Beyond Collection to Recycled
Just because an item is collected does not mean it gets recycled. The need for transparency in our recycling programs has increased as citizens have become more detached from the process. Citizens got detached as commitment gave way to convenience. You’ll see what I mean as I describe a few programs in Northwest Arkansas.
A fine drop off with exceptional transparency is the Bella Vista AARP-run program. It’s also the most cost effective program in the state. Volunteers run the whole operation. Citizens dropping off materials can see the clean materials being baled up by just looking inside the door. In 2011 the AARP program not only saved Bella Vista nearly $100,000 in tip fees, after paying their expenses they granted $258,000 to local organizations. To get a grant one must work at the recycling center. For every hour you work, your organization gets $7.25 credit toward your grant. These grantees are all learning about clean recycling, markets, and the problems with contaminated loads. Transparency abounds.
Though I live in Fayetteville, I recycle at the Huntsville Drop Off Center on my monthly trips to visit friends in Madison County. There are friendly employees who quickly correct me before I toss an item in the wrong bin. You can see the clean material being baled up, and you can see the staff constantly checking the bins to remove misplaced items. Education is continual and transparency is everywhere. The Huntsville facility accepts over 50 different items.
Curbside may be “convenient” but you are definitely limited in the number of items you can collect. If you are going to get into curbside quicksand (I call it that because of all the expense involved) CURBSORT produces the cleanest loads. Fayetteville recycling staff sort our recyclables at the curb, leaving wrong materials in our recycle bin. This educates citizens about which items have marketability and which do not. Uncontaminated loads are critical if you want to sell the collected stuff. The sale of materials offsets the costs of collection and baling.
I went up to Rogers a couple of years ago and promptly put my foot in my mouth. I applauded their move to larger recycling bins, before realizing it was single stream recycling. Single stream is my least favorite method of recycling. The large container that looks like your trash can is placed at the curb and mechanically dumped into a single compartment truck. The recyclables are all mixed up together. There is no one at the curb to check for contamination.
No one knows if that can is full of unspeakable stuff until it hits the conveyor belt, exposing an employee, to who knows what!! Hmm, and ya’ reckon that employee is a temp with no benefits or possibly a prisoner? So, when that employee gets stuck by needle, and requires six months of HIV tests, who do you think pays his medical costs? You and I will foot that bill.
If we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint, why would we mix everything up, transport it miles away, only to have to sort it all out again, while risking human health and marketability? A mechanically operated sorting facilities cost millions. Single stream totally detaches citizens from the day to day process of handling their own stuff. How transparent is your recycling program? How do you know for certain if the stuff being collected is actually being recycled? Are you connected and being continually educated?
Read past Outrageous Ideas:
- Does Your Program Have These Accountability Measures in Place? - February 1, 2012
- The Bigger Picture of Sustainability - January 1, 2012
- Recycling Without a Stoplight - December 1, 2011
- What Values Drive Your Recycling Program? - June 3, 2011
- If Children are Our Future, What are We Adults? The Despair of Today? - May 27, 2011
- It's All About Control - May 20, 2011
- Divert Waste, Not Attention - May 13, 2011
- Get Educated - April 22, 2011