Monday, October 6, 2008

River cleanup: From simple recovery to genuine recycling

Saturday was just plain cool. I didn't get out on the water, but it was still cool. Remember the tires, scrap iron and other crud I gathered back on September 20th? (The safe shown at left, for example, which has regurgitated its' river muck after being pulled from the water.)

Well, all this stuff had been sitting in my utility trailer since that time. So this past Saturday, Julie and I set-out to figure out what we should do with it.

First, the fender that looks like it flew off a car from the I-694 bridge. Turns out to be mostly P.E.T. plastic. Into the recycle bin it went.

Next, the tires. There was one on a rim, one off, and a pair of bike tires and tubes that I cut off a bike that I had pulled from the muck. I took those to a tire retailer that I had spoken with ahead-of-time; he assured me that the tires we collected would be transformed into something useful... like the running surface needed for a high school track team, or the like.

Finally, the scrap iron. We took everything metal to Scrappies Express Recycling, which is a division of American Iron here in Minneapolis. We weighed-in, unloaded, and then weighed again. Then, we were presented a check for $17.50. Go ahead and laugh... but I was delighted. After all, I was just hoping they'd take this junk off my hands (in turn, helping me take it out of the river). But as a bonus, I made enough cash to pay for a few gallons of gas.

The whole process at American Iron was fascinating (click to enlarge the photo). Using a massive electro-magnet attached to the claw of his crane, the yardsman sorted various types of metal into different roll-off bins... soon to be loaded onto barges, and carried to salvage yards and recycling plants along the Mississippi. Presumably, the sheet metal and scrap iron will be melted-down into some new form of useful material, at an energy cost lower than mining fresh ore for similar production, and preserving those remaining natural resources for other uses. So the global quality impact is pretty strong, all the way around.

I found it fitting that our junk was recovered from the Mississippi River... and now, that same river will aid in her own restoration by helping to carry that scrap iron to new uses downstream.

There's one last item that we needed to get rid of: An old Nokia cell phone that we pulled from the spillway near the Three Rivers fishing pier. It's too water-logged to ever be used again, so it has no value... but it has great potential for harm to the river, due to the heavy metals within the nickel-cadmium battery that once powered it. (That's why these things shouldn't even be tossed into a landfill; there are nasty ingredients that nobody wants seeping into the groundwater.)

Eager to find an appropriate alternative, I called the Verizon store were I most recently bought my own cell phone. I was pleased to hear that they have a recycling box in the back of the store, and they're more than happy to dispose of those old phones properly, even recycling whatever parts or materials might have future use.

Note to the planet: There were plenty of places to drop junk off that would have made a lot more sense than, say, a river. In the end, of more than 800 pounds of junk recovered, only one item--a wooden-framed screen door--ended up in a dumpster. Everything else was recycled.

Our goal was to get junk out of the river. But the learning process continues, as we realize just how much of this junk can be re-purposed into something new. If you know any cool tricks about recycling or re-purposing unconventional debris... please share your thoughts by email, and contribute to our ever-increasing body of knowledge.

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