As I step into my new role as the Executive Director of Teton Valley Community Recycling, I find myself not only getting a crash course in the finer points of recycling in the US, but an up close look at how we are doing in Teton Valley with our own recycling efforts.
The great news is that through community participation with RAD Curbside recycling service, the staff the Teton County Transfer Station, and self-haul recycling efforts at the transfer station, Teton Valley managed to divert 33.17 percent of our waste from the landfill in the 2015/2016 fiscal year. We are getting close to our 2020 goal of 35 percent diversion (the current national average.) This is truly great work.
And now, more than ever, we need to keep this momentum going and we MUST clean up our act on a county level.
A tour of the Recycling Center at the county transfer station with Solid Waste Manager Saul Varela quickly reveals that most of us are throwing contaminated materials into the various bins which at best causes significant inconvenience and extra man hours to sort and at worst could result in recycled bales being rejected at a significant cost to taxpayers. A rejected load is when Teton County ships bales of recycled material to a buyer and the buyer sends the load back because we didn’t do a good job on our end sorting out the contaminants. This has not happened yet because the staff at the Transfer Station are extremely careful to make sure they are selling clean loads, but now is not the time to take chances. RAD employees also serve as the front line to reducing contamination from your residential bin.
Whether the cause is what they call “wish cycling” (e.g. ”I sure wish they would recycle these #5 yogurt containers”) or misinformation (e.g. “It says #1 on this berry container, so I am going to throw it in”) or familiarity with a different recycling program (e.g. “When I was in this other city they recycled these”) or sadly, sometimes it is plain laziness or carelessness when we dump a whole bin in without truly looking at the contents, contaminated recyclables are a big problem nationwide and we see that reflected here.
This year, with the “National Sword” campaign, China, the main importer of “recovered material” from the United States, is initiating a serious crack down on contaminated products. Until recently, a 5 percent contamination rate was considered acceptable for recycled materials, but that rate is now dropping to approximately 0.3 percent, which for all intents and purposes means no allowable contamination at materials recovery facilities.
So, Teton Valley, we need to step it up. Let’s start with plastics this month.
At the Teton County, Idaho transfer station they are only able to accept, bale, and sell clean #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE) plastic bottles without caps. These bottles need to be free of any residue such as food, grease, shampoo, bleach, oil, etc.
What does that mean for you? Here are some simple rules.
- Rinse out your plastic bottles and discard caps
- Toss shampoo, lotion, detergent, oil, and other such plastic bottles in the trash (they can’t take it even if you think you have cleaned it well)
- Throw all plastic food containers in the trash (better yet, avoid buying them in the first place or reuse them several times). This includes plastic yogurt containers, salad and berry clamshells, take out sandwich or food trays, plastic cups, straws, utensils, etc. Teton County can only recycle plastic bottles. They have temporarily placed an “Oops!” container for food containers by the plastic bottle bins at the transfer station to help you eliminate these sorts of contaminants as you get used to dropping off only well sorted plastics.
- If the mouth of your plastic bottle is not narrower than the base, they can’t recycle it here.
- If in doubt, throw it out. As an ardent recycler, it pains me to say this, but it is better to toss that dirty plastic bottle in the trash than to contaminate an entire bin of recyclables.
In an effort to help educate you and to keep the recycling stream clean, RAD Curbside carefully sorts through your residential recycling bin and leaves items that are not acceptable. This is meant to be a feedback loop for you to share with your family or housemates.
While we have all come to expect and demand convenience in our lives, it often takes some effort on our part to do things right. Don’t be discouraged by this. Anything worth doing is worth putting in the effort to do it right. We are the role models for our children and we are the stewards of this beautiful place we live.
As a community we have made tremendous strides in our recycling efforts. Let’s keep up the good work, Teton Valley, and help each other to curb contamination.
For those of you who are devastated by the news that you can’t recycle your shampoo bottles locally, I connected with Jackson Hole Recycling Outreach Coordinator Mari Allan Hanna and if you are already making the drive to Jackson, you could consider bringing your clean soap bottles and lids to their facility. They do not accept bleach or other chemical bottles which should be triple washed and thrown in the trash or if not empty, delivered by appointment (307-733-7678) to their Hazardous Waste collection building. Teton County Idaho will reimburse you for Hazardous Waste fees.
If you have any specific recycling questions, please contact TVCR at firstname.lastname@example.org, or ask a transfer station employee. RAD Curbside also has detailed information and they are happy to answer your questions to help clean up our recycling stream.