No rummaging allowed!
If you want a reminder that America is well off, go watch people pitch their stuff into the Nevada County dump.
On a recent afternoon at what is officially called The McCourtney Road Transfer Station, you could see a recently heaved collection of decent bedroom furniture, even the mattress that went with it.
You could also find a perfect children’s wading pool, a globe and enough wood to build for the rest of your life.
“There’s a hot tub cover – we get crazy stuff,” said attendant Darrell Torry, standing at the edge of the concrete pit where people reject the material part of their lives seven days a week.
“Fishing rods, weed eaters, chain saws, life jackets and bar stools” are some of the items facility boss and Operations Supervisor Bob Elder sees.
All of it gets pitched over the side and a “neat and tidy patrol” of workers sweep any remains over the side, too. Customers also pitch in, using a self-serve set of brooms. Surprisingly, the transfer station’s pit is one of the cleaner public spaces you’ll see.
Transfer station rules prohibit people from rummaging through the mess for the good stuff, a safety consideration more than anything else, Elder said.
“There’s no scavenging and that includes employees – much to their chagrin – because on occasion, they see valuable stuff,” Elder said.
Dead animals are also part of the scene. But Elder and his workers spot them at the gate and have people take them to a certain area, so they can be discreetly loaded onto transfer trucks.
The trucks are in a constant flow in and out of the transfer station, hauling tons of garbage from 150,000 transactions a year to a landfill near Wheatland, Elder said. None of it stays in Nevada County and what was once dumped there years ago is now a covered, on-site landfill.
Construction-demolition material brings in 25 to 40 tons a day alone, Elder said, and 70,000 pounds of recyclable electronics come in every month.
A typical customer is Nick Burns of Alta Sierra, whose poodle Bell was sitting in the cab of his pickup as he unloaded the bed.
“I was just cleaning up the garage,” Burns said. “It’s 15 years of accumulation.”
Waiting next to Burns was a not-so-typical customer, William Hardy of Nevada City. Hardy is a sustainable building contractor, and he saw a wealth of materials in the pit.
“Half the stuff that goes in there still has value,” Hardy said. “There’s got to be a better way.
“Construction generates so much waste, it’s ridiculous. It breaks my heart. Look at all that wood in there.”
Hardy’s message – to recycle whatever you can be before it hits the pit – is the mantra of the transfer station workers.
“People say ‘I usually recycle but not today,'” said facility attendant Kristin Liljequist. “You have to make a commitment to recycling and do it all the time.”
“The trick is to educate folks about recycling and get them to separate the material beforehand,” said Elder. The dump has an elaborate recycling facility, where people can bring their plastics, cans and other items
Torry wished people would be more diligent about recycling, but he doesn’t worry that it would force him out of his job.
“One thing about the garbage industry is it never goes away. It’s recession-proof,” Torry said. “Everything else is tied to some market but garbage is garbage. It’s a daily occurrence.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4237.
What gets dumped
Millions of pounds of trash and recyclable material flow into the McCourtney Road Transfer Station annually. Here are some total numbers compiled from October 2006, through September 2007:
• 64,390 tons or 128.8 million pounds of solid waste.
• 4,634 tons or 9.3 million pounds of scrap metal.
• 21,215 tons or 42.4 million pounds of green yard waste.
• 351.5 tons or 703,000 pounds of cardboard.
• 331 tons or 662,000 pounds of TVs and monitors.
• 240 tons or 480,000 pounds of old computers, faxes and other electronic waste.
– Source: the Nevada County Department of Sanitation.
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