Unique Complex Collects and Dispenses
Mention the word “recycle” and who doesn’t picture the well-rinsed aluminum can, twisted and tossed into an old cardboard box in the family garage, next to a bin of empty milk jugs or sack of old newspapers.
Montgomery County residents can still take these traditional recyclables to the Precinct 3 recycling facility, but they’ll find more than just an over-sized collection container and a mega-scale. They’ll find a complex.
The Montgomery County Pct. 3 Recycle, ReUse and Household Chemical Waste Facility is a multifaceted center located on several acres of land housing a community collection center, mobile collection trailer, hazardous waste collection center, and a reuse distribution center, along with a demonstration garden for environmentally friendly garden and yard keeping.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Montgomery County complex is that users don’t come to only drop off their recyclables…they also come to pick some up.
Take, for instance, “Conservation Colors,” one of the county’s latest recycling and reuse ventures where viable latex paint is collected and re-blended. The paint is sorted along seven color schemes, drained into 150-gallon vats, mixed and poured into one- and five-gallon buckets, and then given to the public free of charge. This program typically saves about 650 gallons of paint a month from being thrown in a landfill or poured down the drain, said Becky Cottingham, facility director.
The year 2009 logged 36,273 visitors to the complex, while 2010 has seen 20,359 visitors, plus pull-in vehicles, from January to July.
Some 10 years ago during a designated Countywide Cleanup Week, employees traversed area neighborhoods retrieving large items set on curbs, Cottingham said. Subsequently a 30-yard, open-top, roll-off dumpster was placed in the parking lot of the Precinct 3 office to allow for disposal of items on an ongoing basis.
“It was soon necessary to have an additional roll-off,” Cottingham recalled. “Every weekend they would overflow, frequently with items that could be recycled and with many items that should not go to the landfill, such as tires. It became apparent that a recycling center would give an environmentally acceptable option for disposal.”
Montgomery County applied for and received grant money from the Houston-Galveston Area Council of Governments (H-GAC) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to help establish a Recycling Center. This first section of the complex was completed in 2001 and includes a Yard Wise Demonstration Garden showcasing native plants and grasses that are heat tolerant, drought resistant, and do not require considerable maintenance creating excessive yard debris.
The Recycling Center, initially launched with two employees, offers containers for recyclables, one baler, one landfill roll-off, and a chipper to process trees and shrubs. Today, the Recycling Center is staffed with six full-time employees and two part-time workers.
“In 2001, who would have thought we would be accepting vegetable oil, which is now made into biodiesel fuel for cars,” Cottingham said. (See related box for additional accepted items.)
A 2003 grant from H-GAC and TCEQ partially funded the next expansion, including the addition of a Mobile Collection Trailer which travels to Montgomery County’s other precincts to collect batteries, motor oil, latex paint, and antifreeze (BOPA). In later years, the collection list was increased to include household chemical waste, electronics (e-scrap) and latex paint. This grant also funded the purchase of the ReUse Building.
“The progression of grants moved toward the much-needed Household Chemical Waste Facility,” a drive-through building that became operational in 2004, Cottingham continued. “Rather than pay the additional disposal cost for items accepted at the Household Chemical Waste building, those that are new or nearly full and in good condition are placed in the ReUse Building and given to residents and non-profits at no charge,” she said. (See related box for applicable items.)
“This has been one of the most effective and well-used programs put into place in my 24 years of office,” said Montgomery County Pct. 3 Commissioner Ed Chance. “The community has been very receptive, and the effect on roadside cleanup has been very significant.”
The county spends approximately $300,000 each year to run the facility but realizes a $200,000 cost savings due to reduction in cleanup costs, Chance continued.
The facility does not charge for standard recyclables such as paper, plastic, cardboard and metal. However, there is a nominal fee for some items that require disposal by the county. For example, television and computer monitors are $10 each, and large computer components are $5.
“When possible I suggest residents take their electronics to Goodwill,” Cottingham explained, as Goodwill partners with Dell to provide employment training and low-cost or free computers to those in need.
The cost of operating the center has paid off when it comes to the subsequent decrease in illegal dumping and the varied problems associated with strayed garbage.
“Through the elimination of roadside dumping there is first the elimination of various eyesores,” Cottingham emphasized. “The debris also creates a habitat for wild or stray animals close to the roadway; in the drainage ditch the debris could impede water flow and cause flooding. Debris that holds water then also becomes a breeding site for mosquitoes.”
Cottingham cited other broad-range environmental benefits:
v Recycling uses less energy than manufacturing from raw materials.
v Recycling creates additional employment opportunities.
· Incinerating 10,000 tons of waste creates one job.
· Placing 10,000 tons of waste in a landfill creates six jobs.
· Recycling 10,000 tons of material creates 36 jobs.
v Permits for the creation of new landfills have decreased, and current landfills have a limited life expectancy. Diverting items from the landfill by means of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rebuy, Repair and Rethink” enables the landfill to remain active longer.
She offered additional educational tidbits such as:
¨ One ton of newspapers saves 17 trees.
¨ The energy saved from recycling one aluminum can will operate a computer or television for three hours.
¨ Five recycled plastic soda bottles will make enough fiberfill for one ski jacket.
Onward and Upward
Montgomery County Precinct 3 continues to seek grant funding and improve its facility. The latest endeavor involves upgrading electrical systems, acquiring a new baler to accommodate varied plastics, and securing a Styrofoam densifier, which shreds and melts Styrofoam into platter-sized patties for ease of economical transport, Cottingham said. In addition, the Waste Management Corporation is installing a Recycling Kiosk where residents can scan their recycling and earn points for free merchandise and restaurant dinners, set to debut in November. Finally, a new recycling office and warehouse are under construction, and right of way beautification and irrigation at the facility are complete.
“It’s all coming together just in time for Texas Recycles Day,” Cottingham noted. “It’s very exciting!”
Making it Happen
Counties interested in establishing a broad-range recycling complex may want to consider the following tips:
v Plan a centrally located site.
v Ensure convenient ingress and egress and smooth directional flow of traffic without bottlenecks to maximize participation.
v Allow for expansion of the variety of commodities accepted.
v Accommodate for growth and an increase in county population.
Montgomery County learned these valuable lessons over the last decade, as efforts that originated with a single dumpster evolved into a sophisticated complex attracting tens of thousands every year.
“If you build it,” Cottingham quipped, “they will come!”
By Julie Anderson