Where does our trash go?

With centralized garbage collection in most urban centres, most of our trash stays 'out of sight, out of mind' and it's easy to forget how much we accumulate. There are many programs, like curb-side recycling and composting to clothing swaps and reuse centers that go part of the way to slowing down the streams of waste that we produce, but not all communities have these programs in place. Have you ever visited your local landfill or regional recycling depot?
Not exactly a picnic at the beach, but informative none the less and that's exactly what the Cotati Creek Critters organized on Friday, Nov. 19th with their “Where Does Our Trash Go?” tour of the County’'s Central Disposal Site, including recycling/reuse (Recycletown); the tip floor and landfill where garbage is first dumped, then buried; the municipal composting program; and a description of the landfill’'s gas power plant and household toxics facility. Thanks to Jenny Blaker of the Cotati Creek Critters for sharing this report.

...22 adults and 4 children came, with about half willing and able to carpool, and we had a very patient tour leader Patrick Carter, from the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, who answered many questions for a long time!  We visited Recycletown where reusable used items are made available at minimal cost.  We saw the areas where recyclable materials are sorted and dropped off, and we heard about the hazardous household toxics program (the main item being paint, which is also made available for use). We got a good view of the tip floor where garbage is dumped, compacted, and funneled down a hole into a waiting truck to go to the landfill area.  We saw the depressingly massive mountain of trash, covered in visiting seagulls, with more machinery constantly covering the newly arriving garbage with layers of dirt.  We saw the pipes where methane is extracted from the landfill to create the electricity to fuel the operation.  And we saw the much more inspiring area where yard waste and wood debris is sorted and tilled and aerated and turned into various grades of dark brown compost and mulch, for sale to the public.

I’ve received lots of positive feedback and thoroughly recommend the tour.  I was told it could last 1.5 hours to 2 hours depending on the level of interest.  The level of interest in our group was so high that it took us just over 2 hours and could have gone on longer if we hadn’t had people needing to leave!  There is more information at www.recyclenow.org including on tours and every aspect of recycling.

The main question that kept coming up was that everyone wanted to know in much more detail about the household recycling from our weekly curbside collections, and about the tricky questions of what precisely can be recycled and how.  However the household recycling from our blue curbside bins goes to a different facility.  Several people asked if we could go there next, so that is now on our wish list for another time!

There were several students on our tour and one of them who is writing a class paper on this experience said she could make it available to us, so that may be an additional resource soon, providing another point of view. -- [Ed. Great example of linking students to these types of projects and suggesting opportunities for research areas and practical community-linked applications]

This event was organized by Cotati Creek Critters as part of our (sometimes monthly!) community education program, the Inside/Outside Nature Education series (see www.CotatiCreekCritters.info)


Jenny Blaker, Cotati Creek Critters

The Cotati Creek Critters are in collaboration with Transition Cotati who helped in the promotion of this event.

Photo credits:
Garbage Truck flickr/David A Villa (cc);
Plastic Recycling bin flickr/Steven Depolo (cc);
Landfill flickr/D'Arcy Norman (cc)

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