2009-06-27 / Top News

Island's Trash System Strives To Make Use of Every Bit of Waste

By Jane Alexander

Paul Wandrie reviews recycling at the Mackinac Island Solid Waste Handling Facility. Paul Wandrie reviews recycling at the Mackinac Island Solid Waste Handling Facility. On an island bustling with thousands of tourists and hundreds of residents, cottagers, and working horses, how one takes out the trash is vitally important. Every dumpster of trash shipped to a landfill on the mainland costs $1,100, so sorting materials that can be recycled or composted is the job of every resident and business.

"We separate as aggressively as we do -- recycling and composting -- to avoid landfilling every bit that we can," said Bruce Zimmerman, the director of the city's Department of Public Works. "Compost does not leave the Island. It doesn't have to. Compostable material is utilized right here on Mackinac Island, so there's no transportation or landfilling costs to that. Recyclables aren't kept here, but they're separated from the waste stream and processed daily. They're processed and then sold to secondary markets. Through those two programs, we landfill about half of what another community would without recycling, without composting."

Paul Wandrie demonstrates the quality of finished compost, which is sold in bulk to residents and businesses on the Island and in St. Ignace. Paul Wandrie demonstrates the quality of finished compost, which is sold in bulk to residents and businesses on the Island and in St. Ignace. Citizens here are encouraged to separate organic material from their trash to reduce the volume of garbage that has to be shipped to the mainland. The incentive is the cost to dispose of their waste. A garbage bag filled with compostable waste costs only $1.50, whereas a bag designated for the landfill costs $3. Materials that can be recycled can be disposed of free.

Mackinac Island Service Company, a commercial dray service, picks up the bags and recyclables and delivers them to the city's Solid Waste Handling Facility just off British Landing Road, near the center of the Island. The Service Company charges customers for the service, and, in turn, pays a tipping fee to the Department of Public Works to dump the trash at the facility.

Compost

At least 100 compost bags are received by the facility a day, said manager Paul Wandrie. At a compost screening building, each compost bag is ripped open and hand-sorted for any trash accidentally put in it. The bag and any trash are put on a conveyer leading to a dumpster that will be shipped to the landfill.

Bays of compost at the Solid Waste Handling Facility. Compost is shifted from bay to bay as it progresses in the decomposition process and is inspected along the way. Bays of compost at the Solid Waste Handling Facility. Compost is shifted from bay to bay as it progresses in the decomposition process and is inspected along the way. The remaining material is then lifted on an apron conveyer to another belt, where it is visually inspected again and passed through a magnet to catch any small, metal objects , such as staples or bottle caps, that may have escaped screening.

The garbage is now relatively pure organic material. It is dropped through a shredder and moved to a concrete mixing pad, where it is combined with horse manure, yard waste, and "slop," or food waste from commercial kitchens. Grand Hotel, for instance, sends nearly 20 barrels of food slop a day to the facility.

After mixing, the material is screened once more for contents that did not break down well or contaminants that may have come in with the yard waste and slop, such as bottles, plates, or silverware.

Inside the Solid Waste Handling Facility's composting building, the compost is carried up the apron conveyer (on right), then across another conveyer (above, from right to left), passes through a magnet (on the far left), then dropped through a shredder to the outside of the building. Inside the Solid Waste Handling Facility's composting building, the compost is carried up the apron conveyer (on right), then across another conveyer (above, from right to left), passes through a magnet (on the far left), then dropped through a shredder to the outside of the building. The mixture is then placed beside the other steaming piles of compost in a bay, or holding area. It is moved along, periodically, from bay to bay as it continues to decompose and undergo inspections.

Mr. Wandrie said the main problem he faces with the composting process is the odor of decomposing piles. A masking agent is fanned into the air, particularly on days in which eastern winds blow odors into the nearby Wawashkamo Golf Course.

On days when the golf course has special events, Mr. Wandrie initiates what he calls his "good neighbor policy." He shuts down parts of his operation to check as much odor as possible, covers the nearby wastewater treatment plant pile with wood chips, and stops any mixing operations.

"We try to do a lot to not upset the folks," Mr. Wandrie said. "It slows us down, and we may have to put in a little overtime to get us back to the point we should have been at, but we're just trying to be neighborly.

Piles of lumber and debris are shredded at the facility and the ground chips are then sold. Piles of lumber and debris are shredded at the facility and the ground chips are then sold. "That's an important step, also," he added. "There have been facilities throughout the state and the U.S. that have been shut down because of the odor problems, and we don't want to see that happen."

The facility also stopped adding water to compost this year to help eliminate odor and make piles easier to handle during screening.

After about 60 days, the compost is moved to the back bays, where it is finished. But before it can be sold, samples are tested for pathogens at a laboratory in Indiana and must be approved by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

"It's a fabulous operation," Mr. Wandrie said. "When you see a raw material such as this coming in here, and then you see what the finished compost looks like around the back, it's amazing."

The compost is sold in bulk on the Island, and this spring, for the first time, residents in St. Ignace also purchased it by the truckload. Now, the Department of Public Works is considering bagging the compost for smaller shipments on and off the Island.

Bagging, however, isn't expected to raise a lot of money.

" I don't think we're even pursuing it for the revenue possibility," Mr. Zimmerman said. "I think we want people to have our product. W e want it to be more accessible than it is now."

Recycling

Also located at the Solid Waste Handling Facility is the Island's recycling operation. The facility collects magazines and catalogs, molded plastic foam products such as meat trays, drink cups, and egg cartons, bundled corrugated cardboard, clear, brown, and green glass bottles and jars, tin cans, aluminum, newspapers, drywall, and plastics (#1 PET bottles and #2 HDPE bottles with narrow necks).

The Department of Public Works has considered accepting other types of recyclables, Mr. Zimmerman said, but it's risky and would first require research into necessary equipment and available markets for the recycled product.

All metals the facility receives are broken down and sold for scrap at Kinross on the mainland. The facility removes the freon from air conditioners, freezers, and refrigerators and sells the appliances for scrap, as well.

Wood is ground into chips and sold on the Island. Drywall is added to the compost mix.

The city ships 400 to 500 bales of cardboard off the island a year, and the other items are also baled and sold to companies in Michigan and Wisconsin, where they are recycled into new products.

Cutting Costs

Mackinac Island's solid waste program was implemented in 1992. Because of the porous limestone and danger of water contamination, landfill operations here are no longer allowed, requiring everything that can't be recycled or composted to be shipped to the mainland. And as landfill dumping costs increase around the country, representatives from mainland communities have come here to learn how to reduce the volume of their trash.

"This is quite a large operation, especially in the summertime," Mr. Wandrie said. Two workers handle recycling and two handle composting, and Mr. Wandrie credits them with efficiently handling a large workload,

In addition to bag purchases and garbage hauling fees, property owners pay a city tax to support the solid waste program.

Mr. Wandrie believes the tax could be eliminated if more people sorted their trash properly.

"It's so important to get everybody on line with us," Mr. Wandrie said. "We've got to get our kids involved in it more and start them off recycling at an early age, and, while I think a lot of families are involved, and certainly most of our businesses are doing a great job, there are still a lot of others who don't, unfortunately, and it's something businesses should seriously consider. If you're looking at ways to cut some costs, this a good way of doing it!"

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