This article was originally published in the Teton Valley News on October 3, 2013. It is reposted with permission.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been imploring readers to think outside of the box (or trash can) regarding waste. Now, I am asking you to think inside the box – the cardboard box, to be exact. Cardboard is Teton County’s most successful traditional recyclable commodity in terms of volume, weight, and revenue.
Cardboard has been a valuable commodity for centuries. It was invented by the Chinese in the 15th century, and was first manufactured commercially in England in 1817. The manufacturing of cardboard boxes in the United States began in 1895. Today, more than 90% of products manufactured in the United States are shipped in cardboard, using more than 400 billion square feet of the material each year.
Cardboard certainly seems ubiquitous at the transfer station in Driggs. In 2012, 112 tons or cardboard were collected for recycling and trucked to Toledo, Oregon. It is then recycled into linerboard, which is the thin, flat surface of cardboard. Recycling cardboard into new materials reduces the amount of timber that must be logged to accommodate consumer demand and uses less oil. Cardboard recycling also earned our county $13,377.28 in revenue in 2012 while saving $6,071.52 in disposal costs. Because the county charges for waste disposal and not for recyclables (up to 350 pounds), there is some loss in revenue. However, even when revenue losses are taken into account, combined revenue and cost savings still totaled more than $16,000. Cost savings help keep our waste disposal costs low, while revenue from the sale of recyclables is reinvested in local waste diversion and recycling programs.
Recycling in Teton County is on the rise, and we have already collected more cardboard in 2013 than we did in all of 2012. However, we are not close to reaching our potential. Waste composition data from the Wyoming State Waste Diversion Study estimates that 10-14% of the waste stream is recyclable cardboard. In contrast, the cardboard recycled in Teton County in 2012 was a mere 1.6% of our total waste stream. Even if cardboard only makes up 10% of our waste stream, we have the potential to earn $83,608 annually, given stable market prices, while saving $16,947 a year after revenue loss is accounted for. We are throwing away tens of thousands of dollars each year that we don’t realize our cardboard recycling potential.
You can recycle cardboard at the transfer station in Driggs or you can get curbside recycling pickup through RAD recyclers. Please break down boxes so that our county employees can spend their time doing more important work. Greasy pizza boxes will contaminate our recyclable product and should not be placed in recycling bins. Before you recycle, consider whether or not you can reuse cardboard for storage, mailing gifts, or making toys, costumes, or forts for children.
Cardboard recycling is already a success story in our community, and it has enormous potential to grow. Please do your part to help us realize the potential of this valuable resource by reducing, reusing, and recycling cardboard.
Tanya Anderson is the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling, www.tetonrecycling.org. Sources for this article include the Teton County Transfer Station, the State of Wyoming Waste Diversion Plan, Recycle Across America, and Wikipedia.
Recycling is also a form of patriotism, because we are helping our country save money and reduce our dependence on other countries for raw materials.
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