Region struggles to reduce, recycle storm's
Martin Tribune national
correspondent Published January 4,
NEW ORLEANS -- One of the best
views of New Orleans these days is from just east of town, on
top of a mountain of garbage that provides a commanding view
of the skyline.
The once-closed Old Gentilly landfill
is humming with activity, and in the four months since
Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the Gulf Coast, it has grown
about 100 feet higher.
So much garbage was left behind
by the storm that the federal government estimates that if
stacked in 1-yard cubes, it would wrap around the Earth more
than once. And the crews that are picking up the trash aren't
close to being finished.
While a dozen or more
landfills have sprouted in Mississippi and Louisiana, federal
crews are trying a variety of methods to shrink the garbage
pile as much as possible.
One strategy involves
recycling everything from downed trees to appliances, an
effort complicated by the fact that much of the garbage has
been stewing in saltwater.
Nevertheless, on the top of
the Old Gentilly landfill, thousands of refrigerators are
stacked together as one crew--dressed in white protective
suits, heavy gloves and respirators--pulls out rotting food
while another taps into copper wiring in the rear to pull out
the refrigerant, which is recycled.
"On a cold day it's
not that bad, but on a hot day, it's interesting," said H.C.
Morris, president of Environmental Recycling, a Kentucky
company that is recycling refrigerators and other appliances,
when asked about removing the food. "After about three days,
you get used to it. You can eat a sandwich right there, and it
doesn't bother you."
Along with washers, dryers and
other appliances, the refrigerators are lifted by crane into a
hulking machine called a baler that crushes them into
1,700-pound metal rectangles, 6 feet long by 2 1/2 feet wide.
Morris makes his money by selling the bales to scrap metal
"We got a little niche here because no one
wants to deal with this," Morris said.
landfill near Kiln, Miss., piles of downed trees and branches
are lifted by a giant crane and dropped into a loud, whirling
machine that chops them up and spits out mulch. Most of the
mulch, contaminated with bits of debris and saltwater, is used
between layers of garbage in the landfills.
Plaquemines Parish, which was essentially leveled by the
storm, there is too much debris to think much about recycling
To reduce the volume, the Army Corps of Engineers
is using a giant shredding machine, appropriately named the
"Annihilator." Now in Empire, La., a town near the bottom of
Plaquemines Parish that was demolished by Katrina, the
Annihilator is being fed a constant diet of construction
waste--basically the remains of houses--to reduce the volume
"It's like a big shredder," said Greg
Schulz, a resident engineer for the corps who is overseeing
the Annihilator's operation. "For every 3 [cubic] yards you
put in, you get 1 back out."
Eventually some of the
debris may be burned for fuel or recycled in some way, corps
officials said. For instance, magnets could be used to pull
the metal out of the shredded debris pile.
mountains of Katrina debris have included all sorts of
hazardous materials, from paint cans and gasoline containers
to 55-gallon drums filled with chemicals. Crews picking up the
debris have separated hazardous materials from the rest of the
garbage, and the Environmental Protection Agency has picked
At one of the EPA collection sites, at the
south end of St. Bernard Parish next to the tiny Canary Island
Cultural Museum, crews in protective suits separated and
categorized the material. Once enough of the hazardous waste
is collected at the St. Bernard site, it is loaded onto a
truck and taken to a special incinerator in Texas where it is