Eco Station open for business

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By Jennifer Garcia

Dirty, slimy, smelly garbage is often the image drummed up when the word landfill comes to mind.

The Los Alamos County landfill was no different than what one might have imagined a landfill to be. However, Los Alamos County was looking for a cleaner way to get rid of garbage and found it in the idea of an Eco Station.

Construction of the Eco Station began in 2008 and the ribbon was cut in the fall, however it was not immediately operational. Staff at the Eco Station had to go through training, the policies and procedures had to be written and additional signage needed to be put up.

On Monday, however, county staff began accepting waste at the new facility.

“They told the Environmental Department that they were ready for the final permit inspection,” Environmental Services Manager Regina Wheeler said. “They did the inspection on Friday and they passed with flying colors.”

Staff endured training on identifying unacceptable waste like hazardous liquid and waste. In addition, the received training on procedures and what to do in an emergency, in case of a fire or a spill and what to do in an evacuation situation.

Wheeler said the decision to begin using the Eco Station came up because wind had been causing some littering at the landfill.

“We immediately started using the facility for what it’s used for: Co-mingled recycling headed for Santa Fe to be recycled, cardboard recycling headed for Albuquerque and trash from contractors and residents,” she said.

As part of the opening, staff also decided to set up a convenience area behind the transfer area. Eco Station visitors needing to get rid of electronic waste, mixed recycling items, cardboard, trash or oil can dispose of all these items in the convenience area.

“It’s a little more convenient than having to drive from one end of the landfill to the other,” Wheeler said.

For now, brush recycling is still located at the end of the landfill, however, plans to bring it closer to the front of the facility are in the works. Wheeler says that she expects the move to be completed within the next couple of months.

Using anything for the first time can be tricky, but Wheeler said that things went well on Monday.

“Everything seems to work really well. We bought a new front loader with a special bucket. It works for picking up the right amount of material to put in the trailers,” she commented. Wheeler also said the front loader has a special rubber edge that can help keep the floor clean when scooping up the material.

Foul odors are common in landfills and the Eco Station is no exception. However, the new building has something the old landfill did not; fans.

“I noticed that as they were compacting a load, they were running it over with the loader and the smell of garbage filled the air. We turned on the fans and they kept the air clean and fresh smelling,” Wheeler said.

In keeping in line with the green way of thinking, the building was constructed with doors that face to the east and translucent panels that both allow natural light to filter in, eliminating the need to turn the lights on inside.

Even the machinery is environmentally friendly. The loader has a Tier 3 emissions control engine.

“It’s nice because it doesn’t have a lot of exhaust smell,” Wheeler said. “We could notice the difference. We tried the old loader in there and you could really smell the diesel.”

Wheeler said the biggest challenge Eco Station staff faces right now is getting as much trash into the trailers as possible.

“You want to load the trash trailer with as much as you can so it’s at its maximum allowable rate for the highway so you get your money’s worth,’ she explained.

Right now, Wheeler said the typical trailer load is about 25,000 pounds of garbage, which takes crews a little under half an hour to load. Garbage is compacted before it’s loaded so that air space is eliminated before it reaches the trailer.

Wheeler said Eco Station staff is also finding that they can pull recyclable materials out of the trash.

“We thought this might happen. It’s mostly cardboard. Commercial loads come in with a lot of cardboard,” she said. “It’s giving us the opportunity to reclaim materials for recycling. We’re offering people a quicker, cleaner way to get rid of their trash. You drive around, dump your trash on the concrete and your out of here,” she said.

Though it would seem that the Eco Station has finally reached a milestone, Wheeler said that they are constantly evaluating important issues and providing more opportunities for recycling.