Household Hazardous Waste Recycles Really Bad Stuff

Staff of the Household Hazardous Waste collection depot, gather for a group photo. Director Jennifer Kosak, from Vicksburg, is in green.
Staff of the Household Hazardous Waste collection depot, gather for a group photo. Director Jennifer Kosak, from Vicksburg, is in green.

By Sue Moore

Each week, nearly 300 people pull up to the Household Hazardous Waste Center on Lamont Avenue in Kalamazoo to drop off items no longer useful but not permitted in ordinary trash. They’re disposing of -everything from batteries, fluorescent bulbs and chemicals to old TVs and computers.

They would be impressed with what goes on behind the scenes with the stuff they have handed over to the guy or gal in the Tyvek suit.

The seven employees of this county facility sort, classify, record and secure every object that comes in the door. At the end of each day’s collection, they make sure nothing is leaking or otherwise contaminating their building. Many of the chemicals they receive are volatile and could cause a buildup of fumes if not handled correctly, said Jennifer Kosak, the facility manager.

“It doesn’t occur to most of us how bad some of the products on the grocery store shelves can be,” Kosak pointed out. “Some strong degreasers/cleaners have a very high or very low pH and will burn your skin upon contact. As consumers, we perceive that if items are on the grocery store shelves, they must be ok and safe to use. We also collect pesticides, some of which were banned as long ago as 1972. We read each label carefully and perform pH testing to make sure we store and ship materials according to our contractor requirements and MDOT regulations.”

Kalamazoo County’s Health and Community Services Department oversees the HHW Center. This facility’s weekly year-around operation is one of the very few in Michigan. Collections in other counties are more sporadic, primarily because of the costs involved. The county board has supported household hazardous waste disposal since 1988 when collections were held at county buildings and parking lots. In 1993, an opportunity to build a permanent center came through a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality grant to promote groundwater protection. The HHW Center opened for business in 1997, across from the county animal shelter and jail. Starting out with one full time employee and two part-time staff, it now has two full time employees, Kosak and Cindy Foster, two employed 30 hours a week, two employed for 24 hours a week and a call-in person.

The county currently contracts with the licensed waste hauler ERG Environmental Services in Livonia, to cart away chemicals each month. In the second quarter of this year, the company picked up 37,269 pounds of materials. Valley City in Grand Rapids picks up electronics. In the second quarter, that company picked up 103,782 pounds of residential electronic waste. Other items such as oil, antifreeze, mercury and pesticides brought the second quarter total to 200,579 pounds of residential and small business waste diverted from the landfill, to be recycled where possible or disposed of in a nonhazardous manner.

Residents of the city of Kalamazoo are the largest group of users with those in Portage close behind. Residents of the remaining Kalamazoo County villages and townships, Schoolcraft and Vicksburg included, comprise a small proportion of the total usage. In 2015, Schoolcraft provided $300, Vicksburg, $600.

The county also contracts with Calhoun and Berrien counties, and Antwerp, Almena, and Paw Paw townships in Van Buren County. Out-of-county contract partners pay 100% of operating costs plus disposal costs.

The Household Hazardous Waste Center is open Tuesday and Friday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and Wednesday from noon-6 p.m. as well as the second Saturday of the month from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Even with limited hours, “People who want to recycle will find a way to get here because they make the conscious decision to do the right thing with materials they no longer want. We do not have the staff or facility space to increase open hours at this time,” Kosak explained.

“The amount of electronics and chemicals we receive each month is amazing. We work hard and are proud that there is a place where people can dispose of their hazardous waste, right here in Kalamazoo.” Kosak is a Vicksburg resident and would love to see more people from the south county area take advantage of the HHW Center. Some of the items they don’t take are used needles, Styrofoam, and latex paint. More information, including how to dispose properly of those prohibited items, can be found at www.kalcounty.com/hhw or by calling 269-373-5211.

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