Confessions of a Recycling Renegade

questioning the Hanna recycling rules

I admit it! I have thrown water bottles with the caps still on them into the recycling bin! I sneaked in a cereal box with the corrugated cardboard! “What difference could it make?” I muttered as I slipped a brown paper sack into the bin clearly marked “cardboard.”

Then I started asking questions to both the Town of Hanna and Ark Recycling Service about Hanna recycling program and found there was quite a bit I didn’t know. For example, I did not know why the town changed from the white outdoor bins to the indoor recycling site near the Town Hall. Larry Korkow, Hanna Public Works director, explained to me that both collection methods involve an arrangement with Ark Recycling Services in Laramie, but the white bins had to be hauled to Laramie using a town vehicle, town flatbed, town gas, and town employee as driver, obviously costing the town money. In the present system, when the big cardboard bins in the recycling building are full, the town loads them into Ark’s semi trailer that they have parked beside the building. When the trailer is full, the town calls Ark, and Ark sends out a semi and truck driver, and the recyclables are hauled off to Laramie where they are weighed and the value is calculated versus the cost of the trucking and fuel. So far it has been a break-even situation for the town, extending the life of the landfill without incurring cost.

Now I don’t know about you but, even though I want to extend the life of our landfill, be environmentally responsible, conserve resources, yadda, yadda, I get annoyed by a bunch of rules that I don’t understand. The rule that I have broken most often is the “no-caps-on-the-water-bottles” rule. What could it matter? Why do they have to be such fussbudgets? Recycling is already an annoying chore, separating certain things from the regular garbage, making extra trips with to the recycling building, the sacks and bins taking up room in the my hall. Why not make it a little easier on myself and just throw the empty water bottle in cap and all? “Because they can explode,” said Larry Korkow, public works director. Gulp. Explode? I didn’t know that. Bill Vance, who is in charge of recycling at Ark Recycling Services in Laramie, elaborated that the closed bottles get so pressurized when they are squeezed down by the baling machine that the actual bales can explode, breaking the baling wires and making a mess. He said most of the time they don’t explode, but the capped water bottles don’t compress down either, making the weight of the bales less and thus worth less money to the recycler.

And the rule about no pressed or shiny cardboard in the cardboard bin? Grrr. That kind of cardboard takes up room in my trash and pokes holes in my garbage bags. So, every once in a while, I go haywire and throw something shiny and forbidden in with the corrugated cardboard. Bill Vance of Ark Recycling explained to me that the pressed board is one of the things is made from recycled OCC (old corrugated cardboard, the good stuff), but each time it is recycled, it gets downgraded; the fibers become shorter and cannot be remade into a quality product. If Ark has too much pressed board in their bales, the price can be reduced or the load refused by the buyer.

The paper bags in with the cardboard? To my surprise, I found I was not breaking the rules by throwing brown paper bags in the cardboard bin. Brown paper bags are compatible and allowed.

But what about water bottles versus milk bottles? What is the difference? How about a gallon-sized distilled water bottle? That goes in the water bottle bin, right? Wrong! They are two different types of plastic. You can tell by looking for a number imprinted in little, tiny, hard-to-see triangular symbol on the bottom of almost every plastic item, called the PIC or plastics identification code. The number tells you what type of plastic the item is. There are actually seven different classes of plastic. At this point in time, Ark finds it economically feasible only to recycle types 1 and 2, but almost anything labeled with the plastics identification symbol number 1 can be put in the “water bottle” bin and pretty much anything labeled with the number 2 symbol can be put in the “milk jug” bin. For the #1 bin, Vance said, “All of the #1 PET bottles are OK. The rule is the top needs to be smaller than the bottom.” He also said, “The #1 PET peanut butter jars have a smaller top then the bottom.” Hmm. I looked at my #1 PET peanut butter jar, and it seemed straight up and down, but I had pestered Mr. Vance with so many questioning emails, I hated to quibble.

Bill Vance did straighten me out about the “office pack” bin. I always avoided placing anything in that bin because I thought it was only for paper from business offices, and I wondered just how many offices there were in Hanna anyway. Vance said that personal most junk mail could go into that bin, even envelopes with the clear window for addresses. And the paper does not have to be pure white. Pastel and light colored paper is acceptable, just nothing really bright, fluorescent, or glaring. Staples are not a problem because a powerful magnet removes them. This paper is sold by Ark to a company that makes tissue paper.

Newspapers and magazines are binned separately because they are sold to a company in Twin Falls that shreds them to make fire retardant insulation. Evidently, newspaper and magazine fragments absorb a spray of boric acid really well, and much of building and wall insulation is now made out of newspapers and magazines.

Now I know a little bit more about the recycling process, and  find myself twisting off the caps from my water bottles and tossing them in the trash. This morning I actually went to my cardboard recyclable pile in the hall and fished out a wine box, ripped it up, and put it in my garbage. What about you?

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