Tuesday, April 2, 2013

RDS & the road to MRF

The staff and owners of Recycling and Disposal Services (RDS), a locally owned recycling, garbage and waste disposal center, recently opened their facility for a public tour.   Attendees included solid waste and stormwater professionals, consultants, families, government staffers and interested citizens.  There was much to see – waste separation for recycling, stormwater systems, imposing machinery for compacting and sorting garbage, huge containers, grinders and mountains of ground up wood, pulverized toilets, and the best for last – a materials recovery facility – also called a “MRF.”

Let’s take a step back, examine the road to the MRF, and the unofficial short history of garbage handling in Whatcom County.  Before landfills and transfer stations, garbage was dumped into ravines and various places.  For 20 years beginning around 1950, one or two barge loads of wood and mill waste from the Georgia Pacific Mill was dumped into Bellingham Bay every week, and between 1953 and 1965, garbage from the City of Bellingham was collected in garbage trucks and dumped off the terminus of Cornwall Avenue into Bellingham BayPhoto courtesy of Phil Robbins.  Between 1950 and 1971 there were 21 garbage dumps that operated around the county: in Acme, Bellingham, Lynden, Lawrence, Pt Roberts, Sumas, Ten Mile, Y Road, Van Zandt, Custer, Glacier, and other locations.  Open burning was common at these dumps.  For a few years, burning garbage at two incinerators was the fashion.  Solid waste regulations evolved, small landfills filled to capacity, and large regional landfills with leachate and methane gas systems opened up near the Columbia River in central Washington and OregonWhatcom County became the first county in Washington to ship garbage to these regional landfills via rail.  In a typical year, RDS sends approximately 75,000 tons of garbage to the Columbia Ridge landfill, owned by Waste Management, in Arlington, Oregon.  Whatcom County produces approximately 150,000 tons of garbage annually.

RDS entered the scene as a garbage transfer station in 1996, and was required to gain coverage under the Department of Ecology’s industrial stormwater general permit (ISGP).   Businesses engaged in transportation, recycling, fabricating metal, refrigerated storage, and other endeavors with outdoor processes exposed to rain and stormwater are required to gain coverage under this permit if they discharge stormwater.  The permit is part of the National Discharge Elimination System (NPFES) permit system required by the federal Clean Water Act.  Read more about NPDES permits here.

RDS was issued a stormwater discharge permit, and subsequently re-issued revised permits in later years. They concentrated on finding new ways to separate waste for recycling, and did not pay special attention to their stormwater discharges.  They found markets for yard waste, concrete, and lumber, reconfigured their yard to allow for separating these from garbage, and continued to offer accept glass, aluminum, cardboard, newspaper for recycling at no cost.  They figured out new waste streams to recycle and divert from the waste stream, and expanded in size and complexity.  Buildings were added, traffic flow changed, special containers and systems invented to expedite sorting, both for customers and staff.  Business was good, population was growing, and so it went.  

Business as usual ended suddenly in July 2009 when RDS received an intent to sue letter from the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, southern counterpart to the North Sound Baykeeper, and a founding member of the Waterkeeper Alliance.  The letter stated that RDS was in violation of the Clean Water Act and its NPDES permit, and listed all the violations. The owners of RDS immediately agreed to improve stormwater practices, settled out of court, and paid a fine.  They took immediate actions to change their practices in order to clean up their stormwater discharges.  The actions included hiring a sweeper truck to regularly clean and vacuum their paved surfaces, parking heavy machinery under cover, creating and maintaining stormwater treatment vaults and redesigning their stormwater treatment bioswale.  They also installed new stormwater
catch basins and pipes, regularly employed catch basin filters (shown at right) and regular catch basin cleaning regimes, altered traffic flow, installed additional pavement, and more.  RDS became a clean stormwater innovator, which is what many permit holders have to do in order to prevent discharging polluted stormwater. 

What goes into your garbage?  Dog poop, kitty litter, baby diapers, and other unsavory items – toss it, right?  Once your stuff and everyone else’s is dumped onto the tipping floor, it sticks onto the garbage truck tires, then the slop flows to low areas on pavement, into catch basins, and into one of three stormwater treatment vaults on the RDS property.  I’ve watched RDS staff load a variety of filter “media” into the vaults, including compost mixtures, sand mixtures, and oyster shells, and combinations of these (photo above).  Pollutants adhere onto these media, which keeps them from getting discharged into Silver Creek, the nearest stream.  Silver Creek flows to the Nooksack River and is listed on the Washington State 303(d) list for impaired waters.  Because Silver Creek is already polluted with high levels fecal coliform bacteria, RDS has to comply with unusually low allowable discharge level for fecal coliform -100 colonies per 100 mL.  In order to comply with their ISGP, they take quarterly samples for turbidity, pH, zinc, oil sheen, copper and fecal coliform from their final disharge point – where water discharges from their stormwater treatment bioswale. 

As part of their efforts to increase recycling of waste, RDS added this new sorting system called a materials recycling facility, or MRF, in late 2012.  The lucky guy shown above is loading garbage for sorting onto a conveyor belt system.  Along the belt, a newly hired team of people sort waste as it moves along the belt:  cardboard, wood, wire, metal, and plastic is removed and place it into bins for recycling. 

RDS recycles cardboard, mixed paper, newspaper, glass bottles & jars, plastic containers, tin and aluminum cans, televisions, computer monitors, computers, and laptops free of charge.  For a fee RDS recycles yard waste, wood, concrete, scrap metal, dirt/sod, appliances, tires, porcelain toilets & sinks, lawn mowers, propane tanks, and car batteries.  We are so fortunate to have these recycling options – thanks RDS!

We applaud the efforts that RDS takes to keep their facility clean to protect water quality, as well as their work to offer so many recycling options.  RDS is a stormwater super hero!  Thanks for all your great work.

1 comment:

  1. Great, you right a post in a very good way. I love the way it is written.

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