View the slideshows to see what happens to your compost, recycling, and trash.
We put empty milk cartons in here for recycling.
Empty plastic bottles and aluminum cans go in here to be recycled.
Mixed recyclables, such as paper, cardboard, bottles, cans and glass are picked up from homes, businesses and schools.
Recycling trucks bring their collected materials to a transfer station.
The trucks are weighed going in, and when they go out out, to see how much recyclables they have left behind.
The recycle truck then dumps the mixed recyclables on the recycle tip floor.
A loader adds the mixed recyclables to the recycling sort bin.
In the recycle sort machine, the first material sorted out is paper and cardboard. In this part of the machine, air blows up underneath the mixed recyclables, forcing paper and cardboard up and out.
The paper and cardboard then go down sort lines, where people pick out things that aren't cardboard or paper.
The sorted paper falls out a chute, and then is loaded into a top-loading truck.
Workers tamp the paper down with their feet. This gets rid of any air pockets in the paper. The workers are suspended by cables and harnesses to keep them from falling. When the truck is full, this used paper is sent to a paper mill for processing into recycled paper.
The cardboard comes out other chutes.
The cardboard is bailed. This compresses the cardboard into dense cubes that weigh close to 1000 lbs.
The bales are then loaded into a truck, and sent to a mill, where it will be used to make recycled cardboard!
Meanwhile, the containers go through their own portion of the sort system. Workers pick off different types of plastic containers for recycling.
Aluminum cans are picked off by an electromagnetic current, and finally the ferrous metals, like steel cans, are picked off by a magnet.
These containers then fall into U-shaped bins.
A conveyor belt takes the now sorted recyclables to the baler.
The baler compacts the recyclable containers into cubes that weigh between 1200 and 1500 lbs!
The bales are stored until there are enough to fill a truck, or as market prices for these raw materials fluctuate.
Finally, the bales are loaded onto trucks and sent to processors that will break these recyclables down into raw ingredients to make new products.
Anything that ROTS can go in the green bin. That includes food and food-soiled paper.
Here are some examples of what can go in the green bin... anything that rots, like food and food-soiled paper. Keep out the plastic, foil and Styrofoam, please, as this stuff doesn't rot.
Alright, let's begin. A student adds her food scraps, and food-soiled paper to the bin.
Your custodian wheels the bins out to the storage spot when they are full. A special truck that collects food and food-soiled paper waste from schools and businesses picks it up.
The truck picks up food waste from almost all the public schools in Clark County and brings it to the transfer station.
At the transfer station, the school food waste is combined with other food waste collected in the Portland-Vancouver region.
It is then loaded into containers for transport to the compost facility.
Strong hooks pull these containers onto the trucks for transport.
Now our waste is on its way to the compost facility.
Upon arrival at the compost facility, our food waste is weighed and then dumped in a special building called the tipping building.
A loader scoops up food waste and yard debris.
The waste then goes through some processing before it is put into a compost pile.
Sometimes the waste is ground into fine pieces. This helps it break down faster.
This facility uses a magnet to remove any metals that may have accidentally made it into the food waste.
The magnet in action.
Is that your fork? The accidental metal is brought to a recycler for processing into other metal products.
The waste is then formed into piles. This compost pile was just started. These compost piles are up to a football field long, 25 feet wide and 15 feet tall.
The ground the piles are built upon has special vents that fresh air is blown through.
The vents run the length of the compost piles.
The blue object here collects air and forces in through the underground vents.
Special tarps are pulled over the piles. This helps to keep the compost hot and prevents nutrients from leaching out when it rains.
Sensors monitor oxygen and temperature so that the piles are perfect for the development of microbes. Microbes are the tiny organisms that break the food and food-soiled paper down into compost.
Many compost piles exist at the facility. They are mixed and turned frequently, which keeps the piles hot—close to 160 degrees! This kills off potential pathogens and weed seeds. This also allows us to compost meat and dairy—stuff you can't compost at home because backyard piles don't get that hot
After about 7 weeks, the compost is finished. It is then screened to remove any contaminants.
This is a big trammel screen. It rotates around in circles, allowing finished compost to drop through, and contaminants like plastic to drop out the other side.
The plastic is further screened out by a large vacuum.
Plastic that people accidentally put in their food waste cars can become a big problem. Make sure to do your best to keep plastic, foil and Styrofoam out of the compost, as these things don't rot. This waste will be sent to the landfill.
Finished compost comes out the other side of the trammel screen.
Processed compost is then put into large piles where it will sit to cure for a month or two.
Fresh compost is actually sort of light in color. After sitting for month or two, it becomes the dark, rich soil amendment our plants and vegetables love.
Finished compost has lots of things that are good for plants in it. One of them is the microbes. You can see they are still at work here, as the pile is steaming.
Some finished compost!
It is then either loaded into dump trucks to be brought to yard and garden stores, where it will be sold in bulk...
...Or it is bagged for sale.
At local suppliers, customers can come in and load up their trucks with compost.
Loading up a truck to bring a bunch of compost back to their garden!
Unloading some bagged compost!
Compost is used by gardeners and farmers around our region.
Compost helps plants grow by absorbing water, releasing nutrients, and providing microbes to the soil. It does all this naturally!
The products of composting can be found at farmers markets and grocery stores around our region.
Delicious organic produce!
We can then bring these fresh veggies home and make a delicious meal! Just remember to compost your scraps at the end and start this whole sustainable cycle over again!
