Great (Trashy) Places to Visit for Free

I’m sure we can all remember back in school when it was “field trip day.”  It was an opportunity to get a break from the daily monotony of the classroom, see the world, and experience and learn something new.  Whether it was a trip to the zoo, a science center, or a hospital, it didn’t matter – I always found the trips fun, refreshing, and thought provoking.  Even though most of us are well past elementary school, it doesn’t mean we can’t harken back to the days of yore and make our own field trips.  Most people are unaware that there are several great short trips available for those of us interested in learning more about our environment.  And they’re free.  What could be better?

Tour of the Cedar Hills Landfill (Tour Length: About two hours)

Cedar HillsI can guarantee that your preconceived notions of what a “dump” looks (and smells) like will be changed forever if you visit our one and only operational landfill in King County.  Located near the city of Maple Valley a few miles east of Renton, the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill is a truly amazing facility, owned and meticulously operated by the King County Solid Waste Division.  You will be surprised to see deer running about and eagles soaring overhead.  You will also notice that there is hardly any noise and no odors to speak of.  In fact, the operations manager will be quick to tell you that anything you smell comes directly from the composting facility located next door.  I’ve personally taken the tour three times and I strongly recommend it!

King County Transfer Station (Tour Length: About an hour)

Bow Lake Transfer StationAs you learned in Where Does it All Go?, the King County Solid Waste Division owns and operates several transfer stations throughout the area.  Some of these facilities are in dire need of repair or replacement.  In fact, Kirkland’s Houghton and Bellevue’s Factoria transfer stations were constructed in the 1960s and they’re reaching the end of their useful lives.  In an effort to modernize and make the transfer system more efficient, King County has undertaken a capital improvement program to rebuild and replace most of their transfer stations.  The Houghton Transfer Station is slated to be replaced by the new Northeast King County Recycling and Transfer Station sometime around 2018.

The most recent project is the new Bow Lake Recycling and Transfer Station located in south Tukwila on the east side of I-5.  Construction is scheduled to be wrapped up in September 2013 and this busy station will incorporate several state-of-the-art features such as a flat tipping floor, areas for recycling and composting, improved traffic control, and even rain water harvesting!  Information on the design and amenities of the new station can be found here.

If you’re interested in either one of these tours, you can visit the King County Facility Tours website for more information.

Cedar Grove Composting Everett Facility (Tour Length: About an hour)

After you put your tree trimmings, grass clippings, and food scraps in your gray yard waste cart, where does it all go?  Eventually it will Cedar Groveend up at a Cedar Grove composting facility where it will be turned into compost for your garden in about eight weeks or so.  The first thing that you’ll notice when you arrive are the huge piles of compost stockpiled around the facility waiting to be bagged and delivered to local home improvement and garden centers or in bulk to large commercial customers such as housing developers.  The most interesting part of the tour will take you by the long rows of compostable material covered a with Gore® material that wraps the organic material and accelerates the composting process.

To schedule a tour of the Cedar Grove, just send an email to

Waste Management’s Cascade Recycling Center (Tour length: About an hour)

CRCWaste Management’s Cascade Recycling Center in Woodinville is a fascinating place to visit and is one of my favorites.  If you live in Kirkland, this is the place where all of your recyclables end up.  It’s a world of constant motion and noise as your commingled recyclables are processed and separated into different commodities.  A concerted array of conveyer belts, magnets, well-timed puffs of air, and good old elbow grease and gravity all come together to separate the plastic bottles from the aluminum cans from the cardboard boxes.  Somehow it all ends up in the right pile and each commodity is bundled up for sale to the open market.  I strongly recommend this tour to anyone interested in learning more about why some items are accepted for recycling while others are not, as well as seeing some of the challenges the overall processing system faces.

To schedule a tour, please go the Cascade Recycling Center website and complete Waste Management’s Tour Request Form.

(Not able to make it on a tour? Get a peek behind the scenes to see what “away” looks like. )

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