Nancy Long of Columbia County Solid Waste (the people that pick up garbage in Lodi) recently spoke to the City of Lodi Common Council about the current state of recycling in the county.
Currently, Columbia County has what is known as “single stream recycling”. This means all recyclables go into one bin, and are sorted at the main facility. The materials are sorted by type, bales them, and prepares them for sale to companies which do the actual recycling. In Wisconsin, a large portion of the paper products to go the paper mills in the Green Bay area to be “repulped” and turned into new paper products. Plastics, however, used to be shipped overseas.
Until recently, most of the plastic was shipped to China for processing into new plastics. In March of 2018, China stopped accepting plastics (and many other materials) from foreign countries. This was a major blow to the market–and a major burden to Columbia County’s recycling program. Previously, the recycling program was turning a healthy profit. In the wake of China’s policy change, those profits have plummeted.
The impact of shrinking markets means the marketplace has become more competitive. Contaminated recyclables—those that have come in contact with moisture or leftover food items, for example, substantially reduce the value of them, and therefore, produce less revenue. Many items simply cannot be recycled.
Americans are very good at recycling–though there’s always room for improvement. Recycling in the US started in the 1970’s, and has steadily become more commonplace. That familiarity, however, has made matters worse.
Single stream recycling doesn’t just sort recyclables by their material type; it sorts out the items that can’t be recycled. A significant portion of that is materials that are contaminated. Greasy pizza boxes, unrinsed jars, wet paper, and other items that should be recycled, can’t be. They are, instead, often thrown away.
What Can We Do?
Long offers these suggestions:
First, we need to become a bit more picky about what we put in blue cart. The Columbia County Solid Waste Department has established a new recycling guide. You will note that there are some instructions present—paper should be ‘dry’ and tin cans, should be rinsed.Second, use some common sense. While cleaning out a plastic peanut butter jar and thoroughly rinsing it may make it recycable, the amount of water needed (and cost of using water) may not make it economically worth while to recycle that peanut butter jar.
We do not want to go back to the days of trash along our roadways and the indiscriminate dumping of garbage. For right now, we need to monitor what we recycle, and at the same time, look at new ways to reduce the volume of garbage and non-recyclables. Plastic bags, for example, hamper the processing of recyclable items. Wherever possible, bring your own bag when shopping1Most grocery stores sell canvas or durable “tote” style bags. and, in general, be aware of packaging.
Profits from Columbia County Solid Waste’s recycling program help to pay for the services you receive. If those profits continue to decline, those revenues will need to come from somewhere else–most likely your taxes.
A Lodi native, Blaze attended the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay where he graduated with a degree in theatre technology & design. He has traveled extensively throughout the United States and the world–including a 6-year stint in China. He has been a teacher, a writer, a designer, and is the founder of the Redleaf Consulting Group.
|↑1||Most grocery stores sell canvas or durable “tote” style bags.|