Daniel Brooks’s knack for finding avenues to recycle and reuse household waste materials is paying dividends for Fairfax County.
Brooks, who manages the county’s household hazardous waste program, has tracked down businesses that accept materials such as latex paint, used cooking oil and mercury thermostats. This generates revenue for the county and keeps the materials from reentering the environment, he said.
Brooks, 37, started working with hazardous materials while serving in the Coast Guard from 1998 to 2000. He later worked for several private-sector firms, where he was responsible for handling nerve agents and other highly toxic materials.
That gave him an appreciation for the importance of keeping hazardous materials out of the environment, he said.
“I really loved the environmental aspect,” he said. “I felt like I was making a huge difference.”
Shortly after coming to Fairfax in 2013, Brooks founded a nonprofit business that would accept mercury thermostats at no cost, saving the county about $2,000 a year in shipping, he said. Then he looked into ways to recycle used cooking oil.
Previously, cooking oil was incinerated with household trash. Worse, some people pour it down household drains, where it can clog pipes. Brooks learned that there are companies that will pay for the oil and use it to make biodiesel fuel.
“I saw a huge opportunity for the county to do the right thing . . . to promote environmental stewardship, and to be able to actually generate revenue,” Brooks said. He helped institute a pilot program at the county’s Interstate 66 transfer station that took in 3,800 gallons of cooking oil in its first year.
Brooks also found a way to save money by reusing tote tanks — heavy-duty containers that can be used to transport hazardous materials such as gasoline and paint thinner.
“We send out drum after drum” of the hazardous materials, at a cost of $16 per 55-gallon container, he said.
Brooks noticed that usable 330-gallon tote tanks were being discarded in the transfer station’s scrap metal area. By reusing them to transport hazardous waste, the county now saves about $10,000 annually, he said.
The transfer station recently began collecting used ink and toner cartridges, which has generated a small stream of revenue. Brooks and his colleagues are also looking into using or reselling propane, which comes in cylinders used with grills or camp stoves. Most of the cylinders that show up in the waste stream are full, and the county is paying to dispose of them, he said.
Brooks credits his wife, Kristin, with the idea that led to his biggest initiative yet: partnering with Habitat for Humanity to recycle thousands of gallons of latex paint. When he told Kristin, a former Habitat for Humanity volunteer, about the huge amount the county incinerates, she suggested that the nonprofit group might be able to use recycled paint in its building projects.
Brooks began contacting managers of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores, which generate revenue for the nonprofit by selling donated home improvement materials. He found that many Habitat ReStores in Virginia would accept unopened or “gently used” containers of latex paint to sell.
Although the ReStores do not pay the county for the paint, they pick it up at the transfer facility, saving the county the costs of handling, transporting and disposal, Brooks said.
Sam Druetzler, operations director of the Manassas ReStore, said there is a high demand for the paint.
“It moves through the shop real quickly,” Druetzler said.
Brooks estimated that Habitat has reclaimed about 13,500 gallons of latex paint, weighing more than 61 tons, in the 12 months since the program started.
“It’s a win for everybody,” he said.
Barnes is a freelance writer.
For information about recycling household hazardous waste materials, visit fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/trash/disphhw.htm.