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Bringing landfill lessons home
Loma Rica students tour Recology Yuba-Sutter
Some said it smelled like garlic, others thought the odor was more like skunks.
Loma Rica Elementary third-graders had a lot of ideas about what the Recology Yuba-Sutter Transfer Station smelled like Wednesday but agreed on one thing — it stinks.
While many have stopped at the transfer station — which they mistakenly think is the dump — with their parents, few have ever seen it behind the scenes. During their field trip, they walked from corner to corner of the complex eyeing broken Dumpsters, pinching their noses at the smell of trash and mentally linking bales of crushed cans to the futuristic Disney-Pixar movie "Wall-E."
"At least it doesn't smell through your mouth," said Grace Mallen, 8, holding her nostrils together.
Standing in orange safety vests that hung down to their knees, they listened intently as public education coordinator Jackie Sillman told them about the history of the century-old landfill, the immense volume of trash that arrives every day and the many ways Recology works to reduce, reuse and recycle.
"I am always amazed by the questions," Sillman said. "A lot of them just think they push the cart to the street and it goes somewhere. I always ask them, 'Where did you think it went?' and they just have no idea. When they see it now, they go home and talk to Mom and Dad about it."
Plugging their noses, students watched awestruck as giant machines grabbed scoops from mountains of trash at the tipping area and carried them to waiting trucks.
"The coolest thing was when I felt so puny next to that giant claw," said Mirra Garbarino, 8. "It was huge, and I felt like a tiny mouse."
In the metal yard, Sillman explained how broken Dumpsters, old washing machines and faulty water heaters are carted away to be melted into new metal containers and appliances. Giant piles of concrete get crushed to become road base, she said, and discarded wood is ground into shavings to generate electricity.
"We don't want to use Mother Earth," Sillman said. "We want to reuse what we have, right?"
"Right!" the students shouted.
Glancing down at the Yuba River snaking by, she talked about how plastic bags enter waterways, polluting rivers and killing animals, and encouraged students to use reusable bags if they can.
"You have the power and can make a difference," she said.
The transfer station hosts tours for about 15 schools a year, with more than 1,000 students exploring the facility last year.
Teacher Lisa Messick has brought her students for years and said the field trip complements students' social science curriculum, where they are learning about California's resources and how important it is to protect the environment. When they return to class, they incorporate transfer station facts into a lesson about fractions and use it for a writing lesson.
The field trip, paid for by Recology, is a great opportunity to bring those lessons to life, she said.
"It's hands-on. It's not just reading text," Messick said. "It makes it more real, because it's visual, sensory. They smell it and they taste it on their tongues."
As they walked, students slammed Sillman with questions about whether pillows, stuffing and sheets were recyclable, what happens to old tires and why the transfer station has so many chickens.
As a few students bragged that they didn't mind the smell; Mirra looked at them as if they were crazy.
"How can you say it smells good? It smells like a bunch of diapers," she said.
"It smells kind of like garlic at home," said Adriana Rowan, 7.
"It smells worse than skunks," said Tori Garcia, 8.
As they watched crews separate cardboard, paper, glass and plastic on the recycle line, Sillman said what they were seeing was just from the morning's pickup. Each day, the transfer station receives the trash weight equivalent of 450 elephants.
"We need to protect Mother Earth," Rose said. "We dig it up and should keep reusing it and reusing it so we don't dig it up again."
The final stop was to the composting area, where students compared piles of tree limbs, grass and leaves to the coffee-colored dirt that is the final product. The field trip taught them a lot, they said.
"When we got here, it looked like we were going to have a lot of fun," said Dakota Dickenson, 8. "It was cool to look at all the trash."