Fort Collins officials have reconfigured the Timberline Recycling Center is response to shifting markets for recyclable materials.
Kevin Duggan, Coloradoan
The world has turned upside down, at least in terms of recycling.
Markets have disappeared for some types of plastics to the point that it makes more sense to throw them away than send them to a recycling facility. Trying to recycle them just adds to the overall cost of processing materials, and the plastics end up in a landfill anyway.
In addition, what was once reliably good — as in recycling mixed paper and cardboard — is now not so good. They can still be recycled, but at a cost. Recyclers that used to get paid for the materials now must pay to get rid of them.
It’s all rather heartbreaking for Susie Gordon, environmental program manager for the city of Fort Collins. But it’s a reality brought on by the marketplace and events happening on the other side of the world.
“There is nothing going to China anymore in the world of plastics,” Gordon said.
Fort Collins officials are changing their recommendation for recycling based an shifting markets for materials. (Photo: Kevin Duggan/Fort Collins Coloradoan)
Shifting markets means city officials must change their message to residents about how to approach curbside recycling and when dropping off materials at the busy Timberline Recycling Center, 1903 S. Timberline Road.
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Low-grade plastics such as berry containers, salad boxes, party cups, “clamshell” take-out containers, and black-colored trays often used with frozen, prepared meals are no longer considered recyclable.
They should be thrown out rather than left in curbside bins or large receptacles at the recycling center, Gordon said. Trying to recycle them anyway does no good.
On the other hand, some types of plastics are still welcome because strong domestic markets exist for them.
Rather than worrying about those confusing numbers stamped on plastics, consumers are asked to focus on shapes when recycling: Bottles (water and pop), jugs (milk and laundry detergent) and tubs (yogurt and other dairy containers) are all still good.
Nathan McGinley of Fort Collins drops off cans at the Timberline Recycling Center on Oct. 7, 2019. (Photo: Kevin Duggan/Fort Collins Coloradoan)
Other familiar recyclables are also still good: metals, including cans; glass bottles and jars; and paper cartons. For more information on recycling, see fcgov.com/recycling.
Paper and cardboard are still good for curbside recycling, as well. However, changes in the arrangement of roll-off receptacles at the Timberline Recycling Center reflect changes in the market for paper.
A white receptacle is marked for white paper only. Center patrons are asked to separate clean, white paper — such as copy paper, envelopes and shredded white paper — from other paper materials, which should go in the mixed-paper bins.
White paper has value. Material processors will pay for it even as they charge to accept mixed paper.
So far, visitors to the recycling center have been diligent about following the rules and making sure the white-paper-only bin does not get contaminated, Gordon said.
The city is working on a pilot program through which white paper would be separated by residents for curbside collection. In the meantime, it would have to be dropped off at the recycling center.
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That’s not surprising. Most people who bother to haul stuff to the center do so because they want to do the right thing.
Volumes are up at the center, with many people who are not from Fort Collins making use of the main, self-service section as well as the area that accepts hard-to-recycle materials.
The recycling center, which recently celebrated its third birthday, has never been a money-making enterprise. Its operations have been subsidized because Fort Collins residents like to recycle; we want to feel like we’re making a difference.
Its annual operating budget is about $300,000. Chances are it will need additional funding this year and next to cover its bills, Gordon said.
All the gloom and doom around recycling does not mean we should stop, Gordon said. The markets will come back, although probably not for low-grade plastics.
Dedicated recyclers will have to ride out this storm and be patient. And as we wait for better days, we should stay smart about how we recycle.
Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by subscribing: See Coloradoan.com/subscribe to learn how.
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