Atlanta’s CHaRM is making it easier for city residents to deal with household chemicals, paint and other materials that are a challenge to dispose of properly.
The image above was taken during a group tour of the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHarM) in Atlanta, GA. It gives you some sense of the scale of the operation – it’s much like other municipal recycling stations except it’s also a collection point for materials that aren’t often accepted for recycling.
In last week’s RTA blog post titled, “An Exclusively Capitalist Reason to Recycle?”, you can find comments about the importance of figuring out what makes sense to recycle. Some items may cost more to recycle than they’re worth. When cities open facilities like the CHaRM, they can lower the cost of recycling because residents can drop off items when they wish rather than paying for onsite/curbside collection in neighborhoods.
Atlanta’s CHaRM, like many recycling facilities, accepts some electronics. There’s a list of items they don’t accept though you may notice that they’re typically items that require very special (sometimes licensed) disposal like devices containing Freon, contaminated medical equipment, etc.
The goal is to keep hazardous materials like mercury and lead out of our landfills. Even new electronic equipment like flat-screen computer monitors need to be properly disposed of rather than thrown into a landfill. They also contain some technical nutrients that can be reused.
The image above shows the mattress collection point at Atlanta’s CHaRM. Did you know mattresses can be rebuilt and then reused? The tops of the donated mattresses are removed and replaced so the mattresses can be used in shelters for the homeless.
Have you ever recycled a toilet or porcelain tile from a renovation project? Toilets are bulky items that don’t break down easily in landfills for construction and demolition waste so they need to be broken down before they go into the landfill. If we’re going to invest that amount of energy in breaking down toilets and tile, why not find some other use for the material?
The broken down toilets and porcelain tiles can be used as an aggregate in concrete for sidewalks and roads. The aggregate in concrete is typically gravel that’s collected through quarry operations or scooped out of river beds. Replacing stone aggregate in concrete can mean less quarrying and transportation of gravel AND the porcelain is diverted from the landfill.
The nondescript area shown in the image above might be the most helpful area in Atlanta’s CHaRM. It’s the collection point for household chemicals and paint. Some households, especially those with longtime residents, accumulate all sorts of chemicals and paint. Some of those may be older than legislation restricting their use.
Rather than pouring those chemicals down the drain (into their plumbing and our water system) or tossing them into a landfill, residents can now figure out how to safely transport them for proper disposal. The paint cans can be recycled too!
You can see the collection points for plastic bags, books, clothing, shoes and toys at the Atlanta CHaRM in the image above. The collection point for Styrofoam is off to the right.
It’s helpful that the CHaRM accepts these items in addition to the hard-to-recycle materials because it can be a chore to remember to collect and bring these things to collection points all over the city. When you have time to recycle, you can bring most of your items to one location.
By the Numbers
Atlanta’s CHaRM opened in April. It operates on a three-day schedule: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Last week, it completed its 75th day of operation. In that time, the CHaRM has diverted over 17,088 gallons of paint, 12,394 gallons of chemicals and thousands of pounds of various household hazardous waste from our water system and landfills.
The CHaRM has also collected 10,000 illegally dumped tires. Tires left outdoors can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The CHaRM has already improved the city’s health and environment.
A Word About Waste
If you’re involved in a building project and you plan ahead, you can greatly reduce the materials needed. That reduces your waste. You can then recycle what would have been called “waste” before recycling opportunities became common. It may be helpful to remember that you’re paying for the materials and labor to produce the waste on your project. Waste reduction strategies should allow you to invest more of your budget in the priorities of your project.
Thanks to Peggy Whitlow and her team of people at Live Thrive Atlanta for partnering with the City of Atlanta to create and sustain Atlanta’s CHaRM. She’s following a great precedent set by others in other municipalities. There may be a CHaRM equivalent close to you.
There’s a tremendous opportunity for partnership among recycling centers in a city. Between the municipal recycling centers, CHaRM, Lifecycle Building Center and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, there’s not much you can’t recycle.
If you live in a populated area and you don’t have access to facilities like these, what are you going to do about it? The answer may be as simple as alerting your elected officials to the precedents existing in other cities.