After sitting in his car for two and a half hours in the heat, Gil Sedabres finally made it to the end of the winding line of cars outside Melvin Price Memorial Park in Swansea.
“My wife told me not to come back home with this stuff,” Sedabres said, gesturing to the cardboard box in his hand filled with paint and aerosol cans. They both just wanted to be rid of it.
That seemed to be the theme of the day Saturday at the hazardous material drop-off event, hosted by the St. Clair County Health Department from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. About 1,000 cars headed to the park throughout the day as people got rid of their old paint, batteries, light bulbs, gasoline, old medicines and other items that can’t simply be thrown in the trash.
At the end of the line, Heritage Environmental employees and volunteers sorted through people’s materials. Many of them had been there since 7 a.m., but they didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s a great turn out,” Heritage Environmental manager Griffin Berry said.
Not only is it illegal to throw out these hazardous items, it harms the environment to send them to regular trash dumps since they are often toxic and nonbiodegradable.
Many people naturally accumulate these items, and there aren’t very many opportunities to throw them out. Counties must apply to the state in order to have the events, and then Illinois’ Environmental Protection Agency schedules and provides workers for them. Berry said there have been eight hazardous waste collection days throughout the state this year.
St. Clair County Board Member Bob Trentman volunteered at the collection and said while St. Clair County can apply for collection days, the details, such as number of employees, timing and frequency of the event, are up to the state. He said stretching the event into two days or having more people to help out would possibly lessen the long wait times.
Matt McCoy, who waited two hours to throw away his materials, said he was frustrated by the time-consuming line, partially because of the air pollution being caused by so many idling cars.
Sam Foster and her small white dog, Portia, were more concerned with the temperature, as they sat in 90-degree heat in a car without air conditioning. She headed out for the collection at 1:15 p.m. and got in line near the Belleville Fire Department Station, where she said cars continued to pull up behind her. She had only just gotten into the park, where another hundred or so cars waited, at 3 p.m.
“I don’t even know where else to put this crap,” she said, gesturing to the back of her car, which held about 20 paint cans, aerosol containers, batteries and old medicine. “I just hope I don’t get stuck with all of it.”
Foster and hundreds of others, however, ended up being able to safely get rid of their hazardous materials at the collection day. Berry said the group won’t know how much they collected until Monday, but the mounds of boxes, containers and cans suggested a successful day.
As for the misfit items that can’t go to the dump or the collection, Trentman said he found a place for them, too. Thompson’s Gas in Swansea will take propane tanks, a fire protection company in Wood River is in charge of fire extinguishers, and batteries will be sold and the money donated to charity.
By 4 p.m., the mass of cars had dwindled to just a few vehicles, and employees continued sorting through the endless piles of junk that had been dropped off.
As it turns out, one man’s hazardous waste is another’s successful collection day.