What A Load Of Garbage: Waste Managers Report Common Recycling Mistakes

Aug 29, 2018

 

Like most large cities, Logan has a program where residents are automatically enrolled in curbside services. This includes the familiar black trash bins as well as the blue recycling ones. 

While most of the items make it into the correct bin, there are some that don’t and this is especially true for plastics. 

“We have done some studies in the past about contamination in recycling and we find that about 75 percent of our contaminants are bags and films,” said Emily Malik who is the conservation coordinator for Logan city.

“It’s actually pretty labor intensive to remove," she said. "Sometimes people will bag their recyclables, but then also people just throw them in there loose and when the bags are in there loose it gets caught in the machinery that helps them sort the recycling.”   

Plastic bags aren’t the only problem. Non-recyclable items like greasy pizza boxes, shipping envelopes and styrofoam also slow down recycling centers. And loads that are too highly contaminated get sent onwards to the landfill.

Recycle Utah is a non-profit recycling service located in Summit County. It’s a drop-off center, which means residents bring in and individually sort items as opposed to broad curbside programs. This allows residents to properly dispose of hazardous waste like old paint, medicine and mattresses.

“I think for most people it’s lack of knowledge. It’s the belief that when I throw something away it goes away, it disappears” said Haley Lebsack, the development director for Recycle Utah. She says the lack of convenience and misinformation keep most of us from wanting to recycle.

“Glass recycling, one of the common complaints I get is why can’t it go in my curbside bin, and when glass breaks it can contaminate all of the other items," she said. "The only way recycling works is if the items are able to be separated.”

By sorting through items before they go into the bin, facilities can more effectively reuse materials like glass.

“We separate clear and green glass into one bin and brown glass into another bin," Lebsack said. "Brown glass gets turned back into brown glass and the green and clear glass goes to a company that turns it into fiberglass installation. And then blue glass, actually just got picked up 2 seconds ago, our blue glass goes to a company called Heritage and they utilize it for art projects and construction.”

While plastics and paper are often sent in bulk across the country and even overseas, some of it does remain in the community.

“I’m Ken Thornly and I’m president of Heritage Glass. My father started the business 40 years ago and I’m a professional glass breaker”.  

Just outside of the Smithfield facility you can see self-sorting bins holding different colors of glass. Inside, large machines clean, crush, grind and melt the glass used to make new products.

“Through the furnace, I can melt about 3500 pounds," Thornly said. "We have other things where we’re just crushing the glass.”

Pointing to a bin of finely crushed glass, now the consistency of sand, Thornly says demands for repurposed products has changed the way his company does business.

“This is an unusual job for us, but this glass is going to be painted green and then be put down as a bike path on the side of a road,” he said.

So is it possible that my pasta sauce and olive jars are a part of this project? That's unlikely, says Thornly who estimates that around 90 percent of his glass comes from commercial rather than residential sites.

“Most of the window manufacturers in the Salt Lake area, all of their scrap is spoken for and so for that little sliver of the market, there’s not a lot of extra glass and most all of that is being diverted from the landfill," Thornly said. "For bottled glass, recycling is just barely hitting the tip of the iceberg”.

That isn't for a lack of trying, but because of contamination in residential recycling.

“One bag doesn’t sound like much, but when you have a lot all of sudden I have a dumpster full of bags that I end up having to pay to throw away,” Thornly said.   

Simply put, recycling efforts are being cut short because of plastic bags. This is a problem not just for recycling, but also for waste disposal. Hailey Lebsack back in Summit County puts it in perspective when she talks about the expansion of the county’s current landfill.

“We’re building a new cell, it will be lined," she said. "I believe they think that the cell will last about 30 years with their predicted growth and then after that, I do not believe there is a plan.”

There is no simple solution to reducing waste however advocates like Malik and Lebsack believe that recycling can help. They encourage residents to use reusable bags and sort through items before throwing them into recycling bins. They also recommend checking with recycling programs in your area for information about recycling restrictions and services. 

For more details on recycling in Logan City see the link here.  

As well, see a recent social media post from Logan City reminding residents to look over recycling restrictions.

To learn more about plastic pollution globally, see an informational video here. A collaborative effort made by UN Environment and their Clean Seas Campaign.

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