producer responsibility. The paint manufacturers take responsibility for the entire process, from making and selling the product to recycling the residual product.
Fremont's HHW Facility collects not only cans of paint and miscellaneous cleaning and cooking supplies but also old electronics such as computer monitors, TVs, and cable wires.
"These electronics also have a redemption fee," Fritz pointed out. "Old electronics tend to contain mercury or lead that is hazardous to children, so we have to take them in to properly dispose of the lead."
To answer my questions: how does Fremont organize its trash and what do the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station and Household Hazardous Waste Facilities do?
This facility doesn't actually recycle the trash brought in; it simply separates it as much as possible and transfers it to businesses and landfills. The facility accepts cardboard, paper, aluminum, tin, e-waste, yard waste, general trash, and household hazardous waste.
There are large conveyor belts and employees who separate the recyclables, and then there are machines that compress it all together into individual bales of cardboard, paper, aluminum, and tin.
Residents can help by separating their trash from the recyclables; about 60% of what goes to the landfill is recyclable, but most of it is too wet and mixed to separate.
There is recently a city-wide ordinance on paint called the Paint Recycling Act that adds a redemption fee to the price of the paint that pays for the recycling of the used paint. This is a prime example of producer responsibility.
Photo Credits: Sophia Chan
More about the Household Hazardous Waste Facility can be found here: http://www.fremont.gov/index.aspx?NID=209
More about the Fremont Recycling and Transfer Station can be found here: http://www.fremont-recycling.com/