Top Spotter: Two years
When you pull into the Metro Central transfer station with your car or truck chock-full of items that you are eager to unload, it’s likely that Rhonda Ackley will be one of the first faces you see.
The transfer station is a place that receives loads of waste from garbage trucks as well as the general public. Workers there sort through the drop-offs to separate trash from materials that can be recycled. Then the various materials are sent along to their next destinations.
Ackley greets the public at the transfer station entrance. She asks people about items – like fluorescent light bulbs, paint and refrigerators (containing Freon) – that are hazardous and shouldn’t be mixed with other trash.
She’s also trained and certified to screen construction and demolition scraps for items that may contain asbestos, a material known to pose a health risk to people handling it. Metro’s transfer stations cannot take materials containing asbestos and require proof of testing for some materials. Metro's hazaroudous waste facilites, adjacent to the transfer stations, can take small amounts.
“What I do helps the environment,” she says. “So we don’t get all kinds of toxic products in the landfill.”
We visited Ackley on the job to hear more about what she does.
Q: What’s something you like about your job?
A: Well, I enjoy educating people. And, also, they don’t expect to see a woman here. So I tend to diffuse situations. It kind of makes me feel special. I’m the only girl spotter out there now and I like it. There are a lot of different people from different walks of life, and it’s just interesting working with the public.
Q: What’s something that’s not so great about your job?
A: I like pretty much everything. You don’t have to make a million dollars at your job. You just have to get up in the morning and like what you do. I like to chat with people. So getting stuck at the entrance for too long isn’t my favorite. Interactions there are brief before people are gone – parking and unloading. I prefer working out on the floor where I can help them park, answer more questions and encourage recycling.
Q: Has your job made you think differently about garbage and recycling?
A: I used to think that recycling was, you know, all we needed to do. I think the key now is buying less. Everybody is so wasteful. This is just one transfer station in Portland and there’s five of them. Recycling isn’t helping. We need to buy less, make fewer products or we’re just going to be overrun with junk.
Q: If you could change one thing about what we throw away, what would it be?
A: I wish they would be more educated with hazardous waste – to be more mindful of exactly what they are throwing away. And don’t put batteries in the trash can! (Common household batteries like alkaline AAs can go in the garbage. Other types, like the lithium-ion batteries used in laptop computers, cameras and smartphones can cause fires. Ask Metro for more information on battery storage and disposal.)
Q: Tell us about one of the most memorable things you’ve seen come through here.
A: We get all kinds of things that are crazy. Yesterday we had this super old fashioned barber chair – super heavy! And the lady was just torn. She didn’t want it thrown away, and so, I was able to put it back in the gleaners area. Hopefully Crackedpots will take it tomorrow when they come. And they will put it in their ReClaim store where someone can buy it.