Take a normal, everyday piece of trash—say, a candy wrapper or an empty cracker box dumped into a trash can somewhere in the south county. It will end up in a huge landfill just north of Medford.
But before that happens, that piece of trash will spend some time at the Black Butte Transfer Station, a site Black Butte employee Mike Christ proudly calls “the most beautiful garbage dump in the United States,” surrounded as it is by forests and mountains, with Black Butte right next door.
If you’re not just an average, everyday piece of trash, though, if you have some value, you could end up traveling from the Black Butte site to more farflung places, even all the way to China.
Tires, candy wrappers, old refrigerators and microwave ovens all have to end up somewhere, but before they get to their final destination they’ll likely spend some time at the Black Butte Transfer Station. Trash in all its forms comes there from Dunsmuir, Mount Shasta, Weed, McCloud and Lake Shastina.
That “average” trash, the candy wrappers, construction debris, plastic spoons, etc., gets the bum’s rush, dumped in piles in a big, high-ceilinged, metal-walled barn. It’s loaded, the same day, 17 tons at a time, in trailers for shipment to the 250-acre landfill near Medford.
Outside the barn are separate piles of carefully sorted trash, trash that has some value: recyclable cans and bottles, newspapers, cardboard, metal products, electronics, green wood waste, tires, barrels of used oil, refrigerators and old microwave ovens.
The wood waste is chipped and used to fuel biomass power plants. The metal is pressed at the transfer station into one-ton cubes and trucked off. At their final destination, whether it’s China or somewhere here in the U.S., the cubes are melted down so the various metals in them can be separated and reused.
Near the check-in station there’s a small “yard sale” display. Usable items, like bicycles, can be dropped off there for free, and are then available for purchase at a nominal amount. Items for sale one recent day included four sets of golf clubs, three girls’ bikes (two with no seats), a food blender and an outdoor umbrella.
The Black Butte site normally operates with just three employees: Someone to assess each load as it comes in and collect a fee, a heavy equipment operator to load the trash into the trailers, and a “rover” to stack newspapers and cardboard, sort bottles and cans, do whatever additional tasks are necessary.
The county owns the Black Butte site, oversees its operations, and sets its fees, but the transfer station’s staff is employed by a private contractor, Gerard Pelletier Transfer Stations, which also runs and staffs the county’s other large transfer station in Yreka.
Jim Gaeddert, 67, is the Black Butte Transfer Station’s on-site supervisor, who, with 17 years on the job, is steeped in the ins and outs of the trash business. He’s an affable man with a few words of greeting for most of those coming through the facility – dump truck drivers, contractors, members of the general public with their small truckloads.
Gaeddert is about to inspect his last truckload of trash. He’s retiring this week. During his tenure on the job, he’s seen the site’s transition, in 2004, from a “direct burial” landfill to its present role as a sorting station for south county garbage. The landfill, which was next door to the current transfer station, was not sealed and had to be closed due to environmental concerns.
Gaeddert has seen it all, has weathered the drop in the trash business caused by the Great Recession, when construction activity, and construction debris, dropped precipitously, and has since rebounded. Now he’s ready to leave, getting out before the icy winds again start blowing through the site.
The Black Butte Transfer Station, like the post office, operates in fair weather or foul, through the snow and ice of winter at its elevation of nearly 4,000 feet.
It’s open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and at the same hours Friday and Saturday, and closed for most major holidays. Fees vary depending on the contents of loads and their weight or volume. Minimum fee is $5. The transfer station is located at 3710 Spring Hill Road, just north of the Abrams Lake Road exit on the east side of I-5. Phone: 926-1610.