GUEST COMMENTARY | Reality Check on Regional Recycling

06/29/14 | By More

Ever wonder where your recycling goes? Once it gets picked up, does it actually get recycled? Is it ok to group newspaper, cans, and glass together? I recently joined the Town of Telluride’s Ecology Commission on a tour of the Bruin Waste recycling plant in Montrose and I learned the answers to these questions and more.

Bruin Waste picks up recycling from Ridgway, Silverton, and the Montrose area. Bruin receives recycling material from Telluride, Mountain Village and the surrounding region via S.U.N.R.I.S.E., LLC. The City of Montrose and Commercial Refuse Service from Grand Junction are two other large haulers bringing recycling material to Bruin’s recycling plant.

Housed in a metal building, trucks pull into one end of the Bruin recycling plant and dump co-mingled recycling materials on the concrete floor. All material is loaded by machine onto a conveyor belt that rises to a second level platform spanning approximately eighty feet.

Below the platform are large bins for separated recycling products: cardboard, paper, #1 plastics, #2 plastics, #3 – #7 plastics, tin, aluminum, glass. Workers are stationed on the platform and sort the material as it travels past on the conveyor belt. All products, except glass, are baled and packaged in approximately 4’x 4’ x 2’ bales.

Cardboard and paper bales are stacked and later loaded in trucks to Salt Lake City, Utah and Long Beach, Calif. Currently China purchases our local recycled paper and cardboard at a price high enough to cover trucking and barging. However, the market for postconsumer material fluctuates frequently so this market may have shifted by the time you read this.

All aluminum and tin are sold locally in Montrose. Glass, however, poses problems.  Glass is trucked to a location in the West End of Montrose County where it is stockpiled to be ground into a product similar to sand. Unfortunately there is no demand for this, making the grinding of glass not financially feasible. The hope is to create a market by finding local solutions for ground glass such as road repair, golf sand traps, construction bedding, and other innovations.

Once sorted, all plastics get trucked to Salt Lake City. There is a strong market for #1 & #2 plastics; these are readily recycled into new plastic. However, “clamshell” packages used for berry containers and to-go containers, though marked #1 or #2, have a slightly different composite and are grouped with plastics #3 – #7.  Currently there is no market for postconsumer #3 – #7 plastics. These plastics are stock piled with the hope that there will be future demand.

Corn-based plastics, #7, used at large festivals and events, and by some thinking that they are using a more environmentally friendly product, require a high-temperature commercial composting system for breakdown. The closest commercial composting system is located in Delta, where Bruin trucks compostable waste, including #7 plastics from Telluride’s large festivals. Festivals and events typically have enough volume to make bio-plastics a better choice for the environment, but they are the exception.  Since others do not have easy, local access to a commercial composter, the benefits of corn-based plastics (#7) should be weighed against the difficulty of proper disposal.

The infrastructure, staff and equipment required to run the Bruin Waste recycling plant is significant. Relying on a fluctuating market to sell postconsumer products makes the recycling business precarious. Our region is lucky to have Bruin as a committed recycling solution in Montrose.

Distilling it down:

·       Recycling is necessary to reduce our waste stream, but the energy required to truck postconsumer material and create new products is monumental. Therefore it is best to avoid anything that is “single-use”.

Through the plastic bag ban many of us have learned to bring our own shopping bags.  Learning to bring our own coffee cups, water bottles, to-go containers, and silverware to avoid single-use is a suitable goal for our region.

·       If you are purchasing items packaged in plastic containers, seek out #1 & #2 plastics and avoid “clamshell packages” and plastics #3 – #7.

·       Due to the weight involved with trucking, and the absence of a market for ground glass, avoid single-use glass. The mountain of glass stockpiled for a future market is basically landfill until solutions are found.

·       Based on weight and postconsumer market demand, aluminum and #1 & #2 plastics are currently our best options for recycling single-use containers. Many high quality microbrews now come in cans; if you have the choice select cans over bottles.

·       Purchasing recycled paper products supports local recycling by strengthening the postconsumer paper market.

·       Buying locally grown food direct from farmers reduces packaging.  Bring your own shopping bags and enjoy fresh food from our regional farmer’s markets.

EcoAction Partners is our region’s sustainability organization, focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and tracking our regional progress toward these goals.  Additionally EcoAction Partners works with the community to reduce waste, increase local food supply and encourage other sustainable practices.

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Category: Community, Guest Commentary

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