hazardous-waste collection event

Cars fill the drop-off lines during a rainy mid-afternoon Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, at a hazardous-waste disposal event in a parking lot outside Market Place Mall in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — Only about half of those who signed up for the household hazardous-waste collection event Saturday in Champaign were able to participate due to the long backup in the line.

But hang onto those waste items. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is looking at options to return to the area with a second collection event, according to Environmental Protection Specialist David Saladino.

With winter fast approaching, the next collection in this area may not be until next spring, he said.

“Obviously, this time of year, we’re starting to run out of time for fall collection events because they are outdoor events,” Saladino said. “As you saw on Saturday, with rain all day, another month from now, it could be snow all day.”

Saladino said he was surprised when he came into work Monday and learned about the lengthy backup at the Champaign event, which was held in the parking lot at Market Place mall.

The use of a pre-registration system in which people were given 15-minute appointment slots was intended to avoid that situation, he said.

Saladino said he has been handling collection events such as these for about two decades, and what happened in Champaign “should not have happened.”

He had approved a contract crew of 40 for the Champaign event, which is the typical size crew for an event in which 1,500 to 2,000 participants are expected, he said.

“I was very surprised to see things had backed up,” he added.

Three possible reasons he was given by the contractor, Saladino said, were that the heavy rain slowed things down; a number of people brought latex paint — though there were many advance warnings that it wouldn’t be accepted; and several participants arrived with many boxes of disposable items.

When people arrived with latex paint, that forced the crew to sort through the boxes to remove the paint cans, Saladino said.

“I was smiling about this event before,” he recalled. “I expected it to go as smoothly as any we’ve ever had.”

More than 1,450 people signed up to bring their unwanted hazardous household products such as pesticides and weed killers to the drive-through collection in Champaign, according to Susan Monte, the county’s recycling coordinator.

Only about 700 people actually reached the head of the line, where disposables were being unloaded, and many of the rest either gave up and left due to the long wait or were turned away when participation was cut off in the afternoon, according to Monte.

The IEPA’s contractor should have set up four collection lanes to handle an expected flow of 65 cars per 15 minutes, she said, but only two lanes were provided.

Around 1:30 p.m., drivers arriving at the back of the line on Market Street were informed of the event closure, Monte said.

The cities of Champaign, Urbana and Savoy joined Champaign County in partnering in the event with the IEPA, but local governments were responsible only for providing the host location, traffic control and publicizing the event, Monte said.

She observed a lot of frustration with what, at various times, was a one-to-three-hour wait in line.

“I was helping direct traffic flow,” Monte said. “I had a direct view of everything.”

Local governments are now waiting to learn whether the IEPA will hold another collection event in Champaign-Urbana soon, Monte said.

Saladino said he’s looking at a couple of possible additional collection dates in the local area for spring 2020, but whether one can be pulled off yet this fall, “we’ll have to figure out quickly.”