Small Actions, Big Effects

Author: Olivia Whatley, CAC AmeriCorps Member at Sevier Solid Waste (21-22)

My time serving with AmeriCorps at Sevier Solid Waste (SSWI) emphasized to me the importance of the little steps that it takes to make something big happen. Some days it was easy for me to forget the point of putting a “Keep it Out” sticker on a dumpster, or picking up litter out of a landfill (sounds like an oxymoron, right?), but the impact that this place has as a whole kept me going.

Dumpster Sticker

In 2021, SSWI prevented over 12 million tons of greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere. Composting waste instead of landfilling breaks down the components that generate carbon and methane when left in a landfill. Food waste doesn’t break down in a landfill like it does when composted, so it creates methane. At SSWI not only are fewer greenhouse gases created but any that are produced are also filtered through clay and mulch. Dirt is the best carbon and methane filter. The way the process works is that all of the waste from the county is put in these huge 180 foot long digesters that break down the waste in 3 days. After hose 3 days, what comes out is mostly fresh compost with some residual plastic, metals, and glass. Any residual material that is bigger than a pinky nail is filtered out and sent to the recycling building to be sorted again. The plastics and aluminum are then sent to be recycled. The compost sits for 28 days to mature and after that, it can be used for gardening and landscaping!

Compost produced by SSWI

When I signed up for AmeriCorps, I had no idea that I was going to be able to help make an impact on climate change that involves millions of tons of greenhouse gases. Honestly, I didn’t think that I would be able to make that sort of impact until I was well beyond graduate school and advanced in my career. Now I understand that the stickers on the dumpsters prevent materials from entering the waste stream that breaks the compost machines, which prevents waste from being composted, therefore forcing the waste to have to be landfilled, which creates methane and carbon, which contributed to climate change. Small action really can make a huge difference!

This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.