This article was originally printed in Teton Valley News on April 3rd, 2014. It is reposted with permission.
Paper is the traditional gift for the 1st wedding anniversary, but what do you give to celebrate the first year of a paper recycling program in Teton Valley? I recommend a round of applause for County Engineer Jay Mazalewski, Solid Waste Manager Saul Varela, and the staff at the transfer station.
In the first full year of mixed paper recycling in Teton County, the program recycled 125 tons of paper products, diverted 375 cubic yards of waste from the landfill, brought in more than $6,000 in revenue, and saved approximately $3,000 in waste hauling and disposal costs. Paper recycling also saved an estimated 2,125 trees, 875,000 gallons of water, 250 barrels of oil, and 512,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Furthermore, the products made from our recycled paper will create 34% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than similar products made from virgin materials. The economic and environmental benefits of paper recycling are truly commendable.
Starting a paper recycling program in our rural county was no easy task. Separating paper products into three commodities, office paper, newspaper, and magazines, yields the highest return when the product is sent to market. However, sorting paper products requires three bins instead of one, and three times as much space inside the Recycling Center. In a small community like ours, it could take months or even years to collect enough of each commodity to ship it to market. Recycling all types of paper together earns revenue faster, saves space in the Recycling Center, and simplifies recycling for the public.
Processing paper into bales that could be stacked on a flatbed truck added another hurdle. Unable to use the loader that it used when baling metal cans and plastic, it took transfer station staff hours to complete each paper bale. At that rate, the cost of labor would quickly exceed recycling revenue! Even worse, the bales that were produced were not sturdy enough to stack. Because paper doesn’t compress much, baling it is not as critical as it is for air-filled products like cans and bottles. Teton Valley Community Recycling suggested the county try shipping paper to market loose. This method saved the county countless hours in labor and enabled them to start recycling paper much sooner.
The 125 tons of paper and 153 tons of cardboard recycled in Teton County in 2013 diverted about 4% of our waste stream from the landfill. This is a great start! However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that paper products make up 27.4% of the waste stream. That means our community has the potential to recycle a lot more paper and cardboard.
Paper recycling is easy; simply collect all of your office paper, magazines, newspapers, phone books, and shredded paper, and drop them off at the transfer station or in your curbside recycling bin. Your anniversary gift of paper will help our community recycling programs continue to grow!
Sources: US EPA, Teton County Solid Waste and Recycling
Tanya Anderson is the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information, visit tetonrecycling.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.