Neat news about a messy subject was the order of the day at the Gardiner Town Board meeting on Tuesday, June 10. The town’s Solid Waste Transfer Station and Recycling Center has had a new manager with specialized training on duty since March 15, and by all appearances, town officials couldn’t be more pleased with Wendy Toman’s performance thus far.
Most of the meeting was taken up by a PowerPoint presentation in which Toman proffered extensive detail about the ways in which the Transfer Station’s facilities and procedures have been updated since her arrival, beginning with stricter enforcement of what can be dumped or recycled and what can’t. Ensuring that users comply with state codes and regulations is “the most important part of my job,” Toman said. Residents who got used to more lax standards of enforcement in years past may occasionally get disgruntled, but the new regime “does save us some very steep fines. It could cost us five to 15 thousand dollars a day if we don’t comply.”
The slideshow included before-and-after photos of some of the more alarming conditions at the Transfer Station, starting with a shot of lead acid batteries stacked on a plastic skid, exposed to the elements. Battery acid leaked into pooled rainwater, and wildlife like spring peepers were attracted to the toxic brew. The batteries are now stored in a weatherproof covered plastic bin. Batteries in general are a challenge, Toman said, needing to be sorted by hand since some types can be recycled and some cannot.
Part of the new coordinator’s mission has been to separate discarded items aggressively in order to reclaim and sell every possible recyclable item, such as clipping and stripping wires to collect the metal and separating aluminum frames from lawn furniture. A new collection tank with a screen and a lid to keep out rainwater was installed for waste oil, which can include kerosene and diesel and, in above-freezing temperatures, even cooking oil. Toman noted that the facility currently needs to renew its permit for waste oil recycling, and said that having a tank that meets Department of Environmental Conservation code will help.
It’s highly labor-intensive work, but she said that she has gotten a lot of help from highway department staff and local volunteers — especially students with community service credits to accumulate for school or scouts. She showed photos of students collecting windblown trash and installing fencing, compacting cardboard by stomping it down, separating “nickelback” deposit bottles and moving discarded tires to a rain-protected storage area. Two 12th-graders, Max Povlov and Daniel Talbert, even designed and constructed an ingenious aluminum-collecting bin with a sliding hatchway from discarded pallets.
A pod unit overflowing with random garbage was cleaned out and rededicated to the collection of e-waste, and the town has contracted with a recycling company called Maven Technologies to empty it on a regular basis. The company even accepts rigid plastic DVDs, CDs, VHS and cassette tapes. “Ninety-eight percent of computer components can be recycled,” Toman noted, and as of next January consumers will be prohibited by law from disposing electronic equipment in landfills. A Materials Exchange has been set up where residents can buy salvaged items at rock-bottom prices, and a textile recycling shed is expected to be delivered soon, which will be used to store clothing, bedding, curtains, shoes and stuffed animals that are still in usable condition.
The result of all this labor and improved collection protocols is a striking increase in revenue streams to Gardiner’s coffers from recycling and resale. Even though the income from some types of recyclables only constitutes a few hundred dollars per year, the aggregate of the many different types adds up to a significant cash cow for the town. Supervisor Carl Zatz compared income and expenses for the Transfer Station from the first six months of 2014 with the three previous years, and found that the net gain had increased from $8,000 in 2011, $5,000 in 2012 and $7,000 in 2013 to a whopping $18,000 in 2014. He said that the expense figures included Toman’s salary and the highway department’s time spent assisting her.
The Transfer Station has big plans for future improvements, Toman said, including improved signage, demarcations for traffic flow, more sorting bins and the establishment of a Senior Citizens’ Day. The town will soon begin participating in a program called Waste to Waves that collects Styrofoam debris to manufacture cores for surfboards. She listed eyeglasses, cellphones, fire extinguishers, thermometers and smoke detectors among the new categories of items that the center will be able to accept for recycling in the near future.
Town Board members praised Toman’s efforts and discussed the possibility of providing her with some sort of scale for construction and demolition waste. “What we really need is a barn,” Toman said, asking in jest if anyone in the audience wanted to donate one. But the new coordinator seems bound and determined to make the facility work with whatever limited resources are available, and her enthusiasm for grappling with the challenges was readily apparent at the meeting. “I really love my job!” she said.