Major changes in Summit recycling
April 29, 2009
Hello Eartha, as I was looking at the list of items that can be recycled in your insert that was in the Summit Daily News Thursday, I noticed it showed only plastics numbered
1 and 2 are accepted. I thought we could recycle plastics numbered 1 through 7 excluding Styrofoam. Have items that can be recycled changed recently?
” Ann Gagen, Breckenridge
We’ve been getting this question a lot lately, as you may have read about the changes in the Daily today. The conservation center’s recycling hotline hasn’t stopped buzzing. It’s a great feeling to know that there are many concerned citizens ready to do the right thing when it comes to recycling!
For those who haven’t heard, I’m going to prepare you because this may come as a shocker. Some of you might even experience a strong “WHAT?” So here it goes… once again, Summit County drop-off centers will experience a major change with plastics recycling on June 1. I know! We’re going back to #1 and #2 bottles only.
Now hear me out before you slam the paper down and go into a panic…it’s for several important reasons! Let me break it down for you:
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Starting June 1, Summit County Drop-Off Centers will only recycle #1 bottles and #2 milk jugs and solid-colored bottles in the plastics recycling bins.
Acceptable #1 (PETE) plastic bottles include water, soda, salad dressing and mouthwash bottles, for example.
Acceptable #2 (HDPE) plastic bottles include milk jugs, juice bottles, bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles and shampoo bottles, for example.
The key is bottles. The drop-off centers will no longer accept #1 through #7 non-bottles including tubs, containers, bags and trays. Why can’t we recycle as
many different types of plastics as we used to? The plastics industry designed various types of plastics, including hybrid plastics, without regard for recyclability. Simply put, there aren’t reliable collection and processing systems for #3 through #7 plastics.
There must be a market for a material to be recycled. Right now, there are no local markets for #1-7 non-bottles and bags. Most #3-7 plastics are actually going to China to be remanufactured. The bad news is that China does not have human and environmental regulations like we do in the U.S. and there are few ways to track what really happens to recycling. The responsible thing
to do is to use local markets, not to ship our resources overseas.
The reason that corrugated cardboard, newspaper, #1 and #2 plastic bottles, etc., are commonly collected materials, is that there is a recycling infrastructure ” processors and manufacturers ” who want these materials and make them into products that are sold for profit and sold locally. Without this infrastructure ” or market ” recycling cannot be sustained.
Mixed plastics (#1-7) are economically unsustainable to recycle. By recycling #1-7 mixed plastics last year, the county recycling program made 70-80 percent (about $30,000) less than what they would have made if they collected only #1 and #2 bottles.
Plastics have marginal and questionable (environmental) benefits. Compared to other recyclables, plastics don’t have as many energy savings or raw material savings. All plastics (#1-7) are about 4 percent of the recycling stream in Summit County. Plastics #3-7 are only 0.78 percent of our recycling stream. This percentage may seem small, but plastics have huge
economical and environmental impacts. When you consider how plastics are made ” 80 percent of virgin plastic resin is made from natural gas in the U.S. then shipped to China to be manufactured and then shipped back to the U.S. to be sold and then shipped back to China to be recycled and remanufactured ” you start to understand why our community needs to focus on alternatives to recycling plastics. We can better use our resources to making greater environmental impacts
and bigger differences.
Think big picture! This is just a small glimpse into the reasons behind the upcoming recycling changes. There are many “big picture” sustainable opportunities for our county that we can’t wait to explore. We know this is a huge transition for our community, and we’ve prepared educational handouts, more “Ask Eartha’s,” an updated website (highcountry conservation.org), and informative staff and volunteers to answer your questions.