Saturday, February 15, 2014

Recycling Doubles Under Single-Stream

Published in the Sun February 13, 2014

Thursday is trash day on my street.  On Thursday mornings, as far as the eye can see in both directions, the curb is punctuated with 95 gallon bins.  Two sit in front of each house, one with a black lid and the other tan, all arranged neatly against the curb before 7 AM.  Compliance of this degree is rarely seen in our individualistic society, but we are highly motivated to get rid of our trash.

The average American generates 4.4 pounds of municipal waste every day, 1606 pounds every year.  A family of four would generate more than 3 tons of waste annually.  Being orderly people, we want that waste to go away promptly so we are not buried under a mountain of junk mail, food boxes, and yard trimmings.  Of course, the trash doesn’t really “go away”, as in disappear forever.  It just changes location.  The final destination for Georgetown trash is the Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) landfill and recycling facility at Creedmoor, southeast of Austin. 

In the fall of 2012, Georgetown began single-stream recycling.  When the 95 gallon recycling bins first arrived, many customers complained that they were too big and wanted to trade them in for smaller versions.  At my house there was no complaining.  We fill that sucker every time.  The trash, on the other hand has diminished to approximately one small kitchen bag a week.  In fact, the kitchen trash usually gets taken out because it is stinky, not because it is full.  Friends have told me that they generate so little trash it seems a waste of effort to push the bin down the driveway every week.

I asked Verna Browning, Community Relations Manager at TDS, how we are doing at single-stream recycling.  In the month before the new bins were delivered, Georgetown recycled 244 tons of material.  We have more than doubled that amount to 503 tons in December 2013.  That means about 6000 tons of material were diverted away from the landfill this past year.  Sun City seems to be doing the most recycling, which should give the rest of us some competitive motivation to get on the stick.

Although the recycled materials have economic worth as raw materials, the real savings comes from preserving landfill space.  Building new landfills is outrageously expensive.  Wasting stuff has never been a really good economic strategy.

In addition to recycling, Georgetown elementary schools are also composting their lunchroom waste.  The children are taught to separate their trash as they leave the cafeteria.  Food, milk cartons, and napkins go for composting.  Water bottles and aluminum cans go into single-stream recycling.  What can’t be recycled goes into the trash.  This small discipline on the part of these young children results in about 7 pounds of waste per child per month being diverted from the landfill.  In the middle schools, which are not yet composting, less than 1 pound per student per month is recycled.  You might look at these numbers and ask why the middle schoolers are recycling so little, or you might also ask why the little kids are wasting so much food!

Ms. Browning has three reminders for readers who want to be good recyclers.  First, 13% of the stuff that gets put in the recycling containers is inappropriate and belongs in the regular trash so look at the list of recyclable items at  Styrofoam cannot be recycled so please put it in the regular trash (or better yet, don’t use Styrofoam.)   If you recycle boxes, be sure that all Styrofoam inserts have been removed.  Second, if you want to recycle your plastic bags and plastic film wrappers, they must be put into a yellow stuffer bag available from the city.  Putting them inside another plastic bag is not good enough because the bags break and jam up the recycling equipment.  If you don’t want to get a yellow stuffer bag then all plastic films and bags must be put in the trash.  Third, yard waste composting will begin in March.  Yard waste must be put in compostable paper bags or in a container clearly marked “Yard Waste” in big letters.  If your leaves are in a black plastic bag, they will go to the landfill.

Gardeners consider bagged leaves a valuable commodity for the compost pile.  Bags that contain only leaves are welcome at Getsemani Community Garden at the corner of Church and East 20th Street.

These items DO NOT belong in recycling bins:  Styrofoam, loose plastic bags, hazardous waste (chemicals and paint), pet food bags, pet waste, lightbulbs, batteries, aerosol cans, motor oil containers, coat hangars, clothing, garden hoses, potato chip bags, wine corks, single use coffee cups, yard waste.

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