City, county team up for Earth Day

Apr. 20, 2013 @ 04:31 PM

Monroe and Union County teamed up to make Earth Day a little greener this year.

Saturday, vendors and volunteers were sharing the environmentally friendly vibe with a steady stream of event-goers. Rangers with the N.C. Forestry Service were handing out baby cedar trees to the public.

“We’re here just to let everybody know that we do more than fight fires,” Union County Assistant Ranger Jason Marlowe said. “We promote air quality, water quality and we do some work with urban forestry.”

In the Church Street parking lot, volunteers in gloves and aprons were sorting items, emptying chemicals into safe containers and collecting used batteries. Drivers in cars and trucks loaded with bottles, cans, electronics and other hard-to-dispose-of materials waited in line to hand over the kind of garbage they cannot chuck into a normal trash can.

By 11:30 a.m., there had already been more than 150 drop-offs, Union County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Nance said.

“People have been bringing by paper to be shredded, used motor oil, used oil filters, old car and household batteries,” she said. “They’ve brought electronics - anything from tvs to computers to printers to old radios. They’ve bought refrigerators and washing machines and old tires.

“Thankfully, they’re bringing in a lot of household hazardous wastes,” Nance said. “Those are things like paint, insecticide, chemicals, solvents, florescent light bulbs and cooking oil. Anything that they’re not sure how to dispose of, they bring it here and we safely dispose of it for them for free.”

Downtown, representatives from different green businesses in the Charlotte region shared a little of what they do with event-goers. Businesses like Charlotte-based Sonoco Recycling makes money off repurposing unused materials.

“Waste-Pro picks up your recycling and brings it to us and we sort the materials,” Sonoco Customer Retention Coordinator Kristin Sharps said. “We’re a vertically integrated company, meaning we take the materials and recycle them into other products like containers and sell them to other companies.”

Paper, glass and plastic thrown away by Union County residents are repurposed into food containers, paper products, car parts, carpets, fabric and myriad other useful products for local companies to use.

“A lot of the people we’ve talked to today have said they never realized how things were actually recycled,” Sharps said. “They were amazed that it doesn’t just go into a landfill somewhere.”

Under the Monroe Water Resources tent, staff members were explaining how water gets from surrounding lakes and into your home.

“This is a great opportunity to education people about water,” Water Resources Director Russ Colbath said.

Not many people think about the process of cleaning lake water, filtering it and transporting it to every house in the service area, he said.

“We’re giving out these water bottles and asking people how many times they can fill it up and dump it out before they use up $1 worth of water,” Colbath said. “It’ll take about 2,000 times to come close to a dollar in cost and most people don’t think about that.”

Good conservation starts before the water even arrives in the faucet at home. As more people move into rural areas, their presence increases water pollution. Gas and oil from vehicles, fertilizers and insecticides from lawns, bacteria from pet and livestock waste all combine to impair bodies of water.

“We’ve taken steps to make sure that water that comes out of the tap is as clean and tastes as good as possible,” Colbath said. They do that by aerating lakes to prevent fish kills, using lots of carbon to filter the water and doing regular taste surveys around the city to make sure tap water tastes good no matter how far from the treatment plant it travels.