Flagstaff residents helped keep the community free of dangerous waste at the Drop-off Day hosted by Flagstaff Police Department and others, such as the Flagstaff Sustainability Program and Elevated Shredding. It was held in combination with Dump the Drugs and Shred-a-Thon events on Oct. 23. While this gave community members the ability to rid their trash cans of materials harmful to themselves and the environment, it also offered plenty of education and solutions to the problems threatening Flagstaff.

Kristal Herrera, an Americorps Health Educator with the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program at Coconino County Health and Human Services, was eager to help at Saturday’s Drop-off Day. 

“We’re trying to promote as much harm-reduction strategy as possible,” Herrera said. “We’re trying to reduce stigma as well, for people that do have opioid use disorder.”

Herrera had a stock of Deterra with her, which is a drug deactivation product used to safely dispose of unused medications. She distributed the product to people driving through the Drop-off Day line. Using a drug deactivator before discarding medications can prevent harmful situations, such as children accidentally finding and taking them. Additionally, Herrera said the product helps those recovering from opioid use disorder in tapering off their use.

She also had flyers that provided information about Narcan, the nasal spray used to treat someone who has experienced an opioid overdose. Herrera said she felt it was important to provide training and education on using Narcan before giving it out — although sharing informational flyers was an effective form of harm reduction to begin with.

“Even though we know this is an epidemic that’s happening, we have to remember this is also happening in our small city of Flagstaff,” Herrera said. “We get cases reported to us about all of the overdoses, so I can tell you now that this is happening here.”

Herrera said by providing Narcan to the community, as well as training on its use, the number of opioid overdoses in Flagstaff has and will continue to be reduced. In addition, Herrera and co-workers at the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program have seen success stories due to their work, such as lighter sentences, recovery from opioid use disorder and lives being saved, she added.

Along with promoting education and awareness, an important aspect of Oct. 23’s Drop-off Day was keeping landfills clean. Community members brought items like electronics, batteries, medical waste and other hazardous materials to properly be disposed of. This diminished risk in both homes and the landfill, Environmental Program Specialist Josh Roubik explained.

“If someone accidentally thinks an aerosol can is recyclable, which you could definitely make that mistake, then it goes into the [Materials Recovery Facility],” Roubik said. “[If] they’re pushing the recyclables around, and it explodes and causes a fire, then that is probably going to result in a lot of recyclable material not being usable again.”

Roubik highlighted the dangers of improper disposal of hazardous materials, including broken light bulbs, which can leak chemicals and cause mercury poisoning, also known as Mad Hatter’s disease. 

Another element of the Drop-off Day was recycling education provided by the Flagstaff Sustainability Program. Kaeli Wells, a sustainability specialist for the city of Flagstaff, said Drop-off Day is a great way for the program to conduct community outreach.

“We’re able to use this event as an educational opportunity to talk about other things,” Wells said. 

She explained volunteers passed out informational magnets about proper recycling habits while assisting those who came to drop off their items. Wells also said participants had enthusiastic responses to Drop-off Day, with many curious about when the next event will be. 

Wells emphasized safety as the goal of Drop-off Day, which includes mitigating the impacts of improper waste disposal. The event also helps extend the use of items others are done using, with many electronics being repurposed or donated. 

“Not all of your trash goes to the trash can,” Wells said. ”With these speciality items — for instance, syringes, medications, batteries [and] things like that — it really has to be handled differently than typical waste.”

Wells said an event similar to Drop-off Day, called Fix-It Clinic, will be held Nov. 20. At the clinic, items in need of repair can be brought in and fixed for free, rather than being discarded. Both events keep unnecessary waste out of the landfill.

Drop-off Day is held multiple times a year, and volunteers accept plenty of items, including batteries, aerosol cans, electronic waste, medical waste and unwanted documents. A shredder is available on site to get rid of documents immediately. Drop-off Day keeps Flagstaff clean, surely, but it could be saving lives.

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