Five years ago, workers slipped on gloves and protective suits and sorted through bags and bags of smelly trash.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When you empty your trash do you ever wonder where it all winds up? Well, if you look to the sky in one area of Pinellas County, you'll see some of it stacked high in a landfill at 3095 114th Avenue North St. in St. Petersburg.
The landfill is 90 feet high now and planned to go up to 150 feet, but when it exceeds 110 feet, the mountain made of garbage will become the highest point in Pinellas County.
A lot of what's inside that landfill shouldn't be there, though.
Rick Clarke is a solid waste technician at Pinellas County Solid Waste. He says, "This operation is 24 hours a day, every day of the year." The agency handles about 3,000 tons of trash each day.
Five years ago, workers slipped on gloves and protective suits and sorted through bags and bags of smelly trash. They pulled out paper, bottles, cans, and yard debris, which are all items that should never be tossed out since they can easily be recycled instead.
Photo Gallery: Solid waste workers sort through trash
Clarke says, "When we studied the garbage and looked at what people throw away, we found that about 76 percent of what we're getting could possibly be recycled."
Over the past ten years, the rate of people recycling in Pinellas County has only been about 30 percent. That's the reason why workers like Rick Clarke are so passionate about giving tours. He says educating the public is critical. Last week, he gave a bus full of Seminole Elementary School students a tour.
Clarke told the students, "So, most of the garbage here could possibly be recycled, but once it's mixed in it's really hard to separate it and keep up with the amount coming in and that's why we really promote curbside recycling at home to get those materials out of the waste stream before they wound up here."
The tours aren't just for the students, though. It's really a way to try to reach their parents, too. Clarke adds, "But we do find we might have parents that weekend that are coming out to the HEC 3 center to drop off electronics and it's because their kids have told them, 'You know, hey, Dad, I can't put this TV in the trash,' so they know to bring that here instead."
Clarke is talking about the Household Electronics and Chemical Collection Center, where the public can drop off computers, monitors, DVD players, cell phones, and batteries -- items we should never chuck in the trash because they can contain hazardous materials like lead.
A little known secret is also the Swap Shop, where you can donate paint, pesticide, brake fluid, household cleaners, and gardening products instead of throwing them in the trash. The best part is you can also shop there for your home projects. Different items are donated weekly and, best of all, everything's free.
Joe Fernandez is the program manager and he says customers that stop by get good use out of the recycled items. "They paint their houses. They paint their fences and they fertilize their lawns."
Clarke says that's the goal: to reduce waste, reuse, and recycle.
In the meantime, the good news is, in Pinellas County, a large amount of trash is burned and converted into energy. There's so much trash that it can generate enough electricity to power up about 45,000 households each day.
But the ashes and all the trash that can't be burned makes it into the landfill and, at this time, there's only about 60 years of space left in it.
That's why there's such a push to recycle.
If you live in Pinellas County and would like more information on how to recycle and what you can and can't recycle, pick up a free copy of the "Pinellas County Recycling Directory." If you'd like to have a copy mailed to you, call 727-464-7500. It's also available at local libraries, Sweetbay grocery stores, Nature's Food Patch Market in Clearwater, or Pinellas County drop-off recycling locations. The directory can also be viewed online.
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