We all want to feel pride in our communities, and sometimes, that takes a little motivation or assistance from city and town officials. Holding community-wide cleanup events — whether that be large items collections, hazardous waste collections or coastal beach cleanups — is one way to get items out of people’s homes and yards and divert them from ending up in landfills.
The Municipal spoke to a couple of communities that hold such events.
Spanish Fork, Utah
Spanish Fork — part of the South Utah Valley Solid Waste District — holds an annual spring cleanup. Spanish Fork public information officer Nick Porter shared the city has been holding the event since 2020.
“It was a coincidence that it started with COVID,” he said, “But we set a record that year.”
The amount collected in 2021 decreased in tons and numbers of hauls, but it has increased in the last two years. In Spanish Fork, the city holds the event for two weeks — the last week of April and first week of May.
Workers place dumpsters in five different locations around town in the parks, all operating at the same time daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
“We did learn after the first year not to have Sunday as an option,” he said. “So we pull the dumpsters out on Sundays.”
According to Porter, this is done because the transfer station is closed on Sundays, so workers couldn’t drop dumpsters off. Thus, items would be left outside the dumpsters. He noted, “It helps prevent a huge amount piling up.”
The program is very well received, according to Porter. In fact, on one of the Saturdays this year, the city broke records.
“One Saturday we had 52 loads in one day — that broke records for the highest daily use in loads and tons taken to the transfer station,” he said.
Residents now expect Spring Cleanup Days. Porter noted, “It’s now become an expectation, which is good and bad. I always say be careful when implementing something new because it’s hard to do something one time.”
The city publicizes the Spring Clean Up Days by mailing and emailing a newsletter out to each utility customer. It’s also brought up at city council meetings, which are broadcast, and posted on the city’s social media sites and website.
Porter said, “We have a pretty active community Facebook page, which has grown good at distributing information.”
When holding these events, Porter said, “(it) takes a lot of coordination with our transfer station.”
Staff at the transfer station pick up and deliver dumpsters daily — or sometimes hourly on busy days.
Spanish Fork co-owns the transfer station with seven other nearby cities and towns and a nearby university — all are members of the South Utah Valley Solid Waste District. Porter said during Spring Clean Up Days, the city doesn’t take mattresses or appliances or hazardous waste. Those items need to be taken to the proper facilities.
The city accepts “green waste” — branches, brush, etc. — and has separate containers for them. “That can be problematic because it takes up a lot of room and fills the dumpsters quickly.”
However, he admitted that is a large part of the collection as residents clean up their yards in the spring. The dumpsters aren’t manned the whole time, but the city has the transfer station’s phone number on the dumpsters and asks residents to call if they notice they’re full. He said their sanitation staff also drives around and keeps an eye out, too. That can lead to the only issue seen during the program. Porter said that instead of calling, waiting or going to another location, people will just leave items outside the full dumpsters.
“There’s a lot of cleanup of the cleanup,” Porter said. “That takes time and manpower.”
The event is supported by city officials and well received by the public.
“This was a push from the city council — they were excited about the program. It is a community expense,” he said, “But I think it’s a great service to the community. It’s a lot of work and coordination, so if you’re going to do it, commit to long term.”
Additionally, Porter stated choosing locations is important. “You don’t want other big events going on in the same area. That would make people dumping trash a hazard.”
Porter said the city is considering doing a cleanup in the fall, too, but no decision has been made.
Hazard waste collections
Two communities that hold hazardous waste collections and are passionate about the importance of doing so are Sarasota County, Fla. While the county has permanent solid waste facilities, it tries to make disposing of these materials as convenient as possible by going into the communities.
Wendi Crisp, outreach coordinator for Sarasota County Solid Waste, said the team has a series of collection events from January through April. During these events, the agency goes into the communities — the criteria is they have to be at least 8 miles from the solid waste facility.
These community mobile events typically occur on Tuesdays for a two-hour time period. Brian Mangum, hazardous waste supervisor, said the goal is to do 20 a year.
“But we always surpass that,” he said.
In this fiscal year, Sarasota County Solid Waste has already held 35 and planned to do an additional event in the city of North Port, where it typically has 500 participants and 18,000 pounds of hazardous waste. Mangum said each of the cities in the agency’s service area helps with advertising events, and his staff goes out to pass out flyers in businesses, where people congregate “like Starbucks and Publix, and we go to the city halls to pass out flyers.”
The cities advertise the events on their respected municipal websites, and Mangum said Crisp puts the information on the Sarasota County Solid Waste’s social media sites and website. The city of Venice’s newspaper also includes the flyer in their newspaper.
Mangum said the flyer includes information on what is acceptable and what’s not.
“We collect materials we want to divert from the landfill,” he said.
Things like household cleaners that contain caustic materials; pool chemicals containing oxidizers; automotive cleaners; and flammable materials. He pointed out that federal law does allow for household cleaners to be disposed of in the landfill, but “our county is actively removing those items and tag them to go to a permanent facility.”
Sarasota County Solid Waste had three permanent facilities, but one was destroyed in a hurricane. The two active facilities operate Monday through Saturday. At the facilities, they accept electronic recycling, fluorescent lights, mercury and propane containers.
Mangum said, “Paint is probably the largest item that comes through the facility — quantity-wise.”
For the mobile community events, Mangum said staff members take out a 20-foot-long box truck and a 20-foot-long hazardous waste trailer that they pull with a pickup truck. They also bring 55-gallon steel drums. They set up tables at the site.
