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"Let's Talk Trash!" event helps Chatham residents rethink waste habits

Posted Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC – The old saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure," and the meaning behind this message was effectively underscored during Chatham County's first-ever Earth Day celebration: "Let's Talk Trash!"

Over 40 local businesses, artists, and nonprofits promoted programs and activities related to reusing, recycling, composting, and cleaning up litter during the “Let’s Talk Trash!” event held April 30, 2011, at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) in Pittsboro.

Presentations at Chatham Community Library provided many important facts and figures about waste disposal, such as Chatham County currently pays a tipping fee of approximately $60 per ton of waste disposed.

Dan LaMontagne, Chatham's solid waste director, helped put this figure into perspective for residents who use the county's collection centers. "It costs approximately $600 each time the trash compactor is filled and hauled to the transfer station behind Walmart in Siler City. In contrast, we pay NO tip fee to recycle, and in most cases we actually receive some revenue to help offset the cost of providing the service,” said LaMontagne. “Our operations and programs are more cost-effective when items are diverted to the Swap Shop or placed in recycling containers instead of the trash compactors and bulky bins."

Recycling also helps the county comply with state laws. "If the county hauls loads of waste that contain items banned from North Carolina landfills such as aluminum cans or plastic bottles, we risk having these loads rejected at the transfer station," LaMontagne added.

He reminded attendees that computers and televisions are banned from North Carolina landfills beginning July 1, 2011. “Any county resident or small business can bring electronics to the e-cycle station at the county’s main Waste Management facility for recycling. As an added convenience, the county has established e-cycle stations for smaller items at four of our collection centers in Pittsboro, Cole Park, Bonlee, and Siler City.” This option is open to county residents with a current decal.

Sherry Yarkosky, recycling business development specialist with the NC Department of Environmental Assistance and Outreach, shared figures from a recent jobs study. "Over 15,000 jobs are supported by recycling in North Carolina. Local manufacturers are dependent on recyclable materials such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard, and paper to make and sell products in the state."

Yarkosky added, "The Southeast Recycling Development Council also completed a study recently and determined that if North Carolinians recycled just 10% more, it could equate to 1,600 more jobs."

Alexandria Clayton, senior student at Northwood High School, made a giant statement about the importance of recycling by building a seven-foot high tree made of used cans, plastic bottles, pvc pipe, and newspaper, as part of her graduation project. The impressive tree was featured inside the library meeting room next to the presenters.

County Commissioner Walter Petty attended the event with his family. "I enjoyed learning more about all the items that can be recycled these days. The recycling industry provides many jobs while performing a vital service."

Petty reminds Chatham residents that, "one of the fastest, most direct positive impacts we can have on the environment is to recycle or reuse as much as we can."

Outside the library, many attendees were inspired as they watched demonstrations by an artist who spun yarn on a spindle made from an old CD and wine cork. Chatham’s Soil and Water Conservation District used a table-top Enviroscape demonstration to show how our water can become contaminated. Haw River Assembly volunteers made a jellyfish costume out of plastic bags found littering Chatham's waterways. The NC State Cooperative Extension office gave away wreath-making kits that creatively reuse fabric scraps. Other innovative items on display included dresses made from old bed sheets, dish scrubbies made from twine, jewelry made from aluminum cans, as well as pouring vessels and soap dishes made from recycled glass bottles.

Visitors brought hundreds of books, CDs and DVDs to swap, and local nonprofits benefited from donations of gently used goods that will support their clients and programs in Chatham.

“I hope we helped everyone make the connection that diverting unwanted stuff away from the landfill can translate to creating or sustaining local jobs, and directly supports community programs and services,” expressed Teresa Chapman, Chatham County’s waste reduction coordinator, who served as co-coordinator of the event. "While the exhibitor participation was fantastic, only a sampling of organizations in Chatham was represented. We'll continue seeking out services and options to minimize or divert waste, and we'll promote them through our office, on our website and at future events."

Barry Hayes and David Hart with WNCA radio drew a crowd by broadcasting live from the event and interviewing exhibitors and attendees. They also promoted a group of talented students from Woods Charter who performed the song, “Good Garbage” on the air. Gene Galin, editor of the Chatham Journal, filmed portions of the event and posted them on YouTube and the Chatham Community Bulletin Board for those who missed the fun.

Kids also used their imaginations while making art with the Scrap Exchange, a nonprofit that brought endless barrels of industrial discards collected from businesses in the Triangle. The Recycle Guys Dottie Bottle and Can Guy, NC Department of Transportation's Beauty-Fly, and Waste Management, Inc.'s Cycler the Robot all visited with kids to help spread the word about recycling and litter prevention, while providing some great photo opportunities and entertainment.

Laura Lauffer, who is sustainability coordinator for CCCC, noted, "The happy faces of kids and adults alike were very inspiring. All of the Chatham County Waste Management staff were so committed in their work to promote waste reduction today."

By completing a variety of activities at the event, participants were eligible for a drawing to win a compost prize courtesy of Carolina Worm Castings and the Chatham County Waste Management Department. At the Solid Waste Advisory Committee meeting on Wednesday, May 4 (in honor of International Compost Awareness Week), Chairman John McSween drew the lucky winner’s name -- John Eliason of Siler City. Eliason will receive an Earth Machine backyard composter, a kitchen food scraps collector, a composting guide, a t-shirt, and a nutrient-rich mixture of compost and worm castings. The prize is valued at $100.

Exhibitors also made some great connections with one another. Jerry Sanders of Solid Rock On Missions Food Truck recycled his used cooking oil with Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels. Tina and Tommy Meeks from Shot of ‘Spro garnered more clients for their new free coffee grounds recycling program. Damian Munn, donation coordinator for Habitat for Humanity’s Home Store, knows he can refer people to The Kids Warehouse in Moncure for mattress recycling or to Lee Pollard of Computer Therapy if they want to repair or donate their old non-working computers.

Chapman appreciates the collaborative efforts of local partners. "I especially want to thank Gretchen Smith of the Chatham Conservation Partnership, who served as event co-coordinator. She took the initiative to involve our department in planning an event dedicated to the topic of reducing trash. We are also very grateful to Laura Lauffer and the staff of Central Carolina Community College for all their support in hosting and promoting the event."

Chapman looks forward to participating in CCCC’s Earth Day Event scheduled for April 2012. "We'll definitely be a part of that event and will continue to explore other opportunities for promoting waste reduction, litter prevention, and recycling throughout the county."

For photos of the event, and a list of all exhibitors, please visit

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