Toilet graveyard a boon for recyclers

By JOSH GREEN – Associated Press

LAWRENCEVILLE — The Toilet King, as he’s been playfully called around the office, has never seen a porcelain throne he didn’t like. He holds no grudge against the avocado-colored dinosaurs of the 1960s, the robin’s egg blue ones, the oddball yellow ones, the dying-rose pink ones. Should the toilet have been left in the yard with a bird’s nest packed inside — no matter.

The King isn’t picky. He likes to see old toilets die. His forte is to ferry them into the afterlife.

His highness is Bill Hallman, 61, warehouse manager for the Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources, a laid-back grandfather of five and Navy veteran with a Col. Sanders goatee. He is the gatekeeper to an amenity that sets Gwinnett apart in metro Atlanta — a free, on-site toilet recycling drop-off.

Toilets come to Hallman from every stripe of folks imaginable, from farmhouses and apartment complexes, on average 1,800 per year. Sometimes on Mondays, after a fair-weather weekend, the toilets are waiting for him at the Winder Highway office, lined up like forgotten tombstones.

“I tell people a toilet is like an automobile,” Hallman laughed in his office, “you can get a Volkswagen, or you can get a Cadillac.”

The Cadillac of toilets, if not the Ferrari, would be the .8 gallon marvel that practically sips water. The jalopy is the circa-1950, seven-gallon antique an employee recently recycled. Big picture, those few gallons per flush, when multiplied by hundreds of thousands of households, can have a substantial impact on Gwinnett’s primary water source, Lake Lanier. The DWR’s goal is to introduce as many wasteful toilets as possible to the executioner — that is, the community service workers swinging the big sledgehammer.

Each jurisdiction in North Georgia is mandated to offer a toilet rebate program for those who replace pre-1993 toilets with more efficient new ones, which can use 1/5 as much water. Rebates are $100 per toilet, deducted from water bills (two per household; receipts required). But the opportunities to recycle the jilted old thrones are few. Some garbage haulers charge to cart toilets away, as their biodegradability falls somewhere between Keith Richards and Stone Mountain.

“It’s another way to keep a useful material from taking up space in landfills,” said DWR water conservation coordinator Heather Moody. “This is a big convenience to our customers because there are so few recycling facilities in the region.”

Launched in Gwinnett in 2007, the rebate program has accounted for nearly 11,000 upgraded toilets, which are saving more than 200,000 gallons of water per day, or 73 million gallons annually. That’s the equivalent of roughly 146 Olympic-sized pools per year not siphoned from Lake Lanier.

Since the toilet recycling drop-off opened in January last year, an estimated 2,500 thrones have met their maker.

The executioner on a recent hot day was 20-year-old probationer Francis Rivas, who donned a dirty Brookwood shirt, backward Falcons cap and a welding faceguard for protection. His job was to climb into the facility’s Dumpster and smash donated (and disinfected) toilets into tiny shards via a sledgehammer. He’d never done it before.

“It should be fun,” Rivas said, pre-game. “Being a guy, we like to smash things.”

Like a knife through butter, the sledgehammer dominated several toilets, ending their inglorious existence in seconds. The parking lot rang with sounds like dinner China dropping on the street.

“Toilets are fun to smash,” Rivas enthused afterward. “My approach was just swing big. Swing big or go home, I guess.”

So a full Dumpster fits about 600 toilets, which are further crushed with a backhoe after the sledgehammering. Seats, handles and non-porcelain innards are picked out.

The next stop en route to toilet afterlife is Patterson Services in Mableton, among the largest recyclers in the Southeast. The company charges $300 to retrieve a load, which is the only cost Gwinnett County incurs for the recycling program, Hallman said.

The toilets of Gwinnett are fed into what’s called a cone crusher, becoming the finished product, crushed porcelain. Owner Ken Patterson said that product then has two options: It will be landscape gravel, or an aggregate stone. Those thrones that go the latter route will be a sub-base for the asphalt roads we drive, a moisture barrier under commercial and residential concrete slabs — or even cement kitchen countertops.

“A lot of people like the little white stripes in (the countertops),” Patterson said.

The process, in the estimation of the Toilet King, is a win-win.

“It’s well worth it for us,” Hallman said. “We’re the winner, because we’re getting our water.”

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