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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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An unlikely field trip: the Pinellas County dump

CLEARWATER — The Salvador Dali Museum, the Morean Arts Center and the Armed Forces History Museum are among the places Pinellas County students visit for field trips.

But for 8-year-old Julian DeJesus, a third-grader at Dunedin Elementary School, no destination trumps the county dump.

“It’s cool to see that your trash can get turned into a million different things and go all over the world,” DeJesus said. “Someday I want to ride in the back of the garbage truck, but if I did my parents would probably sue.”

DeJesus’ teacher, Mary Jane Brooker, agrees that the dump is a pretty good place for a field trip. A tour of Pinellas County Utilities’ Solid Waste Operations she took several years ago was “the most interesting field trip I’ve ever been on,” she said.

Now that the landfill has added a new education center and water treatment facility this year, more classes from across the county have stopped by the landfill to learn what happens to their trash when they throw it away.

“Garbage doesn’t just disappear from the curb,” said Pinellas County’s Solid Waste Program Supervisor Bill Embree. “The more aware they are about what happens to their garbage, the more inclined they are to make good, educated decisions about what to do with it. ... We are way more than just a landfill.”

The solid waste department offers 90-minute tours of the facility to Pinellas County teachers and students, including bus transportation, at no charge. During their guided tours of the facility, students in Grades 2-12 learn all about solid waste management, including how managing garbage affects the health, sanitation and environment in their communities, Embree said. Students also learn the importance of recycling.

The tour spans everything from the “swap shop,” where customers can take usable items for free, to the very top of the landfill, a 90-foot elevation that affords a view that stretches from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg.

“They get the full visual of what 3,000 tons of garbage looks like, and then they get the full impact of that,” Embree said. “Of course, the kids get a really big charge from seeing these 11-ton cranes picking up the garbage.”

Anyone from the community can also take a free tour of the facility, even if the group is just one person, Embree said. About 60 schools have taken the tour this year.

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