The “Eco” Sheriffs - Wacker Chemie AG


The “Eco” Sheriffs

No, we don’t accept assault rifles here. “Please leave firearms and ammunition at the sheriff’s office,” read the notices for “Hazardous-Waste Day” in Adrian (Michigan) weeks in advance. What is wanted is old solvents, used motor oil, turpentine, old paint and cleaners. “You have to explain things to folks” says Bryan Alexander. “Who’s to know what hazardous waste is?”

The driving force behind the Hazardous-Waste Day: (back row from left) Lucy Oldfield, Bryan Alexander, Hugh Flack, Loren French; (front row from left) Sean Tennison, Sharon Nicholson, Cheryl Stout and Jeff Creech.

Alexander has been working at WACKER in Adrian since 2011. As Regional Environmental Manager North America, he is responsible for everything that relates to ecology – and thus also for the Hazardous-Waste Day. In a joint effort, WACKER and Anderson Development arrange the waste collection once a year, alternating between their respective premises, enabling all residents of Lenawee district to get rid of hazardous substances free of charge.

A good dozen WACKER employees help out as volunteers, including CEO Dr. Ingomar Kovar who takes part every year. Anyone directly involved with the hazardous waste is given the appropriate training and provided with protective clothing – including even the Tyvek coveralls worn by disaster relief workers: a white one-piece with hood and face protection. “It can get incredibly hot inside,” says Alexander speaking from experience.

It is amazing what people unearth from sheds and cellars. This year, one neighbor even got rid of a disused fire extinguisher with a 200-liter tank. The sheer size of the yield is also impressive. This time it was around 22 metric tons of hazardous waste, including two and a half cubic meters of pesticides and 19 boxes of fluorescent tubes. The materials are loaded into containers by a specialist company, taken for recycling or disposed of professionally. In total, over 166 metric tons of toxic waste have been collected since WACKER launched the initiative 17 years ago.

For residents of Lenawee, the collection, which always takes place on a Saturday, is a family day out. Many bring the kids and then drive over to a nearby environmental center. There they can find hands-on animal presentations, guided hikes through a nature reserve and information on environmental protection. Help is on hand from WACKER employees such as Lucy Oldfield, who tells visitors about a program to promote bluebirds and gives tips on how neighbors can build their own nest boxes in their gardens.

Officially, the hazardous waste collection begins at eight o’clock in the morning, but people drive up as much as an hour before. The first hundred visitors receive a hanging flower basket as a thank you, and the WACKER team counted exactly 403 cars this year. Is the supply of herbicides and engine oil that people are hoarding not exhausted at some point? “Every year we think we'll collect less, but the quantities we receive never reduce,” says Alexander.

The WACKER team advertises the event weeks in advance with ads, radio interviews and posters, including details of what should NOT be brought. Nevertheless, in addition to toxic substances, the WACKER employees are recipients of ever-increasing amounts of household waste. What can you do if someone with old paint cans also brings leftover wallpaper? “We try to reject as little as possible,” says Alexander. Except for firearms, of course!