RHINELANDER - Sifting through a sea of bottles, cans, and milk jugs, Lisa Jolin has pretty much seen it all come through her recycling center, including things that don't belong. The plant processes nearly 2.5 million pounds of recycling each year.
"Diapers, you know, gross things," Jolin explained.
But a discovery late Tuesday morning stopped the Oneida County Solid Waste Director's workers in their tracks.
"Yeah, it makes them nervous, I would be too," Jolin said.
Containers full of used needles sat mixed in with recyclables. Many were broken open and spilled syringes all over the recycling center's floor. Jolin immediately shut down the county's only recycling line until the crew could properly clean up the area.
"Very disheartening, you know, I'm just worried about their safety," Jolin said.
When the needles end up in containers such as a laundry detergent container, it's illegal but at least easier to clean up because they're sealed in thick plastic. However, often the containers break open and needles end up in a stream leading to a conveyor belt.
Upstairs, workers sort through recycling by hand. They wear cut-resistant gloves but when they're working quickly, someone could easily get poked and potentially infected.
"[That could lead to] significant blood tests for a number of years, I'm not sure how long, but there's great cost to that and also just the worry on their part," Jolin said.
Oneida County Detective Sergant Brian Barbour knows just how scary uncapped needles can be.
"We've run into it in vehicles, homes, public places," Barbour said.
Barbour says it's common to come across used needles tossed along roadsides and during searches of suspects' homes. He says some deputies carry puncture-resistant gloves, but they're expensive and cut down on the wearer's dexterity.
"We're all definitely very cautious of that because nobody wants to be accidentally poked," Barbour said.
State law requires people who use needles for things such as diabetic treatment to dispose of them properly. The Oneida County Health Department has specific drop off locations for used needles, including the Rhinelander Trig's pharmacy, Ascension St. Mary's Hospital, and Howard Young Medical Center.
From there, qualified experts take the needles to be incinerated.
The Health Department also offers traditional red containers made of thick plastic for transportation to disposal. Jolin says thick containers such as the ones she came across in the recycling yard work too, but they don't belong here, or even in a landfill.
"It's just easier to pitch them, but [those who do are] not realizing the risk it puts others at," Jolin said.
Jolin hoped to get her recycling line back up and running by Wednesday night or Thursday morning. She says her crew will need to play catch up, but will work slowly to keep an eye out for more needles.