Think about this the next time you throw something away … there is no such place as “away.”
“Every single thing has to go somewhere,” says Shannon Thompson, who preaches responsible disposal as the environmental educator for Clay County Solid Waste. “Think about that when you bring it home. What will you do with it at the end of its life?”
For some of Moorhead householders’ garbage, that means a trip to the county landfill 20 miles southwest of the city, where it will be scrunched and compacted by heavy equipment, then covered with layers of soil or sand. Another portion heads out on a journey to the Otter Tail County resource recovery facility in Perham, where it’s burned to generate steam for manufacturing.
But that’s not the end of the line for the large fraction of Moorhead discards that hold value even after they hit the trash … and there’s no better time than next week to see it. Like the surrounding cities, Moorhead observes the community’s annual Cleanup Week Monday through Friday.
That’s a boon to homeowners, who clean out the miscellany from basements and garages and tote it to the boulevards. It’s an unofficial treasure hunt for bargain seekers and scavengers, who trawl the streets and avenues looking for tempting throwaways. And it’s Black Friday every single day for the city and county’s public works and solid-waste management workers, who are organizing even now for the heaviest lifting of the entire year.
Steve Moore, Moorhead’s director of public works, reels off the numbers from last year’s residential cleanup campaign: 600 tons of extra garbage collected in that single week. Appliances – 177. Mixed metals – 23 tons. Tires (rubber only, no rims) – 1,281.
Thirty-five city employees are getting set to do it all over again, come Monday. Twenty members of the sanitation crew will be joined by other public works employees from streets and parks departments, along with a number of day-labor contractors, to travel up every single street and avenue over the course of the week, and again Tuesday, May 9, when they’ll devote themselves to Oakport.
Meanwhile, others are standing by at the Electronics Collection Center (behind the Department of Motor Vehicles at 1300 15th St. N.) and the hazardous waste facility near the waste transfer station at 2791 Highway 10 East to gather obsolete electronic devices – TVs, computers and the like – and household hazardous waste like paint, motor oil, pesticides, all kinds of batteries and fluorescent bulbs. Residents will drop off their own “donations,” which will be accepted free. Homeowners can also drop off their own excess garbage next door at the Moorhead Transfer Station from now through the end of next week without paying the regular nominal fee of $5 or so.
“What seems bizarre to me is that people store up these things all year long to put them on the curb during Cleanup Week,” Shannon reflects. “You can get rid of your residential waste year-round by taking it there and paying a really reasonable fee. Think of all the space you could be saving!”
Nevertheless, Cleanup Week has become a much-anticipated ritual in Moorhead, Fargo, West Fargo and Dilworth. Residents – it’s staged exclusively for homes and apartments, not for businesses – consider it a kind of holiday that wraps up their spring cleaning. But while it’s free, it’s definitely not a free-for-all.
strictly addresses household trash – not what’s being thrown away by the owner’s business elsewhere. Curbside pickup is meant for the garbage generated by the people who live at that address. “That means you don’t get to haul all your junk in from the lake and put it out,” Steve emphasizes. “One household. That’s it.
“It’s been getting better,” he adds. “We’ve made some changes in the last couple years that help streamline the process and cut down our cost in time and money.”
The biggest change: No demolition materials will be picked up. If you’ve remodeled your house, say, and have a pile of sheetrock, cabinets, wood, flooring, windows, doors, concrete, bricks, cement – you’ll have to haul it to Clay Demolition Debris Landfill and pay for its disposal or have it picked up for a fee. It’s made a dramatic difference, too. Some 70 tons of demolition debris were collected in 2015, the last year it was accepted. Eliminating it has cut both the overall cost ($94,896 that year) and hours of human effort (1,800 in 2015) by one-third.
The proliferating piles of electronic equipment, too, are a Cleanup Week no-no. Explains Stephanie Reynolds, the city’s recycling manager, those screens and computers contain a witch’s brew of noxious materials, including mercury, lead andother metals. “We want tokeep them out of the landfill and prevent them from seeping into the ground.” A Wisconsin company purchases them for disassembly and recycling.
The electronics recycling shed is open year-round from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. Extra hours have been added for next week’s event – from 8 a.m. to noon for the next two Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. next Monday through Friday. Shannon suggests those who want to drop off their TVs, computers and other gadgets do it early; lines during Cleanup Week have been known to stretch for three blocks.
The city will pick up one or two appliances from your boulevard next week, along with tires (no rims) and a variety of metal this ’n’ that – barbecue grills, bicycles, tire rims, car parts and the odd bumper. If appliances use Freon – refrigerators, air conditioners, dehumidifiers – the gas will be disposed of by the department. Incidentally, microwave ovens and dehumidifiers count as appliances, but countertop electronics like toasters and hair dryers are considered plain old garbage.
Most of the general garbage collected next week will end up in the Clay County Landfill, Shannon says. If furniture is being discarded, though, she urges residents to consider calling the YWCA, ReStore, New Life Center or another agency that helps formerly homeless people and others set up their apartments. Most will gladly pick it up for free.
Shannon and Stephanie eagerly await the advent of single-stream recycling on July 1, when many varieties of materials that can be recycled will go into a single blue garbage bin. “Blue is green,” Stephanie emphasizes. “It’s going to be great. We aim to make it as easy as possible to do the right thing.” Many waste products that currently can’t be collected will then become fair game – including used pizza boxes, milk and juice cartons, all kinds of printed paper, and aluminum, tin and steel cans including aerosols.
But “wish-cycling” – Shannon’s term for materials you think ought to be recyclable, but aren’t – will still be a problem. The biggest issue is flexible or crinkly plastics like grocery bags. They can’t be recycled with other firm plastics now, and they won’t later, either. They tangle in the recycling equipment and shut down the line, increasing costs and greatly reducing their value to the companies that sort and recycle.
Easy, perhaps – but questions still do come up. “After all, most of us don’t think of what to do with something until we’re faced with how to get rid of it,” Shannon notes.
“Our jobs are to make it easier,” Stephanie adds. “Don’t feel like your questions are foolish. Just call!”
You can reach Stephanie with questions at the City of Moorhead, 218-299-5422.Shannon, who also speaks to classes and groups about solid waste issues and management, can be reached at the Clay County Courthouse, 218-299-5002. For more information on Cleanup Week in all the local cities, go to www.cleanupweek.com.