By Joseph Slacian
WABASH COUNTY, Ind. – Illegal dumping at the recycling centers is causing a problem for officials at the Wabash County Solid Waste Management District (SWMD). It’s getting to be so much of a problem, officials are considering closing the centers.
SWMD Director Jen Rankin discussed the issue with The Paper of Wabash County while she and staff member Cindy Stanley cleaned up the most recent incident of illegal dumping on Friday morning, March 9. Someone left a couch and love seat at the Manchester Avenue recycling bins, along with two lawn trimmers, a baby stroller and box with full, unopened bags of snack foods.
Rankin, who was wearing a protective coat and gloves to do the work, said many may think the district has a large enough staff to clean up the illegal dumping. However, there are just three people on staff and, depending on what needs to be clean, can take at least two of them to do so. If that is the case, she has to wait until someone is able to come to the SWMD office on Manchester Avenue to staff the front desk and greet those who may stop by the office, as well as answer the telephone.
“Sometimes that’s not always possible,” she noted. “Sometimes we have to wait until the office closes and come down on our own time and do this.”
The public, she said, needs to be involved to help stop the illegal dumping.
“They need to let me know when this stuff is going on,” she said, after she and Stanley loaded the couch into their pickup truck. “They have to be my watchdogs. I can’t be here 24 hours a day. I can’t afford the thousands of dollars in surveillance equipment.
“My only alternative, if it doesn’t stop, is to stop the program.”
There is surveillance equipment at the Wabash County Animal Shelter, located adjacent to the Manchester Avenue site. But, Rankin said, that equipment is focused on shelter property and doesn’t extend to the recycling center.
Those who dump illegally, she said, “probably know that.”
The SWMD board was scheduled to consider changes to the program when it met on Tuesday, March 15. Those changes, Rankin said, could be closing the recycling sites on Manchester Avenue and at Columbus and Vernon streets on the city’s south side. If that happens, the recycling program would be moved to the SWMD office, and would only be available when the office is open.
The dumping is an ongoing problem, she said.
“I have to get something daily,” Rankin said. “I’ll get calls in the middle of the night – and thank you, whoever does that, I’m not complaining – but I’ll get calls in the middle of the night that says, ‘Hey, someone’s down there … filling bins with shingles and building materials.
“I just keep trying to remind them that if you look on the side of the container, it tells you exactly what you can put in here.”
In addition to building materials, SWMD staff regularly remove electronic and chemical items. In addition, some place dirty diapers in the bin, as well as food products.
“People will actually put food in my bins,” Rankin said. “I do want to ask this: How can you think I can recycle a dirty diaper? I can’t do that.”
She continued, “I don’t have some magic partnership with the local landfill. Every time I get this, I have to take it down there and it costs me exactly what it costs the resident. I don’t get any deals … and I have to unload it”
Once the trash dumped at the recycling bins is cleaned up, it must be disposed of at the Wabash Valley Landfill. That costs the SWMD $27 per load.
“But, you know what, if I catch and I enforce the fine, the illegal dumping fine in Wabash County is now a Class A infraction of $10,000,” Rankin said. “It’s a real problem. I just don’t know what to do.
“We are responsible by a bill signed last year by the governor to recycle 50 percent of all trash generated in our county. If I’m taking the money that I can use for recycling programs and putting it into people’s trash removal, then that’s a real issue. It’s cutting into my mandate, what I am mandated to do.”
She also reminded residents that spring cleanup in both North Manchester and Wabash is just a few weeks away, and that items can be disposed of during that time period.
“We have all kinds of avenues to help people,” she said. “This irresponsible behavior is exactly that, irresponsible.
“The public needs to help me meet our recycling mandates. Don’t make the program go away.”