Ask Eartha Steward
“Hey Eartha, I read in the SDN story about Waste Management’s new recycling program that they aren’t using our new Summit facility, why is that?” Phyllis Huggins, FriscoThis is a great question, and one that I would expect from one of our longtime local recyclers. Our readers should know that Phyllis has been an avid recycler for many years and helped Summit Recycling Project open the Frisco drop-off center at is previous 8th Avenue location. Phyllis knows the nuances of local recycling better than most.The new recycling facility that Phyllis refers to is the Summit Materials Recovery Facility (SMRF, for short, and that pun was intended). The SMRF is a taxpayer funded, government-run facility located at the Summit County Waste Facility (landfill) that sorts and processes recyclable materials for shipment to market.Summit County is a community that owns its own landfill and recycling facility. The beauty of this situation is that the Summit County government can make decisions that will help encourage and facilitate waste reduction so that our only landfill in Summit County lasts as long as possible. There are other benefits we’ll get to in a minute.Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) is an international waste disposal corporation. They own and operate their own landfills all over the country, and they provide trash and recycling collection for millions of customers. They have shareholders. They are for trash hauling what Coke is for soda. They are big. WMI uses their new facility in Denver to sort and process the recyclables they collect in Summit County because it is in the interest of their shareholders to do so. I don’t think WMI spokespersons would disagree with the following statement: WMI wants to process recyclables as quickly as possible and they want to make money doing it.Hey, capitalism is a religion in America, and even Eartha enjoys the occasional frosty can of Coke (especially with pizza). Without giving a full sermon, I will say that recycling is different; it isn’t just another way to make money, it’s a concrete way to preserve our resources and our natural world for future generations.To treat recycling as if it were just another way to make money ignores the many environmental and social issues that recycling is inherently linked to, and in some cases negates the benefits of recycling in the first place. In this vein, there is a distinct difference in how WMI and the Summit County recycling programs operate. The Summit County recycling program, perhaps because of its birth from a community-based nonprofit, takes recycling very seriously. They are as concerned with the “end-of-the-line,” or recycling, as they are with the bottom line.The Summit County recycling program makes sure that what you put in the bin actually gets recycled. This is a difficult mission to stick to. It takes a lot of dedicated employees who make sure they do everything they can to sort out other’s mistakes and only throw away what is really trash. It takes advertisements, public service announcements (anyone seen Eartha’s Angels on Summit County TV 10?), and money to get the word out.It would be way easier to tell people that the drop-off centers in Frisco, Breckenridge and Dillon collect plastics #1-#7 and then just throw away the #3 and #6 plastics either here at the landfill or in Iowa where they are sorted again. But that would not be honest. Those plastics do not have solid enough markets to depend on, so the Summit County recycling program does not collect them at this time.The Summit County recycling program makes sure that the materials collected here in Summit County are recycled at mills located in the U.S., where they are subject to all of the environmental and human health regulations that are necessary to make sure we aren’t harming people or the environment. This is an increasingly important factor as we are learning more about the “recycling” practices taking place in China. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all of the revenue from Summit County recycling program’s sales are put back into new recycling programs that help us create the infrastructure to make the path to zero waste a reality not a fantasy. In essence, you are the shareholders of the Summit County recycling program.All of this gets back to the mission of recycling. Why do we bother to sort out our bottles and cans and take them to the drop-off center or put them at the curb? Do we do it to make money for someone else? Not likely.We recycle because it feels good. We recycle because we know that by doing so we are making a difference by returning valuable resources to the manufacturing loop. We recycle because we want to preserve our landfill and forests and mountaintops.Like Phyllis, I encourage you to ask questions about your recycling service. Find out where your recyclables go and what they get made into. To make sure that your recyclables are getting recycled into new products in the United States and that you really are creating a positive net impact for the environment, recycle locally. Ask your recycling provider if they are using the Summit MRF.Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Holly Loff, and Beth Orstad, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylie shoes.Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org with Ask Eartha as the subject or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.
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