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'recycle right'

Jun 27

What are Microplastics?

Posted to Garbage Goat on June 27, 2019 at 3:22 PM by Austin Stewart

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There is growing concern in our community about the environmental impact of microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic pollution that are found in our environment. Microplastics are concerning because they are easily distributed, travelling by air and through bodies of water, and they are persistent, meaning they will not easily break down in the natural environment. However, there is still very little research on how microplastics affect human health. 

Many national headlines about plastic pollution have focused on our oceans, but microplastics have also been found throughout Spokane County, including in the Spokane River, local tap water, and even in snow on Mount Spokane. The most recent research on microplastics in Spokane County has been aimed at the effect of the Spokane Wastewater Treatment Plant on levels of microplastic pollution in the Spokane River. This study has not been peer reviewed, but is available to read on Spokane Riverkeeper’s website

The results from the study are straightforward: surprising levels of microplastics were found in every sample taken from the Spokane River, averaging 12 pieces of microplastic pollution per liter of water. Further research is still being conducted, aimed at identifying top sources of microplastics and options for remediation. Currently, Spokane City’s wastewater treatment plant is working towards installing a new membrane filtration process that is expected to remove a majority of microplastics from its effluent. The Spokane County Water Reclamation Facility already has a filtration process that is assumed to remove almost all microplastics.
 
Knowledge of microplastics remains murky, and until the waters are cleared, it’s difficult to understand the implications of these findings. Known sources of microplastics are widespread: the wear of tires on roads, synthetic fibers like polyester that break down when washed, plastic litter that becomes broken up over time, and more. However, minimizing your impact on microplastic pollution is possible. Try to swap out single use items for reusable products. Ensure you are disposing of all plastic waste responsibly, bagging your waste and keeping debris secure to prevent pollution. Washing synthetic fibers can release plastic particles, and products such as the Guppyfriend washing bag, Cora Ball, or specially-designed washer machine filters*, are designed to prevent fibers from being released into the wastewater system. 

In situations that are confusing or discouraging, focus on the basics: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Reduce your consumption, and pay special attention to the single-use items you are using. Reuse what is possible, and recycle your basic materials like paper, cardboard, metal, and plastic bottles and tubs. If you’re concerned about plastic pollution, consider getting a group of friends together to clean up a polluted area with Spokane County’s Team Up to Clean Up project. Alternately, you can volunteer with the Spokane Riverkeeper to help keep the river free from pollution. 

*The views and opinions of authors expressed on the Garbage Goat’s blog do not necessarily state or reflect those of Spokane County and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Mention of a specific product on the Garbage Goat’s blog does not imply endorsement by Spokane County.
Jun 20

What’s the Difference Between Curbside and Transfer Station Recycling?

Posted to Garbage Goat on June 20, 2019 at 2:13 PM by Austin Stewart

Recycling can vary significantly in different areas, and even within Spokane County you can find different recycling standards based on where and how you are disposing of your recyclables. These changes are impacted by multiple factors, from who picks up and transports your recyclables, to who ultimately handles your recyclables and sorts or packages them. Knowing these differences can inform how you recycle, and what items and commodities you want to prioritize. 

Curbside

If you have curbside recycling pickup service, you do not have to sort your recyclables into separate containers, and that’s called commingled recycling—all materials are combined. Though you don’t have to sort your recyclables, you are still obligated to only put whichever materials into your recycling bin that your waste hauler allows. The list of what is and is not allowed in your recycling bin is determined by several factors. 

First, County Code 8.58.040 states the minimum types of recyclables that shall be collected in a curbside program. Next, the list is impacted by the hauler who is picking up the recycling bins deciding what they are willing to transport. The waste haulers in Spokane County are Waste Management, Sunshine Disposal, and the City of Spokane. One difference between haulers is whether or not they accept glass. When glass gets crushed in recycling trucks, it can damage the mechanisms and walls of the truck’s waste compartment, adding equipment repair costs. Because of this, Waste Management and Sunshine Disposal do not accept glass in their recycling bins, but the City of Spokane does. To find out which hauler services your area, check out Spokane County’s Curbside Pickup page

The list can also be impacted by where the recyclables are taken to. In Spokane County, commingled recyclables are likely sent to Waste Management’s SMaRT Center, and the list of materials they accept impacts what you’re able to put into your recycling bin. One reason you cannot put styrofoam or plastic bags in your recycling bin in Spokane County is because the SMaRT Center is not equipped to handle these challenging materials, and so no local hauler currently accepts them in commingled recycling bins either.

