Working to reduce our refuse footprint
By Anessa Myers
Published in News on May 28, 2008 1:47 PM
James Lewis and his crew know everything there is to know about recycling, at least in Goldsboro.
He, Dennis Smith, Jerry Artis and Larry Dreighton are just a few of the men in the orange, City-of-Goldsboro shirts that you may see as you peek out of your front door early in the mornings or as you swing home in the afternoon for lunch.
They are the ones emptying your recycling bins, picking up your paper, glass and plastic bottles and taking them away to be recycled.
These men take their jobs seriously.
They are, after all, saving the city money while helping keep it clean.
Even on such a small scale as Goldsboro, recycling can make a major difference.
City Sanitation Supervisor Mack McKithan said that the city took about 9,472 tons of garbage to the landfill between July 2007 and April -- roughly 947 tons a month.
And at $23 per ton, that costs the city more than $261,370 a year -- roughly $21,750 every four weeks -- which it pays to Wayne County.
In that 10-month period, however, about 969 tons of recyclable materials were diverted from that waste stream, saving the city $22,287.
During James, Dennis, Jerry and Larry's days of riding on the streets, many of which are in the sweltering heat, they come across all sorts of things, both in and out of the recycling bins.
"We've seen opossums," Dennis said.
"Snakes, lizards," Jerry said. "Waterbugs."
"And our favorite -- roaches," James added sarcastically. "I've even seen a dead cat, laying in there on its back."
But the bins aren't just filled with wildlife.
Some also show signs of residents living wild lives.
"We have seen drugs and weapons," Dennis said.
"Drugs and needles," Larry said.
"And money," Dennis added.
The smells that come out of those bins aren't the nicest aromas either.
"These guys are really great. They deal with a lot. Just imagine sour milk left in a jug in 100-degree heat," Mack said. "That's why it's important for people to wash these things out."
Opening the bins, James, Dennis, Jerry and Larry never know what is going to come out.
Jugs and cans that aren't washed out can attract bees, and often times, the men are stung.
"They wear gloves, but sometimes the bugs get up under their gloves," Mack said. "I don't know how many times my guys have gotten stung."
But most of the time, their daily duties aren't so extreme.
More often than not they just find bottles, cans, boxes and paper.
And many residents appreciate what they do.
"We've had people bake us cakes," Jerry said.
"Yeah, some people come out and thank us," Dennis said.
"We get a lot of compliments," James said. "And when customers are friendly, it makes our jobs easier."
The friendliness goes both ways.
"We always try to help people when we can," Jerry said.
"We try to look out for the elders," Larry said. "If we know they are elderly, we carry their bin back for them so they don't have to."
City residents are required to recycle once a month -- even though recyclables are picked up twice a month. If they don't, a warning and then a $25 fine is imposed.
The city's sanitation department currently handles 11,193 households' recyclables.
"I would say that about 75 percent of people are recycling twice a month, like they are supposed to," Mack said. "It isn't hard at all."
But a few thousand homes are not, he added.
If those homes would recycle, they would save the city $1,000 a month at least, Mack said.
The fee of $23 per ton that the city must pay the county will increase to at least $25 by the beginning of the new fiscal year in July because of state-mandated increases and county-recommended increases going into garbage tipping fees. The $260,000 that is paid yearly will likely rise to a price nearing awfully close to $300,000.
But that cost could easily be alleviated if more city residents participated in recycling.
Once recyclables leave a home, they are sorted by material, some by color, and are stored in the city sanitation department's recycling facility.
Tractor-trailer loads of each type recyclable are then later taken by city employees to the centers that actually recycle the products.
The plastic and paper go to Wayne Opportunity Center, the aluminum goes to Goldsboro Iron and Metal and the glass to Raleigh.
The highest number of materials recycled are soda bottles and milk jugs, and the numbers increase during the summer and holidays, "when kids are out of school," Mack said.
Goldsboro's recycling effort is visible at the state level.
Scott Muow, the state recycling director, said that the city may have the highest total in recycling for the past four years.
"If the numbers hold, Goldsboro would be at a 5 percent increase over last year which is a notable accomplishment," he said.
But Scott believes recycling does way more for a community than just saving money and reducing greenhouse gases locally.
To him, it's also an important part of North Carolina's economy.
"We've seen the number of recycling companies grow in the state from about 200 in the early 1990s to over 500 now," he said. "We've also seen steady growth in the number of people directly employed in the recycling economy -- over 60 percent growth in the past 13 years. That's almost 15,000 private sector recycling jobs in the state.
"In short, when people recycle, they literally help our economy grow and keep North Carolinians employed."
Products made with recyclable materials aid the economy, too, Scott added.
"The domestic and global demand for recycled materials is also increasing, and commodity prices for recyclables are steadily at high levels. We think that positive picture will be sustained in part because using recycled materials saves energy, and many manufacturers will keep turning to these materials as energy prices rise," he said. "We have many manufacturers in our state that rely on recycled materials, and we need to keep feeding them supplies."
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