Ask Eartha Steward: Sorting it out |

Ask Eartha Steward: Sorting it out

High Country Conservation Center
Summit County, CO
High Country Conservation Center

This weekend, Summit County recyclers will notice some big changes to how we collect plastics at the drop-off centers. Plastics recycling has been a free-for-all recently and anyone who has peeked inside the large bins may have noticed all sorts of things ” from Styrofoam to lawn chairs to metal drums in there.

Because our plastics collection has been so abused, a shipment of plastics to the processor was almost rejected last month. Fortunately, they accepted the load but refused payment to the Summit County Recycling program.

I’m the first to admit that plastics are extremely confusing and difficult to recycle. From the different numbers on containers to unlabeled plastics, it almost takes a degree in chemistry to figure it all out.

Fortunately, our county recycling staff, some of my angels, and many volunteers, have found a way that we can keep recycling all those numbers of plastics and hopefully create a sustainable recycling program ” but we need your help!

This weekend and all next week, you’ll see some new signs and lots of volunteers at the drop-off centers helping you to navigate the new plastics recycling program.

Here’s a preview of the bins and changes that you’ll see:

#1-#7 Food and Beverage Containers: This bin will accept any bottle, tub or tray that held food or beverages that is marked with a #1 through a #7 on the bottom of it. Sounds easy, right? It’s convenient to mix all those containers, but it can only work if you ” our dedicated recycling public ” help us with these three rules.

First, all beverage containers must be empty and all food containers should be quickly rinsed of food residue. This ensures that there are no health or pest issues with our plastics once they are shipped to warmer, more humid climates for processing. We don’t see a lot of bugs and critters up here ” but they are a problem in other areas.

Second, no plastic bags or films of any kind will be allowed in this bin. These materials will contaminate this grade of plastic and severely impact our ability to pay for recycling collection and processing if they find there way in there.

Third, which is not a problem if you follow the rule above, all bags of containers must be emptied. All of those bottles and tubs inside large plastic bags have presented huge problems for recycling sorters and processors.

Large Plastic Items: This bin represents a shift in our plastics collection program and will accept any large plastic item that is not a food or beverage container. Examples of these items are: lawn chairs, five gallon buckets, laundry baskets, 55 gallon plastic drums, children’s toys and more.

Unfortunately, this grade of plastic does NOT include PVC piping, Styrofoam, or any plastic bag or plastic film. Don’t worry, we’ll have lots of examples and signs at the drop-off centers to help you see what we can recycle here.

No Plastic Bags or Films Can be Recycled at the Drop-off Centers: This is a big change, and kind of a bummer. But there is good reason for it. In order to collect the bulk of plastic out there in our consumer world, we need to provide a marketable product. Unfortunately, plastic bags and films from our community just aren’t marketable. Plastic films have to be kept out of the sun and away from moisture ” both of which are prevalent up here in the high country.

The good news is that you CAN recycle your plastic grocery bags at either Safeway, City Market, or Wal-Mart. But, the best solution is to bring your own bag to the store.

You see, plastic bags aren’t really a recycling problem, they are a consumption problem. And there is a great solution used in many places around the world ” bringing your own bags or containers to the store.

Still confused? Don’t worry, we’ll have some handy recycling guides ready for you and lots of smiling faces to help you “sort” it all out. If you want to join our efforts, contact us at (970) 668-5703 or to volunteer.

It’s going to take some time to get used to the new plastics recycling program at the drop-off centers, but when someone suggested in couldn’t be done, I reminded them that we have a large community of educated, dedicated recyclers who would help us make this program a success.

Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Jennifer Kirkpatrick, Heather Dodd Christie, and Susie Nothnagel, 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 or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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