April 15, 2014
Dumpster Diving on Ocracoke:
Reusing and Recycling
By PAT GARBER
into the dumpster, I lift out a half-full can of mauve paint, just the
right color for my bedroom door. Next I find a set of exercise weights,
still in the box with instructions. While I don’t want them myself, I
am sure I can find someone who does, so I chuck them into my bicycle
basket. Over at the metal debris dumpster I see someone pull out a
perfectly good folding bed frame. “Looks like we both scored!” I call
As part of my daily bicycle errand run through
Ocracoke Village, I often swing by the Ocracoke Dump, more correctly
known as the Hyde County Solid Waste Convenience Site, Ocracoke.
Sometimes I deposit a bag of trash or recyclables, but often I just
come to see what people have brought in -- if there is something I or
someone else can use. I often meet others who are doing the same.
2005, I wrote a story called “The Ocracoke Mini-Mall: Reusing and
Recycling,” referring to the facility known as “the Dump.” It was
a place where folks could set aside things others might want, so that
they were reused instead of deposited in a landfill. I refurbished my
house with wood and other items found at the dump after Hurricane Alex
left it unlivable.
Nathan Spencer, who oversaw the
facility at the time, was pleased to see people take items away.
He said that “It’s downright shameful to throw so much good stuff
is indeed shameful to send so much material to be buried in
landfills. Producing the materials that become garbage takes a
huge toll on forests, waterways, and other natural resources, according
to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Americans generate trash at a
rate of 4.6 pounds per day per person, almost twice as much as in other
countries. That amounts to 251 million tons per year. Some gets burned
or recovered, and about 32 percent gets recycled, but 55 percent ends
up in landfills.
John Steinbeck, in his 1962 book ‘Travels
with Charlie,” wrote that “the mountains of things we throw away are
much greater than the things we use…I do wonder whether there will come
a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness.”
wastefulness has grown worse since 1962. Back then, if your
refrigerator or radio broke, you called a repairman. Today you toss it
in a dumpster and buy another one. Trash production in this country has
almost tripled since Steinbeck wrote his book, and the amount of trash
deposited in landfills has doubled. The trash is buried but not broken
down, and landfills must be monitored and maintained for up to 30 years.
In old times, Ocracokers burned their paper and wood trash in their yards.
and bottles,” recalled Nathan Spencer, “were dumped behind the
two-seater Johnny houses. The floodwaters from hurricanes periodically
cleaned them up.”
Recycle and reuse were important
concepts then, and the beach was the main place to find things,
especially after a big storm or shipwreck. Everything from lumber to
toys to baseball caps might be scavenged, and Ocracoke old-timer
Maurice Ballance remembered when his father and other islanders loaded
their boats with bananas after a cargo boat carrying the fruit north
Calvin Burrus was the first garbage man. He went
to people’s homes and, assisted by Joseph Gaskill, picked up their
trash for $5 a month. The garbage was deposited in one of several dumps
on the island. Owen Gaskill took over the job next. His wife
Della wrote about it in her book, “A Blessed Life; Growing up on
“He (Owen) did the garbage from 1969 to
1988. No garbage bags were used. He wore knee-high boots to work in the
Later he, with the help of his son
Monroe, began working for Junius Jennette, taking the garbage to
Buxton. Then Dare County took over trash collection, and he worked for
that county until he retired. Monroe continued on for a number of
years, driving garbage trucks along with Dan Garrish and Ikey O’Neal.
facility we call The Dump evolved slowly. It was started by Wayne
Teeter when he was county commissioner, and William Nathan became the
overseer. At first there was just a trailer for people to throw their
trash in, but Hurricane Dennis caused so much damage that the county
had to bring in large containers. The chipper, purchased to recycle the
enormous number of trees downed in hurricanes, paid for itself in six
months, according to William Nathan.
There have been a lot of
changes in recent years. William Nathan retired at the end of 2013,
after 15 years of overseeing the facility. The site has been
modernized, with different bins for tires and household, limb,
construction, and metal debris. It is now micro-managed from Swan
Quarter, where James Blount is the Solid Waste Superintendant. Three
Hyde County employees work at the Ocracoke site. They are head
site attendant Kevin Pfeuffer, site attendant Mathew Parsons, and site
assistant Josh Smith.
Branches and tree limbs are still chipped
on Wednesdays, but today the attendants bring the chipper to island
homes and businesses and chip on site. The chips are available free of
charge for use in gardens, etc.
The biggest change is in the
recycling program. A practice known as co-mingling is used, in which
all glass, plastic, metal, and paper are deposited in the same bin.
(Corrugated cardboard goes into a separate roll-off compactor.) Some
people have wondered if these recyclables are actually being recycled,
so Blount produced photographs of the facility in Greenville where they
are sorted, showing the materials before and after sorting, and going
down chutes. According to Blount, “North Carolina recorded the lowest
per-capita rate for solid waste disposal in 2013 since measurement
began in 1991.” This continues a steady downward trend in disposal
since 2006. This is a good indicator that more materials are being
recycled instead of going into landfills.
Out of the 100
counties in North Carolina, Hyde ranked 22nd in Total Public Recycling
Per Capita Recovery and 29th in “Common Household Per Capita Recovery.”
In the words of Scott Mouw, recycling program director at the
Division of Environment Assistance and Customer Service, “The business
of recycling is an increasingly dynamic contributor to the North Carolina
economy, and public recycling programs serve as critical links in the
supply chain delivering materials to industry.”
has done its share in contributing, having recycled 114.46 tons of
commingled recyclables and 62,220 tons of cardboard. The trash that is
not recycled or reclaimed is taken to a landfill in Bertie County.
spite of the recycling and dumpster-diving, a great number of reusable
items get deposited in the landfill. Ocracoke has a great little
non-profit thrift shop, next to the Ocracoke Coffee Company on the Back
Road, where many of these items could be donated. Not only would this
keep them out of the landfill, it would benefit Ocracoke’s youth
program and the people who love to find a bargain there. Please,
however, do not drop off items when the shop is closed and without
checking with one of the volunteers inside.
Whether you are
dropping off trash or recycling or doing a little free shopping, the
Ocracoke Dump is an interesting, lively place where you are likely to
meet a friend or a friendly stranger.
Whatever you are there for, please try to keep it out of the landfill!
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