Lately, there's been a lot of talk about trash. That is, with the Fresno mayor proposing privatization of residential garbage collection. It's something we all make and have to live with, but many of us never consider where our trash goes. From the curb to the landfill, it's a high tech and organized system.
A trash collector for 20 years, Kenny Hunnicut takes a lot of pride in cleaning up the streets of Fresno. One bin at a time, he picks up the recycling from over a thousand homes a day.
“We're doing a good service. We take care of our customers and that's what we always like to do,” said Hunnicut.
CBs47 rode along as the award winning driver did his route. Hunnicut has been around since before the "claw" did the heavy lifting, and before recycling made up about 70% of the city's waste. That’s more than any other city in the country. After his route, Hunnicut takes the load to Sunset, a sorting center for recyclables. Fresno, along with many other cities and companies, drop off about 400 tons of material every day. All of it gets sorted by over a hundred people who work at the plant.
“We have two, eight-hour shifts. People are actually touching everything you put into your blue container,” said Sonia Tyler, the recycling coordinator.
First, a loader puts the recyclables into a machine called a "fluffer." It puts air into the material, literally fluffing it up so it can be sorted. People on the assembly line pick out the big stuff. It passes through several more rounds, all done by hand, until it’s all sorted by material. Another large machine forms the recyclable material into cubes then bounds it with heavy wire. It's a labor intensive but lucrative business.
“We work with a lot of different brokerage companies so a lot of the material we do process goes overseas. It gets processed there and it comes back to us in bikes, automotive parts, new clothing, new boxes, paper,” said Tyler.
Sunset reaches out to educate children, getting them thinking about recycling at an early age. All types of plastic, including grocery bags, paper, cardboard, aluminum, tin, glass and more don't have to go into our landfill.
What does not go into the recycling bins goes to a transfer station. There, the loads of waste are put into a larger truck and driven out to the American Avenue Landfill near Kerman.
“We average 1,100 tons a day; annually we can receive 400,000 tons,” said Herb Cantu, principal engineer at the landfill.
Cantu takes CBS47 on a tour of the 440 acre facility. The landfill just looks like dirt as far as the eye can see. But underneath, it's layers and layers of waste covered with dirt. There's a lot more to it than that though.
“We are high tech,” said Cantu.
The trash is dumped in a specifically placed pile every day.
“What you see behind me is we have a dozer that is placing the waste at two-foot intervals and then we're utilizing a compactor to compact the waste,” said Cantu.
As part of the behind the scenes tour of the landfill, Rachel Azevedo got to drive a compactor and push down some of the waste. It's a bumpy and at times frightening ride, but the professionals know exactly where and how long to compact the trash.
“We also utilize GPS technology that tells us at what intervals to change to the next layer,” said Cantu.
Landfill waste has dropped dramatically over the last decade, thanks to an increase in recycling. But as you can see, a lot of recyclable material still gets in here.
“We have some pallets, cardboard. You can see plastics out here. There's still a lot of potential for materials to be recycled out here,” said Cantu.
The American Avenue landfill is slated to reach capacity in 2059. While trash is compacted and buried in one area, Contractors ready another 48 acres. Layers of synthetic material will protect our ground water from contamination. Cantu says, currently, no other site is slated to become a landfill, once this one fills up.
“The resources we have out here are not infinite. It's important to extend the life of our resources as long as we can,” said Cantu.