Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Why is it so difficult to dispose of hazardous materials in Buncombe County? As a human consumer and business owner, I generate some waste from time to time that needs to be disposed of during the hazardous materials drop-off days at the landfill. These include fluorescent tubes, batteries, paint, electronics, and pesticides. I try to set these items aside in a safe place, and then get over to the landfill during the appropriate time, but I don’t like them piling up around the house because they’re, well…hazardous. The dates and times of the hazardous waste drop-off days are infrequent (once or twice a month, but not on the same day(s) each month), inconvenient (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and subject to change without notice. Most consumers also have jobs to support their consuming habits, and this somewhat inconvenient system makes it difficult for even someone with good intentions to do the right thing. I, of course, would never dispose of anything hazardous by stuffing it in a black bag and putting it in my green bin, but I’m sure some less conscientious global citizen would. It seems that making disposal of hazardous items easier would do some real good to protect environmental quality around here, downstream, and downwind. Why can’t the county fund a 40-hour a week, staffed drop-off at the landfill, or better, at the transfer station at the mouth of Hominy Creek? Seems a pretty inexpensive way to make a real difference.
My answer: Now I’m wondering if my dogs’ doodies qualify as hazardous waste, because they are indeed tucked inside plastic bags and tossed in the garbage.
Real answer: Buncombe County spokesperson Lillian Govus handled this one, saying first she appreciated hearing from “like-minded solid waste enthusiasts who want to help divert as much as possible from the landfill.
“Buncombe County offers 17 household hazardous waste events per year, and we publish that calendar annually,” Govus said via email. “I noticed your reader also referenced being a business owner, and it’s important to note that businesses must contract for these services — we are only permitted to take hazardous waste from residential properties.”
As fate would have it, Buncombe is holding a household hazardous waste (HHW) collection event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., today, Sept. 8, at the Buncombe County Landfill, 85 Panther Branch Road in Alexander.
Govus said Buncombe has studied other counties’ household hazardous waste programs, and those counties have fewer events — six annually in Henderson, three in Haywood, and two in Madison. Orange County (home to Chapel Hill), Govus noted, “operates under a general fund and fee structure and hires a HHW contractor to operate their program 300 days a year with a budget of more than $283,000.”
Here in Buncombe, Govus listed a few barriers to this kind of “more robust” program:
- Department of Transportation federal regulations for transporting hazardous waste are very strict and costly with specialized training.
- Operating an HHW requires a specific permit from the state with specified times, a permanent location, and an approved operations plan, which combine to make it challenging to operate HHW events in satellite locations and on weekends
- Buncombe doesn’t have the funding to support a full-time HHW operation.
The county has had success with its program, though, including being able to handle 185 tons of hazardous materials. Buncombe is one of the few counties in the state with on-site OSHA Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response-trained employees.
Also, Buncombe is “one of the few counties in the state that offers HHW every month under our enterprise fund,” Govus said. Buncombe partners with Asheville Greenworks for Hard to Recycle events throughout the county, with many of the events taking place on Saturdays.
“We’re studying how we can expand our services, particularly at the transfer station, and as you can see, we’re looking at other counties’ practices to see how we can better serve our residents,” Govus said.
Question: I moved down to this part of the world a number of years ago from the Upper Midwest. Every year at about this time a large number of wasps appear to be flying around my yard just above the grass level. They don’t seem to be making any sound. Occasionally they seem to bunch up on a given location on the lawn. This year they seem to be particularly heavy. They clearly number in the hundreds. This wasp does not exist where I moved from. I think it might be called a scoliid wasp. Are they harmful or beneficial? Do I need to worry about being stung? What is their life cycle like? What are they looking for when they are flying just above the grass line?
My answer: I’m sure this will all be fine…until you wake up one morning completely encased in a wasp cocoon.
Real answer: Luiz Lima Da Silveira, an assistant professor of biology at Western Carolina University, said we do have scoliid wasps, Scolia dubia, around here that are very common from late summer through early fall.
Terri Billeisen, director of undergraduate programs in the North Carolina State University Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, said the photo my reader sent in does appear to show scoliids.
“Some species have a bluish tint to the wings and that is visible in the picture,” she said.
After blowing up the reader’s picture as much as I could, I found the wasps to be very similar to the scoliid wasps pictured on the North Carolina State University Extension Service page — same bluish tint to the wings and the same little yellow spots on the body.
Kind of cool looking, honestly. And there’s no need to eradicate them.
“Scoliid wasps are actually beneficial insects that help provide natural control of white grubs in the landscape,” Billeisen said via email. “They are not aggressive, and when you see them hovering over the turf, they are usually an indication of grub activity below the soil surface.”
These wasps typically are active for a relatively short period of time in late summer and disappear from the landscape after a few weeks, she added.
While these wasps don’t bother humans, they’re pretty tough on grubs. That N.C. State webpage states:
“The female wasp flies low across the soil in search of grubs. When it detects one, it digs through the soil burrowing its own tunnel or following one made by the grub. Once locating a grub, she stings it on the throat and paralyzes it. At first, the grub appears to be dead, but after a day or so it can feebly move its legs. Such paralyzed grubs can live for a considerable time. The female wasp then lays an egg transversely on the third segment of the grub. The paralyzed grub provides a fresh food supply for the wasp larva after it hatches from the egg. Once a grub has been stung, it never recovers.”
Glad I’m not a grub.
So, let these critters be, and thank them for keeping the June beetles in check.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at email@example.com or 828-337-0941. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.