On Monday, we met our community partners Lauren, Alana, and Cecilia and exchanged contact information. We have set up a weekly time to confer over the phone and discuss our progress on the project and our plans moving forward. We also met independently later in the week to look over the scope of work packet and plan our next steps. We assessed the various skills that we could bring to the project and generally got to know each other so that we could establish a working partnership and lay the foundations of an effective communication base. Aitran’s diverse language skills (Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, and English) and experience with community outreach projects will help make our actions in the community more directly effective as well as allow us to really dig in and get to know a correctly representative sample of individuals so as to try and figure out why more people aren’t using the hazardous waste disposal facility. In addition, Adam has a connection with a previous Seattle City Council President who years ago worked on a similar project to improve the HHW system in King County, Washington.
What We Observed and Learned
During our meeting in class, they gave us a basic overview of the project and explained to us how the Household Hazardous Waste disposal system works. Citizens must schedule an appointment with the HHW facility and deliver the waste themselves. Hazardous waste cannot be transported in containers over certain sizes: 15 gallons for liquid waste, 125 pounds for solid waste. Examples of common household waste include e-waste, compact fluorescent bulbs, pesticides, paint, medical sharps, prescriptions, Mercury thermometers, and some cleaning solutions. There were about 8,000 appointments made throughout the course of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, representing under 3% of San Jose’s population. We also learned that the City of San Jose tracks and keeps a record of all the waste that is delivered and processed through the facility. This may prove to be very useful in the future analyzing of what types of waste are being most commonly brought in, which could significantly inform and guide our efforts of education and outreach.
Based our in-class conversation and some subsequent email communication, it appears that Lauren, Alana, and Cecilia, and therefore we as well, are operating—we believe—under the higher oversight of Santa Clara County. When emailing them to try and set up a day for us to go down to San Jose to tour the HHW facility, they mentioned that this weekend would not work because they had not yet received the County approval that is needed. This would make sense because we believe the Environmental Innovation Center and the HHW disposal facility serve the whole county. However, this is not yet clear, and we will make point of clarifying the operation structure and scope of the facility’s jurisdiction in the near future.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Breaking down the project into its fundamental parts, we have determined that the basic problem is one of both infrastructural inefficiency and environmental harm. Too much hazardous waste is undergoing improper disposal and ending up in landfills, where toxic chemicals can leach out into the soil and waterways polluting the natural environment. The inefficiency problem is due to the extremely low level of usage that the HHW is experiencing. Without yet knowing any specifics about its capacity—whether it is limited strictly by the volume of waste flow, or current amount of available labor at any one time etc.—it appears that the facility is now being underutilized. Therefore moving forward, our goals will be to address these two issues, with an order of priority yet to be determined. Our first step will be to tour the facility as soon as we can (most likely January 23rd) and learn more about the disposal process. An important part to this will be able to observe people actually coming to drop off their waste and note the ease with which they can do so and try to imagine the process from their perspective to gauge whether any difficulty in the physical disposal process is deterring people from using the facility.
After our tour, we will reach out into the San Jose community. Our current plan is to develop some sort of survey—whether that be distributed via pamphlet, going door to door, or stopping random people on the street—to analyze why more people aren’t using the facility. Is it that many people don’t know which household items are classified as hazardous? Do people care about disposing their hazardous waste properly? Do they think its not worth the effort? Do they know the HHW facility exists? We hope to get a sample of everyday people from varying neighborhoods around San Jose to try and develop a broader picture and hopefully answer the question: Why don’t more people use the facility? From there, we will begin efforts to build potential solutions to the problem that can be more focused on targeted weaknesses, whether that be through community education, working to create policy that would incentivize using the the HHW facility, or some other method.