Sharp objects a problem in county's waste stream
My friend spotted the used hypodermic needle first.
We were out walking two weeks ago, and there it was, abandoned by a stranger like a slim, white stain on the green grass near the blue water.
“Should we pick it up?” he asked.
“Definitely,” I answered. You can’t leave such things where they could hurt someone.
Holding the needle gingerly, he carried it to my car. Feeling virtuous, I held out the small trash bin that holds my voluminous stash of fast-food wrappers behind the driver seat.
Then, I forgot the needle. A few days later, I emptied the bin into the household trash, blissfully oblivious of the germ-fanged monster amid the burger boxes and soda cups.
Eventually, it ended up in a barrel at the end of my driveway, and so, my earlier attempt to prevent harm was wasted, because when the county garbage collectors pick up detritus and recyclitus, they don’t sift it. They toss the trash in the truck, where it is piled and compacted, jostled and jiggled, rolled and rumpled — and that is just the start of the journey.
“When you leave your garbage at the end of your driveway, as a resident … you can stop thinking about it,” said Jocelyn Bethune, Victoria County spokesperson. “But that is the beginning of its time with our employees.
“Our tipping staff hand-bomb the blue bags. Our recycling staff open all the blue
bags and hand-sort each of the items.”
“So, even though you tied the bag and said good-bye to it, it’s just the beginning for our staff.”
The county picks up a lot of trash: by the end of October, 752,790 kilograms of waste, 56,850 kilograms of organics and 163,870 kilograms of recyclables went through the Baddeck station this year. More organics and recyclables are processed in New Haven.
“They open the bags onto a table, and if somebody sees a needle, then all work in that area has to stop,” Bethune said. “We have to make sure that everybody is safe. Is there one needle, or a bunch of needles?”
Though the problem in Victoria County is not as severe as it is in the CBRM, “we still encounter needles in recycling containers,” Bethune said. “Last year in Baddeck, we saw maybe five to ten needles in the recycling depot …and this summer in Wagmatcook, there were needles in recycling containers.”
A few years ago, there was an issue in New Haven, she said.
“There are ways to narrow down where these things are coming from (but) for us, it has always been about education.”
“When this comes up, they say, ‘oh, I didn’t realize’, because the old way was to put it in a Javex bottle,” Bethune said.
Bethune explains “Safe Sharps”, a program run by the provincial pharmacists’ association. Free containers are available at drugstores and the health centre in Wagmatcook, which is where they should be returned when full.
It’s not just needles. Anything sharp — such as the rusted knives that one recycling staffer found in a blue bag this month — could pierce the heavy gloves that county staff wear.
Broken lightbulbs and smashed bottles should not go into a blue recycling bag, Bethune said. The pieces should be wrapped in paper or cardboard to prevent the sharp edges from protruding, then put in the clear garbage bag.
It’s a matter, she said, of thinking, “If it was your husband, your wife, your son or daughter doing this job, how would you want to make sure that they’re safe?”
For more information, visit pans.ns.ca/public/programs/safe-sharps and www.victoriacounty.com/wheredoes-it-go.html.