Not every little boy dreams of growing up to work with trash.But Roy Patton, 48, has combined a love of nature and penchant for tinkering into a passion for his job as a solid waste superintendent for Harvey County.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 20 edition of the Kansan.Not every little boy dreams of growing up to work with trash.But Roy Patton, 48, has combined a love of nature and penchant for tinkering into a passion for his job as a solid waste superintendent for Harvey County.Patton, who has worked 24 years for the county, is not your run-of-the-mill trash man.“I love to come to work everyday,” he said. “I like helping the public. I have known since 1984 that it was my calling to be a public servant.”He has initiated a hand full of programs at the Harvey County Transfer Station that have saved the county thousands of dollars and diverted hundreds of tons of waste from landfill disposal.And it is this role as Harvey County’s top green man that lands Patton the title of 2008 Newsmaker of the Year.“I get thrilled to get asked about a problem and be able to find an answer or a solution,” he said.One of Patton’s most recent endeavors is a composting program in cooperation with the Newton Wal-Mart.The retailer and grocer agreed to separate its food waste for composting.From June 1 , 2007, to May 31, 2008, the program diverted 160 tons out of the 369 tons the company created. Each ton diverted saves Wal-Mart tipping fees and the county about $40 to haul and dispose of the waste at the Reno County Landfill.The program has worked so well Patton has met with EPA and Wal-Mart officials about expanding it to other stores across the country.Patton said he also would like other businesses in Newton take advantage of this green alternative.After the first of the year the Kansas Department of Health and Environment may be making grant funds available for schools to start similar composting programs.Patton said he has been in discussions with local districts about taking advantage of the money.But this isn’t, by far, the Patton’s first foray into greening of the county’s trash business.He initiated an electronic recycling program in which items like computers and televisions are diverted to Leavenworth Correction Facility where they are recycled.This program is diverting 4 to 5 tons of waste from landfill disposal per month.Patton and other transfer station workers pull many of these electrical items out of the waste stream by hand.In addition, Patton, whose wife and friends call him the master recycler, watches for usable items that come to the transfer station, which are pulled for a freecycling program.The station opens the third Saturday of each month to give away these usable items on a first-come, first-serve basis.If it doesn’t go out in the freecycle program, Patton still tries to find items a home.Even putting some things to use in his own homemade creations like the lawnchairs he installed recycled springs on to make them into rockers.Patton put that tinkering tenacity to good use when he added a hydrogen generator to the transfer station’s 2005 Dodge Dakota truck.The engine burns hydrogen in addition to gas, which cuts down on fuel costs.Patton gave a lot of credit for the success of county trash programs to his bosses, County Administrator Craig Simons and the Harvey County Commission, for their willingness to give him the go ahead for innovative projects.And he said economics were in his favor in that none of projects carried big price tags.Simons said Patton had been watchful of his department’s budget and been open to innovation at the transfer station even when those projects created extra work for him personally.“He has been very open to new ideas and sharing same vision of the commission,” Simons said. “He has tried to find other ways to handle the solid waste rather than burying it some place.”Although some of Patton’s projects have saved the county money, Simons said it is the vision of saved resources that may have the greater value.“He has done a great job,” Simons said. “He is very committed. We could not ask for a better director.”You could say Patton was green before it was cool.Patton has a strong connection to the environment. He and his wife live on Marion County Lake and spend much of their summers boating or relaxing on their dock.“I think the earth is what makes us what we are,” he said.Patton said he has been pleased to see a shift in this country to a more responsible attitude about the waste and the environment.“I think it is a great aspect that people think that way and are being more responsible about the waste they generate,” he said. “I think people have thought in the past they can buy and throw it away. They forget about it and what happens to it.“I believe people are becoming more educated about what is happening to the environment,” he said.Beside his passion for the environment, Patton’s community involvement also includes a lifelong love of music.He taught himself to play guitar and his been a longtime musician playing for Cactus Jack and more recently with Wallace TozierWhether its music, tinkering or trying to save the world one load of trash at a time, Patton said he believes in sharing with others.“I have a lot of interest in fixing things. I guess I am just mechanically minded,” he said. “I like to make people happy with the talents God has given me.”