by Ethics Department Assistant Professor Melissa Coakley.
On Wednesday June 22nd Applied Ethics students from the Clearwater campus spent the afternoon at the Pinellas County Waste Department. The students are part of a special topic course in environmental ethics and had been looking forward to the trip for several weeks.
Upon arrival at the facility students gathered into a classroom for a presentation about the land use and the history of the Pinellas County Waste Department. Students were shown an aerial view of the property and told that the department sits on over 700 acres. The presentation also included information about the many projects the department is involved with including free mulch (for Pinellas residents) and beach recycle buckets.
After the classroom presentation students walked over to the HEC3 building. This building houses the Swap Shop. Pinellas residents can visit the Swap Shop to pick up used household products like paint or cleaning products for free. Residents can also drop off hazardous household waste – such as televisions and florescent bulbs – at the HEC3 building for no charge.
Once the HEC3 section of the tour was finished students were asked to board the bus for a driving tour around the property. On the tour students learned that the entire landfill area of the Pinellas County Waste Department can only rise up to 150ft in height. Once that height is attained the landfall will permanently close. Right now there are parts of the landfill that have reached a height of 90ft. Once the landfill closes – this is currently projected to happen in the year 2100 – the county will have to sell its garbage. This will be very expensive since many other places will be trying to do the same.
During the tour students were also shown the garbage that had come in that day. The mounds of garbage contained, according to Sarah the impressive and knowledgeable tour guide, more than 70% recyclable material. Students were shocked to learn that so much of our waste could be recycled instead of added to the already burgeoning landfills.
After the tour students talked about the experience and agreed that we need to spread the word and educate people about the impact our choices have on ourselves, our community, and future generations. The mood was a bit somber as students were deep in thought having addressed the ethical implications of our trash production and disposal. Here are some statements from students regarding the impact of the field trip to the Pinellas County Waste Department:
“As a student of Sustainability Management I endeavor to hold a leadership position in the conversation of sustainability. As part of my commitment to the planet in which we live, my objective is to find ways to educate the general public on recycling and conserving the environment. Specifically, the way we consume products and discard them after minimal use. The Pinellas County Waste Department is an opportunity to educate the people of the community on the city’s recycling programs. This field trip confirms the fact that we need to recycle more today than we have ever had to before because of the growing amount of recyclable waste we continuously produced each year. According to the guide at the facility roughly 77% of all waste that comes through the waste department is recyclable material. Another interesting fact about the waste facility is that $4 million dollars’ worth of electricity per month is produced by this plant from burning the city’s garbage, and sold to DUKE electric and then the energy is resold to us at market value.” (Jerry Calhoun)
“The field trip that we took to Pinellas County Waste Department was eye-opening, to say the least. I believe most of the students didn’t know what to expect going there, but we all left with a deeper understanding of how waste impacts our county. One highlight of the trip was the staggering statistics that were being explained. According to the very nice tour guide, two million pounds of electronic devices are handled by the Household Electronics Chemical Collection Center (HEC3) every year. Another highlight was the hidden gem of the Swap Shop. This little general store on the premises had all different kinds of paints and chemicals available free of charge to the public. These were chemicals that the people of Pinellas county had thrown away instead of recycled. All in all, this field trip was very informative and very fun. Speaking for my fellow Ethics students, field trips like this are a great addition to any course schedule.” (Jason McCullough)
“For me, the trip to the Waste Dept. was terrifying. It’s chilling to think that we are slowly running out of space for waste, we as a community aren’t aware of it, and we aren’t doing much to slow down. There’s also an element of helplessness, when even the industry itself shrugs, says it doesn’t have a permanent solution, and puts the stress of solving the problem on future generations. It’s horrible to abuse these kinds of things over and over with reckless abandon only to turn around and say, “Let the kids handle it.” It doesn’t inspire much confidence in those in charge, and it doesn’t say much about our future.” (Caitlin Bly)
“The trip to the Pinellas County Waste Dept. had a very positive impact on me. I am much more aware of how important it is to recycle, and how the waste we accumulate as a county can be significantly decreased if we all do our part!” (Christopher Bell)
“I never knew Pinellas County had 948,946 people living in it. Also, I did not know that we make 2 billion pounds of garbage each year. Most of our garbage can be recycled but it does not get recycled either because of laziness, or because people are just unaware of the impact it is making in our communities, our world and our planet. We need to become accountable for our waste. We need to know that they are running out of space and that they need to compost, recycle, and help out to save our community and make a better way for the future to come.” (Diana Perez)