REUSABLE RESOURCES Recycling Manager Isn't Discouraged by Statistics

By Guilfoil, Michael | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), November 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

REUSABLE RESOURCES Recycling Manager Isn't Discouraged by Statistics


Guilfoil, Michael, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


FRONT AND CENTER

James Tieken knows recycling alone can't save the world.

Humans are too good at consuming.

Take travel, for instance. To offset the greenhouse effect of one seat aboard a round-trip flight between Spokane and New York, you'd have to recycle 30,000 plastic bottles.

But grim statistics don't discourage Tieken, the city of Spokane's recycling supervisor. He loves his work.

"When I first started driving back in 1997," he recalls gleefully, "we had to sort everything. Plastics went into a face- height compactor, and if they had any liquid in them, it would splash back on you. So if you came back smelling like sour milk, the boss figured you'd done a good job."

Today's single-stream recycling and $350,000 automated trucks have made the work less messy, but it's not risk-free.

"Drivers have to get out of their truck to collect batteries and extra recycling," Tieken explains, "and our rear-load guys hop out at every stop. Refuse collection still ranks among America's top 10 most dangerous jobs."

During a recent interview, Tieken described the economics of recycling, and ways residents can make the system more efficient.

S-R: Where did you grow up?

Tieken: Near Eighth and Pines. I graduated from Central Valley.

S-R: Did you have a favorite class?

Tieken: I really liked math. Also auto mechanics, welding - working with my hands.

S-R: What was your first job?

Tieken: Setting targets for weekend trap shooters at the Spokane Gun Club when I was 13 or 14. It was really fun.

S-R: And after high school?

Tieken: I went to work for the Conley family at their White Elephant Stores in 1989. Great folks to work for.

S-R: What did you do?

Tieken: I drove trucks between the North Side and Valley stores, unloaded freight and helped stock shelves. Sometimes I'd work behind the counter, watch for shoplifters, paint a building - anything they needed.

S-R: When did you join the city?

Tieken: In 1997. A buddy of mine who had worked as a seasonal employee told me about taking a civil service test. I decided to take it, too, did well and was offered a position called recycler.

S-R: What did that job entail?

Tieken: Driving a truck - we called it "the lizard" - stopping at each house and taking the bin to the truck, where I'd sort green glass, brown glass and clear glass. Metals all went together, and newspapers and cardboard went into the back of the truck. Later I worked as a floater, which exposed me to different routes, different trucks, and gave me a lot of city knowledge.

S-R: Did skills you learned at White Elephant transfer to this career?

Tieken: Absolutely - particularly flexibility. As a floater and a supervisor, I've had to deal with constant change.

S-R: Has your lack of a college education been an obstacle?

Tieken: Maybe. But what has helped me most as a supervisor is my on-the-job experience - knowing what my employees go through every day.

S-R: What metals does the city recycle?

Tieken: Aluminum and tin cans, and almost any scrap metal that fits into the cart and don't have sharp edges.

S-R: How about plastics?

Tieken: Any food container numbered one through seven. We don't want automotive containers - oil, antifreeze - due to potential contaminants. And no plastic bags.

S-R: Paper?

Tieken: Most paper products, including pizza boxes, as long as the pizza is removed. But not cardboard that has been waxed so it can hold a liquid. We also don't want shredded paper, because it clogs the machinery at the sorting center.

S-R: What items do people put in their recycling carts by mistake?

Tieken: General household garbage is one of the big things. Also baby diapers. And there's some confusion about yard waste, which we don't want in the recycling cart.

S-R: How much of the material delivered to the sorting plant can't be recycled? …

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