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Talking Trash (Feature)

posted on July 25, 2008 at 4:15 PM


Amy Plymat could be described as a hunter-gatherer. The rural Johnston woman collects furniture, tools, garden supplies, and much more – all free for the taking during various curbside clean-ups when residents can throw out larger items that don't fit in a trash can.

Amy Plymat, Johnston: "It's one of those things where initially when friends hear you say you're going out on spring clean up and they're like, you're kidding you actually go through people's junk that they throw out? And I say yes. It was fun. Secondly, It was a very inexpensive way to get useful items. I'm a market gardener and sell plants and flowers at the Farmers Market in downtown Des Moines. And once I figured out I could get perfectly good garden hoses on Spring clean-up, I quit buying hoses."

It may come under the heading of one person's trash is another person's treasure … as Plymat not only takes what she needs, but has found a market for what she doesn't. That market is in Des Moines' East Village store called "Found Things".

Amy Plymat, Johnston: "And I thought wow, "Found Things" that's just exactly what I'm into and started picking up things I thought she might like to buy. And it's sort of one of kind finds and so you know I thought pick up nice little pieces of furniture and things that."

Plymat now rents her own space in the basement of the shop. But not every found thing she brings home is a keeper.

Amy Plymat: "My garage is sort of a mess and I do try to clean it out once a year and purge stuff. And so some stuff actually goes to the landfill that I've picked up, but I think I gave it a reprieve for a little while."

When items eventually leave Plymat's curb as garbage … they become part of the 550,000 tons of trash a year that comes to the Metro Waste Authority, just east of Des Moines. The trash is delivered to cell "A" – part of a 2007, $11 million dollar, 28-acre landfill expansion. That's a per acre cost of $100,000 – for garbage.

Michael Fairchild, Operations Manager, Metro Waste Authority, Mitchellville: "There's 13 cells in the phase 2 expansion. Cell "A" consists of 28 acres of clay and composite liner. The composite part of the system is a 60 mil high-density polyethylene of plastic with a geo-textural fabric and then there's one foot of pea gravel placed on the composite liner for a drainage system.

It is an elaborate set-up for an area that is expected to be filled to capacity in just 3 to 4 years. Once the trash is compacted, buried and full -- it will be capped, but not forgotten. There will be 30 years of continual monitoring of air and groundwater to ensure today's garbage doesn't impede tomorrow's environmental quality.

In addition to monitoring, the landfill built 12 acres of wetlands to filter wastewater, created when rainwater seeps through the garbage. Plants remove contaminants and after treatment of the water, it is sprayed on a construction prairie.

The facility also partners with Waste Management of Iowa, a company that extracts methane from the buried trash to produce enough electricity for nearly 10,000 homes.

Efforts to recycle and reuse are being done on many levels ... including business and industry, which accounts for more than 70% of the trash in the Des Moines area landfill – and 80% of the landfill waste in Cedar Rapids.

But there are attempts by businesses to reduce waste. For example, Rockwell Collins, headquartered in Cedar Rapids – sends its packaging material to nearby Goodwill Industries, where workers separate what is salvageable and then sends it to be recycled or returns it to the company for reuse. The company says over a 14 year period, measured in tons per $100 million in sales; it has reduced its solid waste to the landfill by 70 percent.

Tags: Energy/Environment HEAT Iowa recycling trash

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