It was double-lane drop-off at Cummins’ annual Community-Wide Recycling Day, the one day of the year where area residents can unload almost any hard-to-dispose-of item to be recycled for free.
And as the cars and trucks lined up Thursday to drop off everything from everyday plastic bottles and aluminum cans to loads of computer equipment and pickup truck loads of tires, volunteers kept the mood light.
“We don’t take cats,” they joked to Daniel Eddy, Columbus, who was dropping off three computers during the morning while his cat kept cool in the car.
About 200 Cummins employees were working at the recycling day event in two- to four-hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, each assigned to a different type of recyclable waste being collected.
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Cummins employee Karen Pogue was one of the greeters out toward the Columbus Engine Plant entrance, helping people dropping off items to navigate the drive-through process.
With temperatures in the mid-80s and bright sunshine, she had a wet towel around her neck to stay cool. She said she was thankful for a nice breeze that continued to cool off the volunteers along with ice-cold water that was being distributed.
The Cummins employees lined both sides of the dropoff, with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department directing traffic. People dropping off items didn’t have to do anything but pop the trunk or unlock the doors — with the volunteers provided the lifting, carrying and sorting services.
Mark Slaton, a Cummins environmental engineer who organizes the event, now in its sixth year, said the company hoped to exceed its record of 52 tons of recyclable materials collected in a 12-hour period last year. From Thursday’s progress at mid-day, he said it was possible the event would break the record.
Planning starts in February and March, and the recycling day has added more materials to its acceptance list the past three years, Slaton said.Tires were accepted for the first time three years ago, and about 10 tons were collected that year, he said. Last year, the recycling day began accepting paint, and this year the event is accepting unwanted or expired prescription drugs.
Jim Fleming, Columbus, brought in a bag of about 20 old prescriptions in bottles to drop off, saying he had been looking for a place to safely dispose of them. The process was quick and simple: drive up — hand over bag — receive a complimentary lunch bag from event organizers — and he was on his way.
About seven Cummins volunteers worked themselves into their own assembly line when Roy Burton, Columbus, arrived with a pickup truck load of tires. As one volunteer rolled it off the truck, the others rolled it over to a tire bin where the 32 tires were stacked neatly for recycling.
Burton said he had collected the tires over a number of years — some of them his, and others he found discarded out in the countryside. Burton said he considers that effort a way to help clean up the roadsides. In 2015, he brought 60 tires to be recycled, he said.
There were pallets holding 55-gallon barrels to collect used motor oil and antifreeze, some nearly full at 10 a.m. A separate container was filling up with chicken coop wire and other waste metal, and batteries were being tossed into round containers on a table.
Cummins began the event as one of its Environmental Challenge projects after helping provide seed money to establish a tox-away day for the city and county, Slaton said. The company now partners with a variety of public and private recycling organizations and companies to help them dispose of the wide variety of items area residents want to recycle.
Partners pitch in
NuGenesis, out of Mooresville, was on-site Thursday to help with paint recycling. The company does a wide variety of tox-away recycling events around the state, said Dave Wade, a driver for the company.Also participating:
Green Live Computer Recycling was handling computer drop-offs.
Ray’s Trash Service, Columbus’ recycling contractor, was handling shredding paper, tires, metals and plastics.
Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management was collecting cardboard, paper, bottles and cans that it normally gathers as part of the recycling process.
Jerica Haley and Randy Murphy, Solid Waste Management workers at the recycling event, said Columbus’ curbside recycling program — which began in early 2015 — has steered a large amount of city cardboard, paper, glass and plastics out of their stream of recyclable materials.
“We’ve seen things go down,” said Haley, who added that Solid Waste Management has made some recent changes to make recycling more convenient to area residents by expanding hours and access to recycling services.
The organization also has increased commercial services, picking up cardboard from area businesses, she said.
Slaton also said that the curbside recycling in Columbus had put a slight dent in donations at the one-day Cummins event, which was first felt in 2015 and was anticipated to be noticed again this year.
But even with that, Slaton said the number of different materials being collected beyond the common household items accepted at curbside could still push the tonnage collected Thursday over the record.
“I think we’re going to make it,” he said. “But I’m an optimist.”
This year, organizers loosened the rules a little bit and allowed churches and schools to drop off recyclables.
Workers at one school under renovation dropped off a truckload of fluorescent bulbs which were boxed for recycling under a tent. Another truckload was expected in the afternoon.
Ultimately, the goal is to keep items that could be recycled from being thrown in the trash and sent to the landfill, or dumped in waterways or along country roads, Slaton said.
Saying he has a passion for recycling, Slaton said it was instilled early, from growing up in a family where items were reused and recycled and the lights were turned off when everyone left the room.
“My dad was from the Depression and we didn’t waste stuff,” he said, as he watched Cummins volunteers unload yet another truck.
The Cummins Community-Wide Recycling Day accepts a wide variety of items for recycling. The event does not accept herbicides, pesticides or corrosive materials, preferring that those items be recycled through periodic Tox-Away Days held by the city and county.
But how are other items recycled?
Oil and antifreeze: The oil is re-refined and made clean for re-use, as is the antifreeze. The key to recycling these items is volume — companies must have enough of the material to make it worth their while. It needs to be barrels rather than quarts when cleaning and refining the material for reuse.
Scrap metal: It’s melted down to be reused along with some of the electronic waste that can be recycled.
Tires: New uses for recycled tires are being explored, from using them in asphalt and concrete mixtures on road surfaces and in some commercial products that use recycled rubber.
Medications: These can’t be recycled — they are incinerated for disposal.