“Residents drive up, and we record how many people and the weight of the materials dropped off,” he said.
Workers then segregate the materials into drums and prepare them for shipment with Sarasota County Solid Waste’s external hazardous waste disposal vendor, who takes it to be treated for disposal. Mangum explained the material is segregated per hazardous waste classifications, with liquid toxins in one drum and aerosols in another, for example.
Mangum said Sarasota County Solid Waste start organizing in October by reaching out to subdivisions that are at least 8.1 miles from the facility. Mangum said the only issue the agency has encountered is if small businesses attempt to dispose of materials. Sarasota County’s program is the only one in the state that allows certain types of businesses to dispose of materials at its facility; however, there are specific guidelines and it can’t accept them at mobile sites.
“Those are just for residents, and residents are not charged,” he said. “It’s a very good program and very well received.”
Sarasota County also offers a curbside program for residents. Mangum said the county sends out postcards to certain areas of approximately 1,500 residents for three-month periods — June to August and September to November — offering curbside hazardous material pickup in those areas. Residents can schedule appointments each Tuesday. The county schedules eight appointments a day. While it limits the amount to be collected from any one resident on a single day, each resident can schedule multiple appointments.
Crisp said while the program is “driven by the county, we partner with local municipalities — working with the city of Sarasota, North Port, Venice and the town of Longboat Key.”
A unique aspect of Sarasota County’s program and another means of diverting materials from the landfill is its Re-Uz-It shop. When the county is accepting materials, if workers see the contents are half full or full and the container is in good shape, they put it aside for the Re-Uz-It shop.
“Where residents can ‘shop.’ It’s a way to repurpose — they can reuse and we keep it out of the landfill,” Crisp said.
Mangum said it’s located at the county’s main facility and is “very popular and allows us to keep disposal costs down. We generated quite a lot of money in savings — we saved $21,000 in disposal costs through the Re-Uz-It program.”
“Residents can choose up to 10 items for free per day, and in a strained economy, it’s very well received, very popular,” he said.
Like Sarasota, Huntsville has a solid waste authority that services the city of Huntsville and other nearby cities. The SWDA has a facility that’s open five days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the first Saturday of the month from 8 a.m. to noon. The facility opened full-time in 2019.
Executive Director of Solid Waste Disposal Authority Doc Halladay said the facility is “designed so people can drive through the facility.”
It accepts electronics, household chemicals, lawn and garden chemicals, fluorescent lightbulbs, mercury, lithium batteries (and) “even expired pharmaceuticals. All at no charge to residents.”
The authority holds about 14 off-site events a year. Halladay said, “The biggest event community-wide is right after the Christmas holidays at two locations because the county is over 800 square miles and the city of Huntsville is over 215 square miles.”
“Operation Christmas Clean Up” is held the week after New Year’s because Halladay said people tend to get new electronics, TVs, computers and generate lots of cardboard, etc.
“They don’t want those things accumulating, so we found holding it close to Christmas is successful.”
The authority has drop-off sites at two different locations — Huntsville and Madison. He said they average 600 to 700 people at each location for the Christmas cleanups. They also take Christmas trees and run them through a chipper to make mulch.
“Some people scoop up the mulch and take it with them,” he said.
Accepting cardboard helps to not fill up residents’ recycling containers at home.
People have come to expect the event now, according to Halladay, and added, “For Christmas, in particular, the media has been very kind to us, doing TV interviews to get the word out and posting on municipal websites.”
When asked why the authority does these community events, Halladay responded, “We find people want to do the right things with their products; they realize they should be careful with how they dispose of them.”
If residents plan to come to the facility and load their vehicle up, but something comes up and they have to take the materials back out, Halladay said, “People have good intentions, but it normally doesn’t get back in the vehicle, and they end up throwing it away or it accumulates in the garage.”
Besides providing convenience, Halladay said it’s also a public service and safety concern — especially with lithium batteries.
“We’re committed to protecting the environment. We have an educated population here who wants to do the right thing, but if it’s not easy, they’ll probably put it in the garbage.”
Lithium batteries, in particular, cause more of a danger as they age. “If there’s a fire in a landfill, you can likely trace it back to a lithium battery. So, we want to make it easy for the public to get rid of them.”
Halladay said it’s important for city officials to realize how important this is. If there’s a lithium battery in a trash truck that catches fire, it could take out an entire fleet.
“It’s a big deal,” he said.
The only issue the authority has had, according to Halladay, is if it’s the first time at a venue. It’s hard to know how many cars will show up, so he suggested when choosing a location, make sure you have good signage and good access for traffic control.
Final thought on hazard waste collections
Mangum in Florida admitted it is a major investment to build a facility as it will take over a million dollars to replace the one destroyed by a hurricane; however, he said if you’re part of a large county, see if other communities will buy in.
“Sarasota County is one of the prettiest counties in Florida — there’s no trash blowing around in the streets. It’s very well taken care of,” he said, adding “Cleanup events help make the community where you live nice and well-kept.”
He pointed out landfills occupy a lot of real estate, so by diverting hazardous waste from the landfill, it increases its life.
Crisp suggested finding trusted partners in the industry to help collect and ship materials.
Halladay praised his team for their dedication. “It’s a big sacrifice of time and effort — truly a team effort.” Crisp concluded, “Communication and education of the public is important, so residents understand why it’s important to keep these things out of the landfill. Everyone is working for the good of the community.”