We are passing through a moment in our year when much of our existence, plus or minus brotherhood and good cheer, can be summed up in a large, wadded-up ball of multicolored wrapping paper.
What becomes of it next says a lot about us.
Will it further exhaust precious real estate set aside for housing solid waste – road’s end for once-raw material? Or will it continue to serve mankind in a new form?
Let’s hope everyone makes the right choice. Most will, unless they fall for gloomy headlines and have assumed recycling has suddenly become pointless.
True enough, after a boom period, recycling has developed a hitch in its gait. The most crippling development has been the drying up of markets in China.
Even with this significant setback, said Susie Gordon, recycling manager for the city of Fort Collins, the future of recycling is bright, contingent on those who contribute – you and me.
Tighter markets call more conscientious recyclers.
Meaning: The less contaminating of recyclables, the better for all. That means no diapers, no bottles filled with liquid or mud, no plastic shopping bags.
That means it’s far better to throw some materials away, like the plastic blister pack in which you got that flashlight, like the Styrofoam used to package that game system. Gordon preaches the mantra, “When in doubt, throw it out.”
A decade ago, said Gordon, “We were pretty cavalier about (recycling) because the markets were great. Now we’re having to reconsider.”
The markets for aluminum, for glass, for most paper, particularly for cardboard, remain strong. However, water-soaked paper of any kind should go in the trash.
Surprisingly, there’s a strong market for those cursed plastic shopping bags. But don’t – repeat, don’t – place them in the curbside container. Take them to the grocery store or the city collection site.
Those bags seriously gum up the works at MRFs – material recovery facilities – at which curbside bounty is separated into reusable matter. The same applies for rope, twine or Christmas Day ribbon.
To help recyclers and to improve the market for what you recycle, put yourself in the work boots of those who stand alongside the conveyor belt at the MRF to glean the good stuff and discard the bad.
Imagine shards of glass sliding your way. Imagine trying to corral shredded paper or packing peanuts. Imagine making the judgment calls (Too grimy? Too greasy?) someone else should have made before committing something to the recycling bin.
The cleaner the stream, the better the market. It’s as simple as that.
Plastic recycling remains generally robust, Gordon said, but once again, the emphasis is on clean. What about those caps on soda bottles?
Gordon screws hers on loosely so they can be removed easily at the MRF. Don’t remove them if they go into the cart or bin, she said.
That pizza box? Tear off the top and recycle. Throw away the greasy bottom.
Reading about market woes made me wonder if, as one who has been evangelical about recycling, I was leading others astray. Gordon set my mind at ease as she helped me refocus on the task.
She’s as bullish – realistically bullish – as anyone could be. Among the quest to use fewer precious raw materials, recycling remains, she said, “the one thing that we can really control in our environmental sphere.”
So, let’s wrap up this moment, and this year, by being smart with what we discard and what we spare from the reusable stream.
Coloradoan columnist John Young writes about state and local issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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