In mid-January 2012, a winter storm moving inland from the Pacific Ocean blanketed an 11-county area of Northwest Washington with several inches of heavy wet snow, followed by a thick layer of ice that coated everything from sidewalks to skyscrapers. Nicknamed “Snowmageddon,” by locals, the storm first walloped the Seattle and Tacoma metro areas, shattering a 60-plus-year record snowfall total at Sea-Tac International Airport, before fanning out to other parts of the state.
Widespread power outages were commonplace. Airports, offices and schools were closed, and traffic was severely snarled — the result of numerous accidents and roadways made impassible by downed tree limbs and fallen debris. The situation was so dire in some locations that state troopers were performing tree-care duties in addition to their regular patrol responsibilities.
And although short-lived, the storm’s impact was profound. Vegetation bore the biggest brunt of the estimated $33 million in damage, especially ornamental and deciduous trees with many encased in more than a quarter-inch of ice. The aftermath of this uncharacteristic Pacific Northwest weather event stretched on for weeks, presenting area landfills and organic recycling centers — including Pierce County Recycling located near Puyallup — with unprecedented volumes of green waste.
From January 20 through February 26, 2012, the period declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as the official emergency county storm event, Pierce County Recycling was consistently processing more than 520 tons/day of green waste. “Compare that to the less than 200 tons we grind in the course of a normal day during the winter,” says Don Taylor, the company’s assistant district manager who also oversees all composting operations. “And the debris was all limbs. It was an immense volume.”
Pierce County Recycling was founded in the late 1970s and is one of several composting and recycling centers, landfill collection sites and transfer stations within the Pierce County Recycling, Composting & Disposal umbrella. In 2001, the company was acquired by Waste Connections. Taylor also manages the organization’s trucking operations for organics. During the storm clean-up, he faced the logistical challenge of moving more than 1,000 vehicles through his facility during the first few days, as well as kept track of the dozens of semis that had joined the storm debris hauling effort.
“In the two days immediately following the storm, we counted 2,555 vehicles in the parking lot and a line that stretched more than a mile long,” recalls Taylor. “We were able to safely process all the material in 10-hour shifts. “I was also importing, on the average, about 30 semitrailer loads daily to this site from our satellite facilities, so all the debris was brought here and run through our main grinder. Those were easily record hauling and green waste processing days for this facility.”