West Tualatin View Elementary's "green team," an after-school club that spearheads sustainability practices at their school, visited Metro Central transfer station recently to learn about what happens there. At the far corner of the facility, they stepped inside a structure that looks a bit like a drive-through oil-change shop. It's Metro's household hazardous waste disposal site. And it receives between 300 to 1,000 carloads of nastiness each week that Metro keeps out of the environment.
Metro hazardous waste technician Enrique Vargas welcomed the group and talked about the importance of properly disposing of materials that are flammable, combustable, poisonous or potential disease spreading – like syringes with needles in them, often referred to as medical sharps. “You have more influence than you think," he said to the students. "That’s why we do these tours, so you go home and tell your parents.”
Kari Meyer, hazardous waste specialist with Metro, enlists the group's help to discover the properties of a mystery substance. Many products that come through the hazardous waste disposal site are unmarked or not in original containers. Metro's lab must determine what they are. She conducted a series of tests to learn if the substance was an acid or a base – and then to see if it was flammable. "Maybe we should burn it?" she asked the group – which erupted with a resounding "YEAH!"
Meyer helped hand out gas masks and other protective gear for the students to try on. (About 20 to 30 tours come through each year.) “I would love to talk to you all day about science. Maybe you can come and work for me in a few years,” she told the kids. "I really enjoy sharing science with young people because I like to spark curiosity about stuff they see at home," she added.
"That was the best 10 minutes of my life!" said Alexander Kornegay after leaving the lab. His fellow green team members enjoyed suiting up before saying goodbye to the hazardous waste disposal site.
The tour included a look around the entire grounds and provided information about how workers at the transfer station separate the trash from materials that can be recycled. Last year, 260,000 tons of garbage left the facility for landfill and 40,000 tons of recyclable materials were separated and diverted.
The group of students discovered that – in addition to human employees at the transfer station – five falcons and one hawk work regular shifts there too. It's their job to shut down the feeding opportunity for seagulls and crows. Left unchecked, scavenging birds can eat unnatural and contaminated food sources. They also can scatter trash and create hazards for the heavy machinery used at the transfer station.
Matteo Brunozzi is the licensed falconer responsible for the raptors at Metro Central. All of his birds are captive-bred – meaning they were not captured from the wild. They travel with him, from work site to work site, in the back of his specially outfitted truck. When not on the job, the birds go home with Brunozzi.
Brunozzi demonstrated how he uses stooping, a falconry term that refers to swinging a lure on the end of a rope, to get his birds to imitate hunting behavior. The raptors circle high above, then dive down qickly towards the lure. "This behavior intimidates other birds," Brunozzi explained.
The green team was thrilled.