One of the biggest sources of contamination in our local recycling stream is well-intentioned recyclers putting the wrong kind of plastic containers or dirty plastic bottles into the “#1 and #2 PLASTIC BOTTLES ONLY!” collection bins. It’s a common mistake because those little triangle symbols on plastic containers are very misleading. A #1 food container, although made of the same resin, is manufactured using “injection molding,” a different process than “blow molding” used for bottles. Consequently, plastic containers cannot be baled easily and are not economical to recycle from our region. Other types of plastic (#3-#7) also have no market regionally and cannot be recycled in Teton County.
Many smaller recycling centers like Teton County’s can only handle plastic bottles with a neck, not salad containers, to-go sandwich containers, or berry containers in spite of that #1 symbol. Each plastic food container that you put in the plastic bottle recycling bin has to be picked out by hand by already overworked county staff and it ends up in the landfill anyway. This is expensive for taxpayers and doesn’t allow the Transfer Station staff the time to pursue additional waste diversion initiatives. In several nearby counties, they have eliminated plastic recycling altogether due to high contamination rate and the costs associated with transporting it. Teton County Commissioners are currently evaluating the labor and cost associated with recycling to determine the county’s commitment to recycling in a time of turbulent markets.
Kent Jasperson, Solid Waste and Recycling Manager of Jackson’s Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling, claims that in the past ten years since plastic food containers have become widely used, his processing time for plastic has increased from 30 minutes per bale to about two hours per bale due to the high rate of contamination from “WishCyclers” throwing their plastic food containers in with the bottles. Neither Teton County, Idaho not Teton County, Wyoming has ever accepted plastic food containers for recycling.
But wait, you say. I swear I’ve seen a “Food Container” collection bin at the Transfer Station. Indeed, you have. This is not actually for recycling. It is meant to prevent people throwing plastic food containers in with the recyclable plastic bottles. All plastic food containers should go into the trash. The bin at the transfer station, once it is full of containers, heads straight for the landfill. This is not intended to be deceitful, nor to encourage you to buy more of those plastic containers. In fact, it is the only thing that has effectively reduced the quantity of contaminants in the recycling bins. Signs haven’t worked; on-site education campaigns haven’t worked; public service announcements haven’t worked. Teton County is trying to give you an easy option to do the right thing.
We apologize if these efforts have caused confusion. Unfortunately, experience has told us if we write “These will go to the landfill” on the food container bin, people will resume dumping them into the plastic bottle bin where it does not belong and county staff will again be spending valuable time fishing them out. We all wish that stuff was recyclable, but since it is not, here are your best options:
- Avoid buying anything in a disposable plastic container. This includes all resin types, #1-#7. If it is not a bottle, it cannot be recycled in our county.
- Ask your grocer to seek options with less plastic packaging. This can include the option for bulk salads, glass, or cartons that can biodegrade.
- Bring your own container for to-go or take-out meals
- In the summer months, shop locally at the Farmer’s Market and bring your own bags.
- Wash your bottles before depositing them for recycling. Food residue is another major contaminant.
- Read the signs at the Recycling Center so you know what can actually be recycled versus what is a contaminant
If you are interested in learning more ways to reduce your environmental footprint and decrease your household waste, Teton Valley Community Recycling will be offering a one hour workshop entitled “Zero Waste Living Tips and Tricks” on July 10 from 6-7 pm at the Victor branch of the Valley of the Tetons Library. This workshop is free with door prizes for participants. And thank you for recycling right!