Knox County Solid Waste Management District plans Earth Day event for proper hazardous waste disposal
Perhaps nothing has become more important in this 21st Century than taking care of the environment in which we live, a focal point of the Earth Day celebration each spring.
This year’s Earth Day is Saturday, April 22, and the Knox County Solid Waste Management District is encouraging local citizens to take advantage of a special event that will help people dispose of household hazardous waste materials to ensure a safer and cleaner environment.
Knox County residents can drop off common, unused items from their homes that must not be thrown away in regular trash collection. Things such as motor oil, paint, cleaners, anti-freeze, pool chemicals, aerosol cans, electronics, CFL and florescent light bulbs, old televisions, and computer monitors, will be accepted (though there is a $15 fee for TVs and computer monitors).
The Knox County Solid Waste Management District is a nonprofit government entity, mandated by the state of Indiana, to encourage citizens to be good stewards of the environment, and to offer programs that help to recycle, reuse, and to reduce waste that is so prevalent in a consumerist society.
“The two biggest things we do are our Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) program and education,” said Michelle Smith, the District’s executive director. “We promote recycling efforts, too, and that is all part of the education we do.”
The District’s HHW program is an important part of the District’s work. Take electronics, for instance. Electronics contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium that can be harmful is released into the environment. Disposing of them properly is a primary responsibility of the District.
“Our purpose is to try to reduce the waste that goes to the landfill, and to especially take care of hazardous waste,” said Mike Mikiska, the District’s recycling and HHW specialist. It is Mikiska who mans the 1600 Bayou St. site where residents can take household waste on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The District’s focus is due to problems that sometimes occur in a county as large, and rural, as Knox. There are some people who just don’t want to pay to have their garbage taken away, which sometimes leads to illegal dumping.
“Just the other day I picked up 11 bags of trash on Schoolhouse Road,” Mikiska said.
Such incidents are only brought about when the District receives complaints from the public, Smith said. She said the District is not able to “police” the county, searching for illegal dumping or the build-up of residential junk, it just doesn’t have the resources.
“We are complaint driven,” Smith said. “We don’t search. We would need a much larger staff.”
Last year there were 17 cases, based on complaints, of either illegal dumping or things like junk cars and other materials at homes or rural areas. Smith said the District is working with new Knox County Commissioners, and it remains to be seen how problems like this will be resolved in the future.
“They may wish to pass this on to other entities, we’re just not sure,” she said.
If the District happens to learn of large-item dumping, such as a refrigerator dumped into a ravine or something like that, Mikiska said they call the Knox County Highway Department, which lends its assistance with heavy equipment to remove the item. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often.
“There are a lot of people who just don’t want to pay for their garbage,” Smith said. “We once had an incident where a person had dug a huge hole for his trash — it was so big it even included a couch,” she said. “And then there are some who don’t know what household hazardous waste is. It is an ongoing effort to educate people.”
The Knox County Solid Waste District is funded by a $15 user fee charged to property owners. The fee is attached to annual property tax bills. The money helps support the District’s efforts to educate the public, encourage recycling, and to dispose of household hazardous wastes.
The extra $15 fee, for individuals disposing televisions and computer monitors, is necessary because the companies to remove those items charge the same or more to take them.
“It is expensive to send items off to be either recycled or disposed of,” Smith said. “The recycling and commodities market is always changing, and no one wants those old style TVs — it is expensive to get rid of them.”
In 2016, the District spent $10,000 to have 86,000 pounds of electronic waste taken away. Mikiska said there is almost another semi-load full and ready to go — and that has only been since about mid-November.
The District is unable to accept large appliances such as refrigerators, washers, or dryers. Smith suggested that residents check with local salvage yards, such as Painter’s or Schallers, as they typically will accept such things.
As for other household hazardous wastes, such as motor oil, chemicals, batteries, and other things, Smith said the District spent $16,000 to get rid of it last year.
The District manages encourages recycling, and helps the county’s smaller communities — all except Vincennes and Bicknell — with recycling efforts. The cities of Vincennes and Bicknell have their own recycling programs.
“Our bins are different from those the City of Vincennes uses,” Smith said.
There are recycling trailers at Sandborn, Monroe City, Decker, and Oaktown. Anyone, of course, may bring items to the HHW site in Vincennes.
Knox County could do better with recycling and other efforts to keep its environment cleaner, Smith said, and that’s why there is a positive emphasis on education. She is spending much of her time this spring, providing a variety of workshops and seminars for students mostly in elementary schools, but she also visit middle and high schools, too.
The schools and students do a good job with recycling,” she said. “Flaget has a school-wide recycling program where the fifth graders collect and take out materials to be recycled. North Knox does their own program, and South Knox elementary does a great job, too.”
Any agency or organization hoping to have an event where visitors can recycle, for instance, plastic pop bottles, Mikiska said the District is happy to provide portable containers so that people will try to recycle instead of adding to the trash load.
“We try to facilitate recycling efforts any way we can,” Smith said. “We would love it if other businesses or institutions would contact us about getting a recycling program started. Gemtron has done an excellent job with their program and they want to make it even better.”
The problem with recycling in public work places and other institutions is that someone has to take responsibility for making it happen.
“People are busy today, they say they have a lot on their plates already, but if a group can work together to get a program up and running, then it’s going and there isn’t as much work,” she said.
The District will provide free recycling bins to anyone, Smith said, but they cannot be used for Vincennes city recycling. That material should be placed in the city’s familiar green totes that have lids.
“Ours is blue and has no lid,” Smith said. “But it’s a way to collect recyclable material.”
In addition to the Earth Day event for household hazardous waste, other events such as a tire collection day in May and an effort to collect old shoes (to be recycled) hope to be scheduled soon. The District doesn’t want unused medication; that should be taken to the Vincennes or Bicknell police departments, or the Knox County Sheriff’s Department for proper disposal.
“You should never flush unused medication into a toilet as our wastewater treatment plant cannot remove them and then it gets into our waterways,” Smith said.
It takes money to keep the District programs going, there are some who either don’t know what the District does or does not realize its importance and believes is isn’t needed. Smith wants to assure citizens that it is necessary.
“We’re here to do a good thing,” she said. “We’re not here to make money. We’re here to educate and help Knox County residents about being good stewards of the environment. It’s important. We live here.”
For more information or to contact the Solid Waste Management District, call 812-895-4878, or visit the District’s website at knoxcountyrecycling.org. The District also has a Facebook page. The Household Hazardous Waste drop off site
By Bernie Schmitt