MISSOULA – Sunday marked Earth Day, a time to reflect on how we use and reuse the planet’s resources. While recycling is a big part of the effort, it takes more than good intentions to actually make a difference.
On a recent sunny day at the Republic Services landfill in Missoula, big trucks could be seen moving around tons of the trash we toss out each day. But sometimes what the workers see is frustrating when they know a lot of this could and should be recycled.
"We see it every day when we’re working landfill. We have to turn a blind eye to it because once it comes through the gate, we have to handle everything as garbage," said landfill operations manager James Keeney.
Republic Services used Earth Day as a reminder about recycling — and doing it the right way.
"There’s this concept we refer to as ‘wishful recycling’ and we’re so excited about recycling and we want to put things into the curbside program that don’t belong," explained Republic Services general manager Glenda Bradshaw.
Bradshaw says that half of what ends up in the landfill could instead go into curbside recycling. While it’s easier than ever to get a bin to toss the recyclables. it still takes a conscious responsible effort to make sure you’re doing it the right way.
"Contamination is one of the largest issues we face. Folks are well-intentioned but if you put in a ketchup bottle or peanut butter, it can contaminate the entire load of recyclables and make it so that it can’t end up being recycled and it ends up in the landfill," Bradshaw said.
Environmentally conscience Missoulians have always been concerned about glass recycling, but glass actually takes up a small percentage of the landfill and it ends up pulverized into sand anyway.
It’s the other stuff we use we need to take a closer look at as some 30% of the trash that ends up in the landfill is household generated green waste that could be recycled. It’s more important than ever to recycle now that China isn’t buying plastics the way is used to.
"China was the largest single purchaser of residential recyclables in the world. They bought 90-to 95% of what’s produced — particularly from the West Coast," Bradshaw said.
"They have essentially stopped buying a lot of commodities, particularly high-grade plastics…so we can do our part by reducing contaminants and that will help find other markets that could reuse these materials.But the second part is going upstream and reduce our consumption. There is way too much [#3 to #7] plastics in the world."
Clean dry and empty is the battle cry to successful recycling — in fact the more, the better.
"When we give tours to high school and middle school kids, one thing I always tell them is by recycling, you’ll never put us out of a job," Keeney told MTN News.
Republic Services offers curbside recycling for a small fee per month. Additionally, the company notes that metal, wood and yard waste can also be recycled.