By Sue Moore
Recycling is a feel-good thing for those who practice it. The good feelings come for each individual who takes the time to separate materials from their trash and know it won’t go into a landfill.
But Gov. Rick Snyder tells us that just 14.5 percent of Michigan’s residential waste is being recycled. In most of the other 49 states, the percentage is more than 30 percent, according to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Snyder’s administration is working hard to change this percentage with 2017 cited as the year to reach 30 percent recycling. What’s possible? Some California communities recycle 75 to 80 percent of their trash.
Right here in south Kalamazoo County, residents have the option for single stream recycling through contracting with the local garbage haulers, Best Way Disposal, BFI, Waste Management, and Republic Services. But how does one know what happens to what has been sorted for garbage and/or recycling?
Representatives of Best Way, the only locally owned service, say their recycling services offer curbside bins for pickup so residents’ trash will be reused and kept out of a landfill. The price is $12 for four months for three big bins. The industry now promotes single stream recycling, where all recyclables are placed in one container. The materials are sorted. Much of the waste is sold. Some, however, does end up back in a landfill, sometimes because the sorting is incomplete.
But it’s also in part because many people don’t know what they can put into the brown-topped bins that Best Way picks up, according to Chris Phillips, Best Way’s public relations manager. The items need to be clean and devoid of food scraps, Steve Graffenius, the liaison to Schoolcraft and Vicksburg’s annual trash pickup said.
Here’s what will stay out of landfills if properly deposited into the curbside bins:
• Plastic bottles and tubs that have the recycling icon/logo on them, mostly rigid plastic (numbers 1-7 in the triangle).
• Glass bottles of any color.
• Corrugated cardboard boxes.
• All kinds of paper, newspaper, magazines, office paper, paper bags.
• Tin cans and aluminum.
More importantly, here’s the list of what can’t be recycled and will end up in a landfill anyway:
• Styrofoam food & drink containers.
• Pizza boxes, often contaminated with food or grease.
• Cloth, rags, tarps, garden hoses, laundry baskets, big wheels (kids’ toys).
• Plastic shopping bags.
• Ceramic dishes.
• Yard waste. Tires.
• Hazardous waste.
• Food pouches that some baby food items are packaged in, along with other pouches that have prepared food in them.
It’s also important NOT to bag anything that goes into the recycling bins, Phillips said.
The market for plastic, newspapers, tin and aluminum has deteriorated considerably because the price of oil has gone down so much, Graffenius points out. The commodity markets fluctuate monthly in good times and bad. “We are paying a lot right now to have our material recycled. We want to be a good neighbor and a full service disposal company, so we will continue to promote single stream recycling.
Best Way does not process the tons of material it picks up in the recycling program. The recyclables are trucked to locations in Kent County, Holland West Shore Recycling, and Elkhart Recycle works. When it arrives on a daily basis at these recyclers, it is dumped on long conveyer belts that sort the scraps through the use of magnets for metal, air for lightweight items, screens, and sensors that kick out unusable items (which do end up in the landfills). The recyclers bale the paper and sell that where possible. The plastic is sorted and graded and resold, as is the glass.
Best Way owns a landfill at Orchard Lake in Watervliet which it covers every day. The landfill employs a gas collection system that sends the methane to a generating station capable of providing electricity to 2,000 homes when at full capacity. At current volume of waste, the life expectancy for this landfill is roughly 60 years.