At the Catalina Transfer Station, recycling is getting a whole lot easier.
"It's our 'Single Stream' recycling program," explains Judy Tovar, program coordinator for the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality Solid Waste Division. A former San Manuel mining community member, Tovar has been a program coordinator for DEQ for more than three years.
"This is a residential facility, not a commercial one," adds Tovar, "and we are combining all household recycling into a single bin. Instead of having to separate glass, plastic, newspaper, cardboard and tin cans at home, you can bring them here and place them all into a single container. From the transfer station, the bin is then taken to Recycle America, a private contractor who separates the recycling materials for us.
"Single Stream recycling makes it easier to recycle and helps to reduce costs," she adds.
It is free of charge to those dropping off recyclable materials, with no other household wastes, according to Tovar.
The Catalina Transfer Station is located in an almost idyllic setting on the high desert about three miles north of Tangerine Road. Surrounded by open land, the red-roofed building, built in 1991, sits on the west side of Oracle Road. It is a transfer station, which means residential garbage and waste are brought to the site, then transferred once a week to the Tangerine Road Landfill.
The Catalina Transfer Station has new hours and operating days; it is open Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is closed Sunday to Wednesday and on all county holidays.
"We are saving the people who come here the 36-mile round trip of having to drive to the Tangerine Road Landfill. Everybody here knows that road like their tongue knows their teeth," said landfill attendant Anthony Breaux. He is often the first person you'll see when you approach the transfer station. Sitting inside a small modular building, Breaux's job is to collect the fee and check residential addresses, usually through a vehicle's registration.
Breaux likes his job. An ex-collections specialist for Chrysler Financial, the trash business offers its own rewards. "At Catalina, the lines aren't as long and the people are friendlier; I know many of them by name. And in the early morning out here, it's quiet and peaceful; I've seen a bobcat, coyotes and one time a cougar strolled on by."
The Catalina Transfer Station is primarily for Pima County residents. Fees range from $2 per passenger carload to $30 for any load weighing one ton or more, regardless of vehicle type. Commercial loads are not accepted. Also, loads must be covered with a tarp, or if bagged and boxed, secured to a vehicle by bungee cords, for example. Residential users outside of Pima County, like Saddlebrooke in Pinal County, can use the facility, but pay an increased cost of $20 per load.
The station is an excellent place to leave hazardous household waste through its ABOP collection area. Again, residential only, the following guidelines apply:
Antifreeze - 5 gallons per month
Batteries - 5 car batteries per year
Oil - 5 gallons per month
Paint - 5 gallons per month
For the usual fee, the transfer station also accepts "green wastes" from February through July. Green wastes include yard trimmings, but do not include cactus and palm fronds. The station also accepts scrap metal; items like water heaters, shelves and folding chairs can be dropped off.
"However, we don't take anything larger than four feet," said Breaux. "Also, no carpet and mattresses. For those, people have to drive to Tangerine. I also can't allow in construction debris, especially porcelain toilets and sinks. I have to watch out for anything that can damage the compression machinery."
At the facility, the non-recyclable waste in thrown into a large metal chute, which funnels the material downward, where it is then compressed by a large industrial-strength trash compactor. According to Rick Franke, landfill equipment operator, the compactor pressure compacts at 1,500 pounds per square inch. The trash is then pushed into a truck trailer, which is more than 60 feet long and 13 feet high. Filled, it weighs close to 80,000 pounds — 40 tons of trash.
Franke is another longtime resident with a long history of working for the San Manuel copper mine. He grew up in Cortaro, "which was once was a small town, but most people think is just an exit off the freeway." Franke remembers as a young boy exploring and riding his dirt bike through the desert surrounding the transfer station, when there was "absolutely no houses out here and several small above ground streams."
As the equipment operator, Franke's official duties include operating and maintaining the compactor, using the tractor to push the trash down the metal chute, and once a week driving the truck that hauls the trash-filled trailer to the Tangerine Road Landfill.
His unofficial duties include constantly repairing damaged fencing caused by free-range cattle trying to gain access to the green wastes. He also maintains a respectful, friendly relationship with a bobcat he named Scruffy, and a pair of great horned owls that periodically nest inside the transfer building. "I've seen people throw away brand new bikes because a tire was flat, and one guy tried to get rid of an entire car —piece by piece."
For more information about the Catalina Transfer Station, call 740-3340 or go to www.deq.pima.gov