April 23, 2010

So...where does all that trash go after you pick it up from the river?

Washington River Festival & Missouri River Clean-up
Rennick Riverfront Park, Washington, MO,
April 17, 2010

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Vicki Richmond & Tom Ball

"So...where does all that trash go after you pick it up from the river?"

I would say that's about the fourth most common question that gets asked from most folks curious about river clean-ups. Good reason, too! An amazing amount of junk gets recovered from the river during these clean-ups and most people would like to know it' getting put to good use. It's tough, but we try to recycle as much as we can...and hope to keep getting better.

My answer to the question usually starts with "Well, that depends on the community we're working in..." And each disposal solution usually has its own story. Here's some from the Washington Clean-up...

River Trash to Art
In three years, volunteers have removed over 40 tons of junk from a very old dump on the Osage River near the Mari-Osa ramp. We’ve bemoaned the fact that all this interesting stuff just got scrapped, except the treasures volunteers took home with them. This year, the Washington River Festival gave us a chance to do something with it.

A month ago, I delivered a couple big trash cans full of select Mari-Osa trash (culled by Ruthie Moccia) to Joey Los, a metal sculptor from Hermann that is co-owner of Kunstlerhaus gallery. Joey has been working with the Greenway Network’s Stream Trash to Art program, donating her time and work to creating beautiful and interesting sculptures from trash found on stream clean-ups. She, and several other artists offered to set up shop at the festival with welding equipment to make art from our Mari-Osa trash, and anything interesting that came off the river during our Washington clean-up.

Larry Pogue, whose impressive gallery is located on Front St just across the train-tracks from the Washington boat ramp, cranked out unbelievable standing sculptures of fish and flowers. Patrick McCarty worked with the Waggoner boys from Greenway Network to make creations using an old-style blacksmith oven.

Then, they donated all of these works to an auction raising money to help pay for the clean-up. Jean Ponzi from KDHX 88.1 was the auctioneer, and with the generous bids of festival goers, everyone raised over $1,200 for Missouri River Relief! Thanks to all of you for your creativity, generosity and hard work!

River Trash to Timber
The most common material we find on clean-ups is plastic. Plastic bottles, coolers, oil and antifreeze jugs, toys, plant pots, playground equipment, balls. Plastic generally floats pretty well, moves easily down streams during high water and gets deposited in drifts along the floodplain of the Missouri River.

River-ravaged plastic is often either full of mud and sand or coated in it. Most recyclers don’t want to deal with it. The sediment dulls their grinding blades, and contaminates the final product. It would be cool if we had our own grinder and some kind of washing system (using biodegradable cleaners and using little water), but we don’t. So if a recycler is willing to take the stuff, they usually have to re-sort the load to get only the plastic they want.

So far, we’ve worked with Civic Recycling in mid-Missouri and Coca-Cola Enterprises in Kansas City to recycle river plastic. Our friend Billy Froeschner, from Sustain Mizzou, told us about his friend, Gary Ryan, who owns Ryan Enterprises and turns a variety of plastics into fence posts and landscape timbers. Billy offered to bring his gooseneck horse trailer to Washington to haul away the plastic, and he even set up the recycling station.

The frantic sorting scene drew a lot of spectators from the River Festival – and some looks of amazement at what was actually in those blue bags coming off the river. Well, all that hard work recovered an estimated 750 pound of plastic - half of that horse trailer full!

Heavy Lifting
Just getting the trash off the boats and where it needs to be is a big task, best handled by a front-end loader or skid steer. Randy Thiemann from the Washington Parks and Rec. Dept. gave his Saturday up to hauling trash from the boats to the recycling station or the metal truck. He rolled up just as the first mud-filled refrigerator came up in a boat and we were scratching our heads on where to put it. Right up to the end, where he blew a hydraulic line on the second to last boat load of junk, he worked that ramp hard. The Parks Dept. also paid for the landfill dumpster supplied by Beck Disposal from St. Louis.

Tires are always the problem…
We had trouble finding someone to haul tires to a recycler for this event. Finally, the week before the event, our crewmember Bernie Arnold from Arnold, MO, offered to do the hauling for us with his big, walled trailer. He bought the trailer to help get rid of the massive numbers of tires that Stream Team 211 finds on the Meremec River, and here he was jumping out of his watershed to help us out in a pinch. The 85 tires recovered went to Tire Shredders Unlimited in High Ridge, MO, which creates a rubber “crumb” that is used in playgrounds, horse arenas and as an additive to coal to burn hotter and cleaner creating electricity.

Scrap Metal
This stuff is actually worth money! Sometimes, we make quite a lot of cash from the scrap metal. Other times, it’s much easier to let a local scrapper to pull up a trailer or dump truck and let them take it away. This time, Franklin Co. Recycling brought a dump truck, and we filled it to the brim - 3.9 tons! There’s a lot usable metal you can get from 15 miles of river!

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