Most people think of hazardous waste as radioactive chemicals or harmful medical materials but hazardous waste can actually be a lot of different things, including common household items. When it is time to get rid of waste like antifreeze, gasoline, and even some makeup or other everyday products, it can be difficult to understand what do to do with them.
The King County Wastemobile, part of the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program, is here to help. Created in 1989, the Wastemobile helps collect and safely dispose of household waste. The first such program in the nation, in its 28 years the Wastemobile has safely disposed of more than 17 thousand tons of hazardous household waste.
Supported by the Solid Waste Division (SWD), the Wastemobile operates throughout the County from the spring through fall, traveling to many communities to provide hazardous waste disposal services for residents and qualifying businesses. It also offers ongoing weekly service in Auburn at the Outlet Collection (formerly the SuperMall).
To learn more about how this successful program protects and enhances public health and environmental quality for the community, we sat down with longtime Hazardous Waste Program Manager Julie Mitchell.
A 30 year employee, Julie has been with the County for quite some time. She started her career in the Office of Civil Rights before moving into Solid Waste and eventually becoming the Wastemobile Program Manager. She enjoys working with the program because it has a tangible and immediate impact, and highlights how King County is committed to confronting climate change.
“By collecting and safely managing these materials the program makes a visible difference in our communities,”
“I come into work every day and enjoy what I do because I know the work I do really matters. I am working with people committed to human health and a healthy environment.”
Made up of different agencies and partners including SWD, the King County Water and Land Resources Division, Public Health – Seattle and King County, Seattle Public Utilities, the Sound Cities and Muckleshoot and Snoqualmie tribes, the Program has a visible and far reaching impact.
While proud to work for an employer that cares about the environment, Julie also acknowledges that environmental work can be challenging.
“It can be difficult since people don’t necessarily know what is hazardous,” she said. “Things like batteries and fluorescent bulbs contain mercury and other toxic substances and need to be disposed of properly.”
“This includes things like pesticides, since we don’t want them to get into our water or soil. We want to keep these clean and keep our families healthy.”
Julie explains that over half of items received through the program are in fact recyclable and so it is important to continue educating the public about it.
“We can beneficially reuse some items like oil based paint or paint thinner because they can be turned into alternative fuel,” she said. “Motor oil and antifreeze are actually refined back to their original state and the lead in lead acid batters is reused.”
The program has also largely been successful because of its funding structure. The cost is included in the rates for each King County recycling and transfer station and curbside collection fees, making the Program and its services an added benefit. Whereas other hazardous waste management groups struggle to fund their programs, building in the cost of this program into the overall budget for King County’s Solid Waste Division has proved both efficient and empowering.
“This service is so valuable. Residents and cities love it,” Julie said. “The program has gone through many iterations, but it’s still highly valued within the community.”
“Managing hazardous waste can be expensive, but with our strong foundation of supportive management, well-funded services and valuable agencies and cities involved, the Wastemobile provides a convenient, community-based service that consistently receives rave reviews by our rate payers.”