Yesterday I had one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I started the Yamhill County Master Recycler’s class this week, a class I’ve been excited about for the better part of a year. The class is meant to help people in the community learn about recycling and why it’s so important. Then the idea is for all of us to go out into the community and teach others what we learned.
The class is every Thursday evening and goes through the middle of November. Along with the weekly classes, we also participate in three Saturday field trips. This is what brings me to the point of this blog post and the eye-opening experience I mentioned above.
We visited several locations, including KB Recycling, the location all of McMinnville’s curbside recycling goes after it is sorted at WOW. The first impression of KB made my jaw drop. There were mountains of recycling. When we got inside the warehouse, it was full of large platforms, conveyor belts and ladders that pulled the unsorted recyclables up the belt, and across large conveyor belts where workers sorted the items going past them.
Then, once the recyclables are sorted, they’re baled and then stacked to be shipped to places that purchase them for resale or recycling.
Have you ever seen the movie Wall e? That’s what the mountains of baled recyclables reminded me of. They were huge and we were told by our tour guide that they weighed about 2,000 pounds. WOW!
What really shocked me was the garbage we saw, even though we were in a recycling facility. So many people have good intentions and try to recycle, but the reality is, when we put something that’s garbage in the recycling bin, it can contaminate the recyclables and render them garbage as well. Then there are those who just plain ignore the rules. We saw a shredded tent, a rollerblade, a two-by-four, a child’s Thomas the Train fleece blanket, and tons of other things that are by no means recyclable. But guess what the number one thing I saw stuffed among the garbage bales? PLASTIC BAGS!
I cannot tell you enough how important it is for every one of us to be conscious of what goes in our recycling bin. Just because you think something is recyclable, doesn’t mean it magically becomes recycling when you toss it in your recycling bin. It just causes more work for the employees of the facility to take the time to sort it from the recyclables.
Whenever I get mad about the stupid things people put in the recycling bin, I have to stop myself. While some people truly don’t care about recycling, I am sure many people just don’t know what’s recyclable and what isn’t. And even more than that, don’t understand what happens to things that shouldn’t be put in the curbside co-mingle recycling.
So, instead of ranting about it, I’m going to give you a few guidelines about some common items that are recyclable, but NOT in the curbside co-mingle.
I’m sure you have heard that you’re not supposed to put plastic bags in the curbside recycling. But have you heard why that is? Well, for starters, they clog up the machines at the recycling facility. It forces the operators to stop the machinery several times per day and spend at least half an hour removing them from the gears. The good news? Plastic bags are recyclable! Several companies recycle them into other products, such as plastic decking. So instead of tossing them in your co-mingle or trash, collect them and when you go to the grocery store, put them in the bin.
Small lids and containers smaller than 8 ounces
Again, these things are recyclable. But they’re too small to be put through the process at KB and just like the plastic bags, they clog the machines or fall through the grates of the conveyor belt and onto the floor where they get mixed with other non-recyclables, contaminated and therefore become garbage. What you should do with them instead is to collect them in a separate bin at your house, and you can bring them to the McMinnville Farmer’s Market, where a former Master Recycler collects them and brings them to a facility that can recycle them. If you don’t live in McMinnville, just call your local hauler and they can probably tell you where to take them.
It’s also important that you clean your recyclables before they go in the recycling bin. When we forget to wash out our milk jug, apple juice container or soup can, the food residue contaminates the other items and makes them garbage as well.
The main thing I learned from visiting KB is that we need to be more conscious of what goes in our recycling bin. If you know something is garbage, don’t put it in the recycling bin. It will just end up in the landfill later and cause problems for the workers in the facility. I think you’ll agree with me that what’s the point of recycling something if it’s not recyclable? Why not just throw it in the trash?
Also know there are many other ways to recycle items aside from what can go in the co-mingle bin. It’s just a matter finding a place to bring it. If you live in Yamhill County you get the RENEWsletter in your mailbox. It’s got a long list of places that allow you to recycle items like tvs, computers, glass, buckets, oil, you name it.
I could rant and rave and carry on for much longer than I already have (and probably will when I come back from my next class!) but I’ll end by saying that I encourage every one of you to be more aware of what you throw in your garbage and in the recycling. We only have a limited amount of resources on earth, and if we do our best to reduce what we buy in the first place, and then to properly recycle what we do have, we’ll conserve those resources.
If you have any questions about what I’m learning, let me know. I’d be happy to talk to you!