The following is an op-ed piece by Wes Muir, director of communications for Waste Management. It does not describe the views or opinions of Earth911.
Hurricane season hits the Atlantic and Gulf coasts every year from June to November. For these six months, the Southeast and occasionally the Mid-Atlantic are buffeted with strong winds and rain, often leaving homes and businesses severely damaged. Lawns strewn with branches, household possessions, garbage and other debris are not an uncommon sight.
Removing this debris is a crucial first step in community recovery. As we find ourselves in the midst of the hurricane season and recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, I feel it’s an opportune time to share some lessons Waste Management has learned from our disaster response experiences.
We’re all aware of the importance of sorting and recycling our household waste, but correctly sorting and recycling storm debris is also important, particularly for a safe and speedy cleanup process. Not only does sorting this debris result in greater resource recovery and environmental benefit, but it can be dangerous to mix these varied types of waste together.
For instance, when hazardous waste is mixed with other debris, the entire collection must be treated as hazardous. Proper handling of oil, gas and chemical waste is important to community safety, but it is not the only material to be sorted after a storm.
FEMA provides some helpful tips for properly sorting storm debris. It encourages you to separate your materials into the following categories [Editor's Note: The following links direct to your local recycling locations for these materials]:
- Household Garbage (bagged trash, discarded food)
- Construction Debris (building materials, drywall, lumber, carpeting, furniture)
- Household Hazardous Waste (motor oil, batteries, pesticides, paint, cleaning supplies, compressed gas)
- Vegetation (trees, leaves, branches)
- “White” Goods (refrigerators, washers, dryers, air conditioners, dishwashers)
- Electronics (televisions, computers, radios, stereos, DVD players, phones)
- Orphan containers – butane or propane tanks, chlorine cylinders
Sorting the debris on your property will speed up recovery for your family or business and your community. Following a natural disaster, find out from your local waste management service instructions on how to have your carefully separated waste collected. Some areas have rules about where debris must be placed or how it must be broken down.
I’ve seen many recovery efforts in my time at WM that we’ve handled using safe and sustainable practices. Our experience with disaster response has taught us the importance of coordinating personnel in addition to sorting debris.
When a disaster occurs, we first ensure that all affected employees are safe and accounted for, and then we send in special debris collection teams to the communities in need. We sometimes must set up temporary housing accommodations and send in supplies to provide for workers in hard-hit disaster areas.
In fact, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, WM set up a temporary housing village just outside of New Orleans with meals, sleeping quarters, Internet communications and medical care for 250 employees mobilized to the area during the rebuilding effort.
Recent storm activity led Waste Management to develop mobile “command centers” to serve as headquarters for employees in the field. These units include satellite telephones and computers and sleeping accommodations for round-the-clock service.
They are stationed in Georgia and Texas to be accessible anywhere in the Southeast U.S. following a storm’s impact. Following the devastating tornadoes in Alabama this past May, we positioned a command center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to quickly address cleanup needs.
I hope this information helps those of you affected by Hurricane Irene or any future storms. Please share any additional questions you may have concerning post-disaster waste removal in the comments.