Commingled curbside recycling bins are the easiest and simplest way to handle your recyclables. You don’t have to drive anywhere to drop recyclables off, and you don’t have to worry about sorting them either. However, the service is not free, and to have curbside recycling you need to live where recycling is offered, which is regulated by Spokane County. Additionally, some landlords, homeowners associations, and other entities are not willing to pay the fee or set up curbside recycling services with the hauler. Neighborhoods who are not in the regulated recycling service area can contact the Spokane County Regional Solid Waste System to learn more about the petition process to be included in the regulated recycling service area. 

Transfer Station

Another way to dispose of your recyclables is to take them to one of the three local transfer stations. Taking recyclables to a transfer station is free, but you need transportation and time to do so. The North County and Valley transfer stations have areas for both sorted and commingled recyclables, while the Waste to Energy Transfer Station requires that recyclables be sorted. Sorted recyclables are less likely to be contaminated, so they are of higher value and easier to sell to someone who will recycle the material. Whether you sort your recyclables at the transfer station or place them all in a commingle area, your choice will have an impact on the quality and salability of your recyclables, and therefore impact the likelihood that they will be turned into new materials. 

Transfer stations are the cheapest option for recycling disposal. They also enable you to talk directly with solid waste experts, and staff at transfer stations who are trained and able to answer your questions about recycling. If making regular trips to a transfer station is not a possibility for you, consider waiting longer between trips to collect more recyclable material, or finding a neighbor or friend who will make a combined trip with you. 

The most important factor to consider when choosing your waste disposal options is what is sustainable for you. Though going to a transfer station and sorting your recyclables by hand might ensure they are kept free from contamination, regular trips and the effort required to sort your materials might not be manageable long-term. Find a balance between what is best for the environment, and what is best for you. 
Jun 03

What is the Waste to Energy Facility?

Posted to Garbage Goat on June 3, 2019 at 8:27 AM by Austin Stewart

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Spokane County produces between 800 and 1,300 tons of trash every day, and a lot of that waste is sent to the Spokane Waste to Energy (WTE) facility to be incinerated for energy recovery. The process includes burning the trash, turning that heat into electrical energy, and treating the remaining ash so that it can be safely landfilled. Overall, this process reduces the volume of the waste by 90% and creates enough energy to power 13,000 homes in our area. 

Burning trash is not legal for citizens, so why is it okay for the WTE facility to burn trash? The WTE facility goes through multiple steps to treat the ash and by-products created by burning the trash, which ensures that they remain well below EPA emission standards and keep our air clean. In fact, the vapor you see coming out of the WTE’s smokestack is mostly water. When waste is delivered to the WTE plant, it is first mixed up so that there is plenty of air in the trash to help it burn quickly. This step also allows the operators to see any waste that should not be burned such as sheetrock and other contaminants. The trash is then moved into an incinerator, where temperatures reach 2,000°F, and almost everything burns. Of course, metal materials will not always break down, and any ferrous metals (metals that are magnetic and contain iron) are later removed from the ash to be recycled. 

As the trash burns, chemicals are used to bind with toxins present in the fly ash created by the fire, forming compounds that are easier for the facility operators to remove and keep out of the air. This includes ammonia, which treats nitrogen oxide, and a lime slurry (calcium hydroxide) that treats acid gasses like hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide. The smoke is also pulled through thousands of Gore Tex-covered filters that clean the air and allow the fly ash to be handled separately. Because of the various chemical treatments the ash goes through, it is considered inert, meaning it will not leach any harmful heavy metals or toxins into the environment. The ash from the WTE facility is then sent to a landfill in Roosevelt, Washington, where it is buried in its own designated area. 

Together, the City of Spokane and Spokane County own five landfills, all of which are closed to the general public. Originally, Spokane County’s waste was sent to these locations, but problems arose when leachate, or chemical runoff from the landfills, began getting into the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, our sole source of water. The aquifer is sometimes as little as 60-80 feet below the ground surface, so it is particularly easy for pollutants to find their way into our water. Additionally, more than a million gallons of water flow between the aquifer and the Spokane River each day, making it especially important to keep both clean. For this reason, Spokane County decided to close the landfills—though they are continuously monitored—and build the WTE facility. 

There is no perfect way to deal with trash. Whether waste is being deposited in a landfill or burnt for energy, there are going to be environmental consequences. The best solution to handling trash is to eliminate it in the first place. Reducing your waste can include steps like removing single-use and non-recyclable materials from your life, and making sure you are recycling properly. Keep your recyclables clean, dry, and empty, and focus on the basics: paper and cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs, and tin and aluminum cans. Your effort to reduce and divert your waste adds up—so let's all do our part!