Hazardous waste roundup a continuing success

Deputy Sheriff Alex Schajter and Pharmacist Jenny Olsen accept expired prescription medicines and syringes for safe disposal at the Manistee County Road Commission garage. (Scott Fraley/News Advocate)

By SCOTT FRALEY
Staff Writer

BEAR LAKE — For over a decade, the Manistee Conservation District (MCD) has helped residents responsibly dispose of hazardous chemicals, thereby preventing toxic household items, pharmaceuticals and pesticides from winding up in landfills or groundwater.

The program began in 2006 as a collaborative effort between Manistee, Mason Lake and Oceana Conservation Districts, which comprise the regional Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) committee.

Susan Spencer, executive director of the MCD, said, “We run this event concurrent to the other conservation districts. It’s always the third Saturday in August and it’s been increasingly successful.”

In recent years, the program has become a victim of its own success — as rising waste disposal costs and dramatic increases in participation have put a strain on the organization’s resources.

In 2018, the MCD collected a total of 39,873 pounds of hazardous waste, which was well over the previously agreed-upon limit. Nearly two thirds of that total, or 22,000 pounds, were in oil, batteries and electronics.

“As a result, the district was forced to turn away cars at the end of the event, never a desirable option,” Spencer said. “There’s never any shortage of toxic household chemicals.”

To ensure adequate funds for future collections, and to serve as many residents as possible, the three-county HHW committee implemented the following changes for this year’s collection:

• A shortened time-frame for the event — instead of 2 p.m. as in previous years; and

• An increase in the suggested donation per carload, from $5 to $10. The disposal cost for 56 pounds of hazardous waste is $50.

“We had to intentionally scale back this year so we could recoup our losses and reestablish our fund balance,“ Spencer said. “This year is down because we had to let people know that we had a 12,000 pound limit.”

One area of decline was in the collection of pharmaceuticals and syringes, said Manistee County Sheriff deputy Alex Schajter.

“We’ve had considerably less of the controlled substances than the standard expired medications,” he said.

Schajter attributed the drop off to the successful implementation of the county’s Red Med Box program, which allows residents to drop off controlled substances and expired medicines throughout the year.

ERG Environmental Services was on site to properly handle the collection and disposal of those items. According to Ed Dawkins, vice-president of ERG Environmental Services, much of the toxic refuse can be recycled.

“The flammable materials – stains, oil based paints and alcohol gets blended into a fuel that’s burned at cement kilns to make cement in lieu of coal or oil,” Dawkins said. “The aerosol cans are the same thing – mostly flammable fluid. The cans are shredded, steel is recycled and the contents are blended into a fuel.”

According to Spencer, waste handlers had collected a plethora of toxic and potentially harmful substances.

“We always collect large appliances, electronics, toxic solvents, household cleaners, pesticides, herbicides, aerosol spray cans, compact flourescent lightbulbs – a whole range of items that are considered hazardous and shouldn’t go into landfills.”

Dawkins said his group had also categorized a number of oxidizers, highly alkaline and acidic materials, oils, antifreeze and mercury.

“All the stuff under your sink that you want to keep out of the landfill or out of a ditch,” he said.

Spencer said the conservation district’s continued success relies on the efforts of volunteers.

“We had a great turnout of volunteers this year,” she said. “I’m astonished at how many people showed up to help us out and we’re tremendously grateful for their participation.”

Over the course of the next few weeks conservation district officials will be evaluating the totals and determining how much was taken in during the 2018 collection.

The MCD is asking residents to consider supporting the event with an additional tax deductible donation. All donations should be sent to the Mason-Lake Conservation District, HHW Fiduciary, at 655 N. Scottville Road, Scottville, MI 49454, (231) 757-3707 ext. 3. For more information, contact Susan Spencer, Manistee CD Executive Director, at (231) 889-9666.

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