Illegal dumping ground being transformed into recycling facility in Belvedere ParkGroundbreaking for Live Thrive's second CHaRM location in DeKalb. Along with Live Thrive Board Members, others pictured include DeKalb Commissioner Larry Johnson, Peggy Whitlow Ratcliffe, Dekalb Commissioner Lorraine Cochran Johnson, Parks and Recreation Director Chuck Ellis, and Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett. Photo credit: Laure Photograph
This story has been updated.
By Nina Thomas, contributor
Atlanta, GA – The new CHaRM facility in Belvedere Park will upgrade the property from an illegal dumping ground on Columbia Drive to a place where people can bring their hard-to-recycle materials.
“Instead of dumping their garbage on this lot like some are used to doing, we’re hoping people will just bring it to us so we can recycle it,” said Peggy Whitlow Ratcliffe, executive director of Live Thrive.
There is currently one Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) in Atlanta, located at 1110 Hill Street SE, open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Upon completion, the CHaRM DeKalb Center at 1225 Columbia Drive will be open on alternate days from the Hill Street location: Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Weather-pending, the facility will open the week after April 22. Then, we will have a place for people to drop off their recycled materials five days a week in Atlanta,” Ratcliffe said.
Water, power and curbs have been installed. Trees have been planted, and cement will be poured next. There will be no brick and mortar facility, but an office trailer on site.
When the Hill Street center opened in 2015, they had 5,000 visitors annually. In 2023, that number grew to 83,000. The demand and need for a facility like this was clear to DeKalb commissioners Larry Johnson, Loraine Cochran-Johnson and Ted Terry. DeKalb County signed a memo of understanding with Live Thrive In December 2021.
Larry Johnson had a plan to partner with Decatur for a YMCA in 2013. However, funds dried up during the recession and those plans never actualized. In 2021, he saw a new opportunity for this land after a visit to the CHaRM facility on Hill Street. In November 2022 they broke ground right behind Kroger and Hal’s package store.
There will eventually be a farmer’s market on these eight acres of land.
“It took 11 years to happen,” Larry Johnson said. “Today, trees are planted there. After the recycling center is up and running, we’ll work on the farmer’s market. It’s all part of the plan. We often talk about what we don’t have in this community, but look at what we have now.”
Live Thrive is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, founded in 2010 by Ratcliffe. Starting with pop-up events for household hazardous waste collections throughout Atlanta, Live Thrive was able to secure funds for a permanent facility, CHaRM, where people can recycle items like styrofoam, musical instruments, electronics, bikes, paint, chemicals, tires, textiles, mattresses, cooking oil, metals, appliances, glass, cartons and more.
Ratcliffe started Live Thrive after her parents passed away, and she was stuck with a household full of materials, like pesticides, that needed to be recycled. Before 2010, there were no facilities or places to properly dispose of materials in Atlanta.
“They used to tell us to pour paint down the drain or mix medications into coffee grounds before throwing it into our trash, not thinking long term about how those hazardous materials would go sit in a landfill and seep into our water supply,” Ratcliffe said. “I thought there had to be a better way to do this. And there is.”
Ratcliffe said that without research, she assumed that facilities and cities were doing the right thing and materials were being disposed of properly to keep communities safe.
“We all have these items in our garages, sinks, and houses. If we all throw them away, and they mix together, the mass quantity of these materials is hazardous to us and our drinking water” she said.
Ratcliffe said working with DeKalb County Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs, and local businesses has been positive. Hal’s Package Store owners, for example, are looking forward to being able to recycle glass and cardboard right in their backyard.
“Local businesses and the neighborhood has been embracing us. Parks and recreation has been great, and we’re even working with someone to plant native species onsite,” Ratcliffe said.
Neighborhood children will be able to participate in a children’s garden, complete with bees, and learn about “all things sustainable.” They will kick off their programming with a kid’s day on Saturday, April 20, right before their grand opening during Earth Day week.
“I am most excited about the educational programs we will do, like group tours, lunch-and-learns, school field trips,” Ratcliffe said. “The most important thing we do is explain why we do this. As a consumer, we need to understand why we need to recycle and the impact it has on the earth.”
The facility is funded through grants, scholarships, and donations. According to Ratcliffe, the city of Decatur and the city of Avondale Estates are supportive of this facility, especially since it will reduce the costs of hauling waste.
“Sustainability is important, but the cost is high,” Ratcliffe said. “The reason more facilities like this don’t exist is because it’s extremely expensive to operate.”
A pop-up site is more expensive than a permanent location because of the cost to set up and tear down, and the limited hours that people could come. A permanent site provides more opportunities to recycle and ensures the availability of chemists and other specialists, like Clean Harbors, who are required to properly dispose of the waste.
According to Ratcliffe, 79% of what people throw away could be recycled. According to georgiarecyles.org, the State of Georgia has the second-highest recycling rate in the country. This is due to consumers recycling, and the number of businesses who use recycled materials in their products, like Novelis, which is the largest aluminum manufacturer in the world.
“Not only are we being good earth stewards when we recycle, but we’re stimulating Georgia’s economy,” Ratcliffe said.
Correction: This story has been updated with correct operating hours and days for the CHaRM locations. Some information attributed to the county has been disputed and Decaturish has contacted the county for clarification. This story will be updated when we receive a response.
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