Margaret Gainer: A Fancy Word For Garbage – May 31, 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I’m always intrigued with new technology, new gadgets with the promise of saving me time or labor, improving society, doing a job better. But there is no technology that can absolve us of our personal responsibility to be less wasteful.

In the old days of source separation recycling (You, the source, separate it.), we had to sort out our different materials, pick through it, smell it, and each time we did, we performed a personal waste audit on how much and what type of waste we generated.

Over the past 10 years, the Arcata Community Recycling Center has responded to the public’s demand for increased convenience and the City of Eureka’s need to come into compliance with state landfill diversion requirements. It ramped up its operations and increased the amount of material being recycled eight-fold. This was accomplished by increasing the public’s participation through the convenience of curbside recycling collection.

The extreme convenience of curbside service for recycling includes trucks (collection) and processors (sorting into market ready materials). It is labor-intensive and expensive in smaller towns and areas of low population density. To make this work, they adopted the technology of “dual-stream,” with paper being separated from the plastic, aluminum, and glass.

With the help of a local bank and the Retired Teachers Investment Fund, Arcata Community Recycling Center (ACRC) built a modern materials processing center to process all of the materials collected.

Now a proposal from Solid Waste of Willits is being considered by the Humboldt Waste Management Authority to, instead, collect all of the recyclable materials as a “single-stream” and transport it to Willits.

This would be a big mistake to change to a “single-stream” system. It became all the rage among garbage haulers in metropolitan areas a few years ago. Many of the bigger cities have export docks and can easily send material overseas where single stream materials are more acceptable for recycling.

There have been many costly problems with how single-stream systems contaminate materials. In Humboldt County, where our materials have gone to the domestic mills for decades, cleaning up these contaminants is increasing the cost of doing business, resulting in the closure of a number of paper mills. The West Coast buyers of recycled material do not want material that is contaminated such as glass and plastic mixed in paper.

The real goal of authentic recycling systems is two-fold: first, resource conservation and second, the development of local end-use markets – local businesses that have second uses for the materials or use the recyclables as feedstock in their manufacturing processes. This is called Total Loop Recycling. The effort is to continually try to integrate the locally collected materials into the local economy. Which materials to retrieve from the waste stream and how they are processed is decided by how they will be sold to end-use markets. All of us have to get back to increasing the business of Total Loop Recycling.

“Single-stream” is really just a fancy word for garbage.

I call it Loophole Recycling. It’s a loophole for local governments that have not been able to comply with state mandated goals for landfill diversion. In the proposal to transport in a single-stream to Willits, it is especially “loophole recycling” because it must be dumped twice and is further contaminated.

Single-stream-double-dump recycling is garbage.

HWMA will destroy our recycling infrastructure we have worked so hard to develop in Humboldt County if they sign the contract with the Willits garbage company. The cities of Eureka, Arcata, Blue Lake, and the County Board of Supervisors are now all considering an MOU to participate in this contract with Willits. This would be a big mistake. There are better options. We can learn from many other local governments around the country who have grappled with these same challenges. Urge your elected leaders to retain local control of our processing and value-added recycling.

Margaret Gainer graduated U.C. Davis with an MS in Community Developent in 1986.


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