Friday, 24 May 2024

Garbage goes green: Company adopts innovative approaches for waste disposal

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From left, Julie Price, Bruce McCracken and Juan Ortega with one of Lake County Waste Solutions' new split body trucks for collecting garbage and recyclables. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 

LAKEPORT – Thinking green, living green and developing greener technologies and business models is on a lot of peoples' minds these days. {sidebar id=94}


Some of the most original work going on to make lives greener isn't just going on in think tanks or startup companies; if you want to see the front line of green, you have no farther to go than a local garbage and recycling center.


Lake County Waste Solutions has a franchise agreement with Lake County, and collects trash, recyclables and greenwaste in all unincorporated areas of the county except Middletown, Cobb and the Clear Lake Riviera. They also have the trash collection agreement for the city of Clearlake and for Ukiah.


Bruce McCracken and two partners bought the company, formerly known as Timberline, in September 2007. Before becoming a part owner, McCracken had been involved with managing the company's local operations on and off since 1988.


Since purchasing the company McCracken and his partners have made substantial investment in the company, including updating the 20 garbage trucks that serve Lake County in order to meet new California Air Resource Board guidelines, and have replaced 12 trucks in the county's fleet. The company employs 61 people, 32 of them at its Lake County operations.


“I'm a proud papa,” McCracken said of his company.


He's especially proud of the new “split body” trash collection trucks, two of which run in Clearlake and three in the county.


A brand new split body truck runs just under $300,000 and allows both trash and recyclables to be dumped into the same truck and separated into the truck's two holding bins. The trucks make trash collection more efficient, said Julie Price, the company's recycling manager.


The trucks have, however, generated a little public concern.


When they first appeared on the streets and people saw recyclables being dumped with the trash, the company began getting a lot of calls. Juan Ortega, the company's dispatcher, said some drivers were being chased down the street. McCracken said he thinks more people are interested in where their garbage and recyclables go, which gave rise to the reaction.


Even with the new investments, the company has managed to keep its rates low, averaging about $12 per month. “We're not only the lowest in Lake County, we're the lowest in the region,” said McCracken.


Lake County Waste Solutions has plans to expand its Soda Bay Road facility to include a larger transfer station that will be built on an adjacent piece of land. The company and the county are in discussions about having the new transfer station take over for the county's Bevins Street trash collection facility, at no additional cost to customers. The new transfer facility would come online next year.


McCracken said the new center will allow the company to increase its efforts to pull more recyclable items out of the trash. “We think you could see diversion skyrocket in the county.”


The current yard would be used as a recycling buyback center, with more space to welcome customers. The facility also would be covered to be more welcoming in all weather. McCracken said they may even be able to have their own version of “Recycle Town,” the reclaimed materials sales center at the Sonoma County Dump.


Once they collect trash, it isn't just a matter of taking it to the landfill. For a garbage company to take a lot of trash to the dump isn't good for the bottom line, said McCracken. “Taking it to the landfill is what we don't want to do.”


Rather, they're looking at every opportunity to divert more materials from the trash and into cash.


Last November, as an experiment, McCracken and several staffers at their Ukiah facility went through the contents of a garbage truck and sorted it all by hand. They found that as much as 70 percent of what was in the trash was really recyclable.


McCracken said more manufacturers are realizing that it's both less expensive and better for their public image to use materials that can be recycled or are themselves reused. At the same time, the garbage collection industry is changing – and it's not just about trash anymore.


So, what materials do they find in the trash that don't belong? Paper, plastics and construction materials, they say.


In the case of plastics, they can now take all types, rather than just a few as in the past, including plastic bottle caps.


Rigid plastics, such as toys, milk crates and laundry hampers, also now can find a place in the company's blue recycling containers.


As recycling manager, Price's job is to look for businesses that reuse the myriad materials that are found in the trash. She said she has a big “to do” list of materials for which she's looking to find new uses.


Her job also will include a public outreach campaign. The company's new Web site, www.candswaste.com, is set to launch next month and will feature information about recycling and how people can help divert more of the waste stream from the dump.


McCracken said they're always looking at new opportunities to keep things out of the landfill. That led them to sell greenwaste to businesses that make wood chips out of it or, in some cases, to bioenergy companies.


Electronics – televisions, computers and the like – are taken to a Fresno facility where they're disassembled, said McCracken.


Cardboard, much of it produced in China, is usually sold back to recycling businesses in that country, he said.


The company's Ukiah facility will begin accepting clothes and shoes next month from its Mendocino County customers. Price said they have a contract with Goodwill, which takes the clothes. They hope to be able to offer the same service in Lake County in the future.


McCracken said the company's next big goal is to find uses for materials such as food waste and roof tiles.


Price said it's amazing what people will throw away; they're always finding things that can be reused. They said all of their office furniture is reclaimed from the trash. Sitting outside of the offices were four matched wooden chairs in good condition that had been thrown out and which one staffer was taking home.


With recyclables becoming more valuable, the company is becoming more protective of the materials. Lake County Waste Solutions and other local garbage collection companies are keeping an eye out for recycling poachers.


McCracken said it's a growing problem which isn't just illegal but breaks their franchise agreement. “It's potentially tens of thousands of dollars a year.”


He attributes the increase in recycling poaching to two main reasons – the lagging economy and the prices of materials skyrocketing.”


Because of those higher prices, metal thefts also have been a concern in some parts of the state. He said ATT has a number they ask recyclers to call if someone appears with a spool of copper wire.


However materials prices recently have begun falling; some of that may be due to factories in places like China, where the need to improve air quality during the Olympics led the country to temporarily close down some of its factors, Price said.


Some of the company's future goals include looking at alternate fuels for garbage trucks. For now, they're still running on diesel, although McCracken said garbage companies in other parts of the country are looking at hybrids. “Something's coming,” he said.


The dream, said McCracken, is that someday trash itself could be used for fuel, an idea he said “is not too Jetsony.”


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

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The split body trash trucks make garbage and recyclables collection more efficient. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 


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