In order to make good on our promise to remove a pound of trash from the oceans and waterways for every product we sell, our dedicated cleanups team coordinates an annual, high-yield cleanup at an illegal dumpsite (more on that later). This year, we kind of over-did it. Instead of picking up 200,000 pounds of trash as promised, we picked up over half a million pounds in just one cleanup — bringing our 2016 total to 742,236 pounds.
Because we still have a hard time believing it ourselves, we chatted with our cleanups team members, Kelly & Cara, about how exactly they made this happen and what still needs to be done. (And don’t worry, there are lots of dirty creeks, coastlines, and parks on our to-do list.)
This year, the cleanups team completely obliterated our 2016 goal in one cleanup at Kittanning, PA. How exactly did you manage to pick up so much trash at one site?
CARA, CLEANUP OPERATIONS ASSISTANT: This particular site was an illegal dumpsite, which means that years ago people were disposing their waste in the valley of the creek. The creek eventually became a landfill in itself, mostly comprised of tires.
KELLY, DIRECTOR OF CLEANUPS: We managed to pick up so much trash thanks to a township-wide, multi-faceted effort. After the site scout, we did a lot of digging to learn about the dumping timeline, estimate the number of tires on-site, and determine what resources we would need to manage the haul. In addition to the hard working, dedicated volunteers who donated their time, a number of local businesses and area corporations donated equipment, logistical support, and personnel. There are so many people that deserve credit, including:
So, what happened to all of the tires you hauled?
CARA: We loaded them into semi-trailers, which drove four hours away to Mahantango Enterprises Inc. in Liverpool, PA. Mahantango cleaned and processed the tires for recycling, pulling metal wiring from the center of the tires and chipping or shredding the rubber according to its destination. The rubber can now be turned into rubber mulch, playground turf, or roads.
How did you find this particular site?
KELLY: Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful has conducted a statewide illegal dumpsite index over the past five-to-ten years, reaching out to law enforcement, conservation groups, and county authorities for leads. They created detailed reports for each county, all of which is public information on their website. Since some of those reports and sites are years old, we also visited the site before our cleanup to determine the scope of the dumping, type of debris, and lay of the land.
What challenges did you come across while coordinating this cleanup?
KELLY: The landowner (who purchased the land years after the illegal dumping occurred) and I had a lengthy to-do list leading up the cleanup. We had to obtain permissions — everything from identifying gas lines to notifying the school district bussing company — arrange equipment hauling and rental agreements, and orchestrate the site so that heavy semi-tractor trailers could move up and down a steep country road while volunteers worked nearby.
We had even more challenges the day of: Hauling the tires and trash was costly and time consuming. The tires were frozen when we loaded them into the trailers, and the frozen dirt melted by the time the tires made it to the recycling center. The interior of the tractor trailers turned into a muddy mess! And there’s still a lot more to do. The walls of the creek need to be remediated, and we’d like to replace some of the trees and grass that were completely mowed over by the heavy equipment.
CARA: Kittanning is a small town, it was a cold weekend in December, and it happened to be the last weekend of rifle season for deer hunting. It was initially challenging to find volunteers, but in the end, we had a great group. Everyone who helped out was not afraid of hard work and getting muddy! They were so inspiring, true environmental warriors!
We’re constantly finding weird trash during our cleanups. Did you find anything odd (underneath all of those tires)?
CARA: There was a lot of scrap metal mixed in with the tires and some household trash scattered throughout. We found a few vintage toys and household objects that made for an interesting juxtaposition among all of the tires.
We were shocked to find so many sites like this exist due to illegal dumping. Can you tell us a little more about this issue, and why it’s still so prevalent?
CARA: Illegal dumping usually occurs when people are trying to avoid fees associated with responsible disposal. In many areas, landfills and recycling centers are not conveniently located, and it takes extra time and effort to get trash and recyclables to it. Many people do not realize the extreme toll illegal dumping does to the environment, and in particular the wildlife and waterways that the toxins of the trash are leaching into.
KELLY: Dumping is most prevalent in big cities and rural areas. Sadly, illegal dumping by a few people causes a headache for many — and the costs of illegal dumping go beyond the loss in property value or the taxpayer dollars used to clean these sites. There’s physical injury that dumping can cause, such as increasing rates of infectious diseases.
The presence of existing sites or cities that are known to be dumping hot-spots creates a pattern: The dumper views the land as foreign, unrelatable, and/or beyond the scope of law enforcement. In turn, the people who live there may consider the land a lost cause, beyond their means to clean up. They may also be without legal resources to prosecute dumpers, or lack a municipal department that’s prepared to handle the problem.
Aside from joining you on an illegal dumpsite cleanup, is there anything we can do to address the issue?
CARA: I think the biggest thing is spreading the word about the true environmental dangers that illegal dumping creates. If we teach people about the devastating effects on the earth, water, and wildlife that illegal dumping can bring, it will bring light and awareness to these issues. Hopefully more people will think twice before dumping!
KELLY: If illegal dumping is a problem in your area, notify your township or city official about the issue. Take notes on who is dumping the trash, the type of waste, and where it may be coming from. Remain diligent but patient — remember, you may not be the only person reporting the problem. If there is no action on your report within a reasonable time frame, find out if there is a conservation group in your area and discuss the issue with the group and your neighbors. By pooling local resources, you may be able to orchestrate a cleanup.
If the dumping is a result of non-routine trash pickup or expensive recycling and trash removal in your area, work with your local officials and neighbors to come up with a structured removal schedule. In some cases, the state may have funding or legal resources to assist you with the process. If the dumping is located directly in the water or within the floodplains, send United by Blue your notes, the address, and photos of the site!
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