Community recycling days draw big crowds, and tons of stuff
Community recycling days over the summer at two of Cummins Inc.’s larger U.S. plants collectively emptied more than 2,000 vehicles of an estimated 140 tons of electronics, batteries, tires, used paint, old lightbulbs and more.
The separate events at Cummins’ Jamestown Engine Plant (JEP) in Jamestown, New York, and the company’s Columbus Engine Plant (CEP) in Columbus, Indiana, also attracted plenty of people, some waiting as long as three hours for their chance to safely rid themselves of material they had been holding onto, sometimes for years.
“It was really good to be able to have the Community Recycling Day at CEP once again,” said CEP Plant Manager Kyle Lewandowski. “It has been a couple of years since this event was held due to COVID. It gives people within the community an outlet to dispose of things they have around the house that are typically difficult to get rid of safely. It also provides a lot of opportunities for people around the community to volunteer, and that’s what makes the event so fun and successful.”
PEOPLE CAME EARLY
The Jamestown event was held June 18, while the Columbus community recycling day took place Sept. 15. It was the first such event at CEP in two years because of COVID-19. JEP didn’t have its event in 2020 because of the pandemic but was able to conduct a recycling day in 2021.
Both events this year happened under sunny skies, lending a festive atmosphere to the efforts.
“We had people lining up at 5:30 a.m. and our event didn’t start until 9 (a.m.),” said Loren Chase, Health, Safety and Environment Leader at the Jamestown plant. “I don’t know if they got the time wrong or just enjoyed seeing the whole thing come to life.”
Taken together, the events involved nearly 200 volunteers, working in concert with partners capable of safely handling hard-to-recycle items like waste paints and electronics. The Columbus event also got a helping hand from more than 40 National Honor Society volunteers from Columbus East High School in addition to volunteers from Cummins.
Organizers said the days brought out some unexpected items.
“One of the things that got my attention and the attention of many of our volunteers was the number of old TVs we saw with the cathode-ray tubes,” said David Wehrkamp, Health, Safety and Environment Leader at the Columbus Engine Plant. “There were some of the big heavy ones with the wood paneling. I didn’t think people still had them, but they do.”
While perhaps amusing, the old TVs underscore the importance of events like the ones in Columbus and Jamestown. Older TVs with cathode-ray tubes typically hold lead, cadmium-based phosphorus, and other toxic chemicals that make them potentially dangerous and hard to recycle. Many places in the United States charge a fee for handling them, but the recycling and cleanup days at both plants took them at no-cost.
The same kind of thing can be true for waste oils, paints and other liquids as well as tires. While both events depend on volunteer labor, they also involve significant costs that both locations cover through various means.
Government leaders say community recycling days serve an important purpose as part of the three R’s of waste management – reduce, reuse and recycle – to limit what ends up at landfills, incinerators and other means of waste disposal.
“There is value in all unwanted items we accumulate in our homes,” said Tracy “T.J.” Pierce, Solid Waste Analyst for the Chautauqua County Division of Solid Waste in Jamestown. “…The community cleanup days organized by Cummins provide our communities an awesome opportunity to remove unwanted items from people’s lives and accumulate them in one place where they can be efficiently sorted and delivered to the recycling industry to extract that value.”
Given they provide people the chance to do the right thing and save money, it’s no wonder the JEP and CEP recycling days, each now more than a decade old, are extremely popular.
“We get people calling months ahead of time asking, ‘when is the cleanup day?’” said David Burlee, JEP’s Machining Director of Operations and the longtime leader of the Jamestown event until handing that responsibility to Chase this year. “It’s great to be part of something people feel so strongly about.”