We put trash in the trash can. Did you know that the average American generates 4.4 lbs of trash per day? That's more than any other country in the world.
Trash is also collected in lots of other places around school. Can you remember the last thing you threw away?
Each day our custodian collects trash from around the school and brings it out to our school's trash dumpster.
Once or twice or three times per week, depending on the size of the school, the trash hauler empties the dumpsters using a special front load truck. Other trucks that are set up just a bit differently pick up the trash from our homes.
All trash comes to a transfer facility.
After being weighed, the truck dumps the trash. on the transfer station floor.
This pile represents only about 1/16th of the trash the people, schools and businesses of our county generate each day.
Large machines move the trash around to prepare it for shipping.
Can you spot anything in this photo and the next two photos that shouldn't have ended up in the trash?
Where should that cardboard have gone? In the background, the green structure is a conveyor belt. The heavy equipment operating at the transfer station pushes the trash onto the conveyor.
The conveyor leads to the compactor. The compactor crushes 60,000 pounds of garbage into a large rectangle that just fits inside a...
...shipping container. We fill these with 60,000 pounds of garbage. That's the same weight as 5 full-grown mail African Elephants!
Shipping containers are as long as a school bus.
The shipping container is 9 feet tall... the world's tallest person was just a little shorter than the shipping container. The shipping container is 8 feet wide... spread your arms and the arms of a friend to show how wide that is. Then... guess how many of these we fill in a week in Clark County.
Nope, not eight...
More than twenty...
Yup, 210 containers per week. In terms of weight, we produce 10.4 million pounds of trash per week.
A truck pulls the shipping container from the transfer station to the dock, then very strong machines lift these containers from a truck onto a...
...barge. These shipping containers are placed on a barge at the Port of Vancouver. Each week, we load 3 barges that each have 70 shipping containers of trash on them. What river do you think this barge travels on?
The Columbia River. Great care is taken to make sure none of our trash gets in the water. Transporting things by barge is about 8 times more fuel efficient than transporting them by a truck.
The barge travels from Vancouver, Washington 165 miles up the river to Boardman, Oregon. The trip takes about 24 hours by barge.
At the Port of Boardman, cranes and giant forklifts move the containers off the barge and put them on trucks. The barge is then reloaded with empty shipping containers to bring back to the Port of Vancouver. The return trip takes another 24 hours.
The trucks carry the containers 18 miles to...
...Finley Butte Landfill. This picture was shot from an airplane flying high above.
Finley Buttes Landfill strethces over almost a square mile...meaning that each side of the landfill is about one mile long. You could fit about all of downtown Vancouver within the boundaries of the landfill! See that small dot on the top of the landfill? That's a giant excavator that's 30 feet tall!
The trash arrives and is weighed and records are kept of where the waste comes from, as this landfill accepts waste from several different communities around Washington and Oregon.
Modern landfills are highly engineered systems. To protect groundwater and other aspects of the environment, modern landfills are required to have a very sophisticated liner to prevent materials that are in the landfill from leaching out. Check out the layers of the landfill liner in this diagram.
Here's a picture of a portion of the landfill that had just been constructed. This is the top of the liner. Beneath here are 5 feet of various types of sand, rock, engineered plastic, and leachate collection pipes.
The shipping containers are tipped using a very powerful machine that actually tips the entire trailer. 60,000 lbs of trash come roaring out.
Large machines further push and compact the trash in a cell...
Cells are opened and closed daily. They help to keep the trash where it is supposed to be. Check out how a cell is designed in this diagram.
Once a portion of the landfill has been filled to capacity, it is capped. Another liner is placed on the top of the landfill, and then topsoil is placed above that. Grass then grows on top of the landfill. Some landfills are tall enough that in the winter people ski on them!
Ground water is frequently tested in several stations around the landfill to make sure the liner has no leaks.
Things really don't break down in a landfill as there is no oxygen, and little water. When things to break down, they do so very slowly, releasing a gas called methane. Modern landfills are required to either burn this methane as a flare or capture it and burn it to make electricity.
Finely Buttes burns the methane they capture for energy. Electricity is produced and the excess heat is used to dry onions from a nearby farm.
As a backup, several flares exist around the landfill.
The flare, generation station, leachate collection pond and onion drying facility in the far background. That ends the tour of the landfill. But just think, all of that stuff made from our Earth's precious natural resources is just sitting in the ground...
It will be there forever... because a landfill is lined and the trash inside it is packed so tightly, the trash breaks down very slowly in the landfill. Studies have been done, and items that have been thrown away 50+ years ago, still look almost the same when they are dug up. Is burying potentially useful resources in the ground the best way to manage our waste?
Lots of fossil fuels are used to get our trash to the landfill. In the process, C02 is released into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. Also, the organic matter we put in landfills released methane gas, as it very slowly decomposes without oxygen. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, meaning that it is playing a major role in the warming of our Earth. The warming makes it harder for plants and animals to survive. Often to reduce this effect methane gas is just burned on-site as a flare. Lastly, think of all of the energy that was consumed to produce the things we use, and then, throw away!
Now that we have leaerned that throwing something away is not quite as simple as it sounds, that many natural resources are consumed in the process, that it contributes to global warming, and that this waste does nothing once it is buried... what are some of the things we could do to reduce the amount of wast we send to the landfill? How about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot?