Fillmore County plans for next Tuesday’s hazardous waste collection

By : 
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY
BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP

The Fillmore County household hazardous waste collection is set for Tuesday, Oct. 2, from noon to 5 p.m. at the Resource Recovery Center in Preston – on Highway 52 south through Preston.

“Last year, between both events, we served 403 individuals representing 434 households. Other impressive numbers: 5,963 gallons of latex paint, 2,940 gallons of oil-based paint, 220 gallons of flammable liquids, 1,692 pounds of aerosols, 1,491 pounds of household pesticides and much more,” cited Fillmore County Solid Waste Administrator Drew Hatzenbihler.

He tallied up the amount of each household hazardous waste item brought to the Fillmore County Resource Recovery Center in Preston during the biannual collection that prevents these chemicals from being left somewhere else.

“Everything we collect is picked up by Veolia Environmental Services,” Hatzenbihler continued. “Any recyclable items are sent to be processed for recycling and the rest is incinerated at high temperatures in a controlled environment, and any fumes are scrubbed to avoid pollution.”

Collections at the Resource Recovery Center are held twice per year – the first Tuesday in May and the first Tuesday in October. There are a number of reasons it’s important.

“We accept materials for free so people have a responsible place to put them,” Hatzenbihler said. “In doing so, these materials and chemicals don’t end up in ditches, streams and landfills. In addition, it keeps these chemicals from going down the drain where they can cause problems for drinking supply water, ground or surface water…out of ditches, streams, fields, landfills, storm sewers, drains and septic systems. It is especially important for residents of Fillmore County, as chemicals can end up in groundwater much quicker due to the limestone, sinkholes and karst topography.”

Keeping household hazardous waste out of the regular garbage stream certainly is part of the effort to protect groundwater and the overall health of the local environment.

“When these items are thrown away and discovered in the trash or at a landfill, they can be very expensive to clean up and dispose of and can even pose risks to individuals working to collect and dispose of trash,” he said. “Certain chemicals can spontaneously ignite under the right conditions and cause landfill or recycling center fires that are difficult, dangerous and costly to put out.”

That said, Hatzenbihler pointed out that removing combustible chemicals from homes can prevent fires or at least eliminate some of the hazards firefighters encounter while on the job.

“Over time, chemicals stored unused in houses, basements, garages, attics, et cetera can change chemical characteristics. What was once a perfectly safe item can become toxic or deadly over time, could leak or cause fires,” he added.

Hatzenbihler remarked that most people take the time to store and deliver their household waste to the center instead of depositing it in ditches or elsewhere.

“In general, people are good about holding these items for our annual collections,” he said. “We do occasionally see some hazardous items dropped off illegally around the county and frequently find trash, televisions, mattresses and furniture that are dumped illegally in ditches and recycling sites. This is especially frustrating since we have the facilities within the county to dispose of waste properly, and while it may save one person a few dollars, it ultimately costs everyone in the county when we have to dispose of illegally-dumped materials.”

The center publishes a list of accepted and “not accepted” items before each collection.

Household products accepted by the center include aerosol cans, latex- and oil-based paint, acids and bases, cleaners, antifreeze, motor oil, household pesticides and insecticides, tars and adhesives, poisons, gasoline and diesel fuel, solvents, mercury thermometers and thermostats, swimming pool chemicals, automotive products, epoxy and glue, and stains, varnishes and wood preservatives.

The center will not accept agricultural chemicals, explosives, medical waste – including medications and sharps, business waste, radioactive waste, and empty containers, including empty paint and aerosol cans.

“A list of accepted items can be found in the advertisements in all of the Fillmore County papers one to two weeks before each event,” Hatzenbihler said. “They can also come visit us at the Resource Recovery Center and we would be happy to give you a copy of the acceptable items. We only accept household quantities and items generated by households, and we do not accept business waste. Any large quantity of an item – 55 gallons or more – we would appreciate a heads-up so we can make sure we can accept the item and that we have the ability to move it. Other than that, any items on the ‘not accepted’ list – specifically explosives, radioactive waste or business or farm chemicals, we can do our best to try to help you find somewhere to dispose of those items correctly, but we cannot accept them.”

He did note that some items are collected year-round, such as oil, empty paint and aerosol containers and medical sharps, which must be in a hard-sided container with a lid that has been sealed with tape.

Participants should prepare to bring their cans, buckets and boxes ready for a quick inspection and in a crate or box to expedite the drop-off process.

“We do look over every drop-off that comes in, and we reserve the right to refuse to accept any items that are outside the scope of our collection,” Hatzenbihler said. “Generally, we want to see all of these hazardous materials disposed of safely and responsibly. Any item we do not accept, we will do our best to give you the resources you need to dispose of it properly. Making sure that lightbulbs, oil filters, empty paint cans, empty aerosol cans, antifreeze and other items we accept year-round are not mixed in with your hazardous items can save you and everyone else some time. People often wait in the long hazardous waste drop-off line to dispose of these items that could be dropped off on a less-busy day, or end up waiting in two lines to dispose of their items. In addition, having items properly packed in boxes or containers that they don’t want back speeds up the process immensely, as we can pull whole boxes from vehicles rather than individual items. A bit of planning on the part of our participants can save us time during the collection and cut down on wait times for everyone.”

Not everyone will be able to get to the center during the collection, so transporting a friend or neighbor’s items is a courtesy that Hatzenbihler stated people should cautiously extend.

“Please feel free to bring any hazardous waste for friends or neighbors as long as you are comfortable doing so,” he said. “I would never accept anything dangerous or that may not be accepted during the event for fear of having to dispose of it myself – friends don’t transfer dangerous chemicals to other friends.”

Residents who use the collection to clear out their households will be asked to complete a short survey. “It is important for reporting purposes that we know how many individuals and how many households are served by each collection,” Hatzenbihler said.

Collection volunteers hail from various departments of the county government and also from Winona County’s household hazardous waste staff, and they can lend a hand to residents who need one in unloading their cargo.

He pointed out, “Our volunteers come from other county departments like Soil and Water, Public Health and the highway department. In addition, Winona County Household Hazardous Waste staff comes to every collection to assist with the collection, sorting and processing. We have many volunteers that would be happy to assist with unloading vehicles, but any help you can offer in unloading your vehicle is always appreciated. Collection days are extremely busy for our staff and volunteers, and we appreciate everyone’s patience with waiting in line.”

The collection is free to Fillmore County residents. “This program is partially funded through grant money each year, but is also paid for through Fillmore County tax dollars. Using tax dollars and grants, we are able to keep the collection free for all residents and ensure that everyone has a safe place to dispose of hazardous waste,” Hatzenbihler said. “By doing these large collections, we are able to ship these items in bulk. If each resident needed to pay to dispose of their individual items, the cost would be far too high to make it feasible and people would have no safe means of disposing of their hazardous waste. This collection is only for Fillmore County residents. Residents of other counties can call their local governments to see what options exist for hazardous waste disposal in their county.”