Are you recycling correctly?
This story is from our 2017-18 Information Please magazine. To view this story and the magazine, click here.
While Americans are recycling more than ever before, they do not always do a good job of distinguishing between what is and is not actually recyclable.
“People are putting everything they think could — or should — be recycled into the bins,” observed an April 20 USA Today article by Paul Singer.
The result is workers at sorting facilities, such as Advanced Disposal’s Alpharetta facility, have an uphill battle when it comes to trying to reduce the amount of nonacceptable items — such as window blinds, clothing, rigid plastic toys, dirty diapers, cat litter containers and even needles — contaminating the recyclables they receive for processing and resale.
Gilmer has ‘come miles and miles’
Speaking of local recycling efforts, director of the department of public works Jim Smith said, “For a county of 28,000 people, I think Gilmer County has come miles and miles with how we deal with trash. I feel like Gilmer County is doing more than many counties or cities are doing to deal with solid waste.”
Recyclables are accepted at three local solid waste convenience centers, and the county utilizes a system known as single-stream recycling, which allows consumers to put all of their recyclables in one bin instead of having to separate them by type.
Collected items are transported via trucks by Advanced Disposal to its Atlanta Recycling Facility. Upon arrival, cardboard, paper, tin, aluminum and different types of plastic are separated both by hand and through a mechanized process before being baled and sold to companies that transform the discarded items into new products.
‘Plastic bags ... kill us’
Jason Burson, first shift lead, reported the facility operates for two shifts five days a week and can process 13 tons of trash per shift.
“Our goal is to get this pile as small as possible,” said site manager Charles Johnson as he pointed to the residuals leftover after the sorting process. These items are run through the entire operation twice more in order to ensure that as many actual recyclables are extracted as possible.
When asked how consumers can help to ensure a better end product, the Advanced Disposal representatives emphasized that what really slows down the process is nonrecyclable items being mixed in with the approved items.
“Plastic bags are what kills us,” Burson said. “We don’t have time to open them.”
On the presort line at the beginning of the process, workers only have “a split second to decide to open bag or let it go. It’s nonstop,” he added.
Burson recommends that consumers do not throw plastic bags of any sort in the recycling. They can take their recyclables to the convenience center in a bag but should open it and dump its contents into the compactor loosely upon arrival instead of throwing the whole thing in the bin.
According to the company’s website, plastic bags “are the most common item in the bin or cart that shouldn’t be there, and they can be the most detrimental. When they get caught in the recycling sorter, they have to shut the whole system down and manually pull them out. Instead, consider recycling them by taking back to grocery, pharmacy or big-box stores where there are specially designated bins for recycling plastic bags.”
Keep Gilmer Beautiful representative Greg Altman also noted plastic bags can be donated to variety of local nonprofits, including Faith, Hope and Charity Recycle Store, Gilmer Community Food Pantry and The Bookshelf at the Gilmer County Library.
Nanci DuBarton, another Keep Gilmer Beautiful advisory committee member, suggested, “Don’t use the plastic bags to start with. Bring your own (to the store).”
The sorting facility also does not recycle Styrofoam.
As stated on its website, “Although Styrofoam is recyclable, it requires highly-specialized equipment that single-stream recycling facilities are not equipped with.”
As encouraged by the Advanced Disposal website, the final product also can be improved if people “rinse plastic and metal containers to remove all remaining residue” before recycling them.
“There’s more on the backside (of the sorting process) if we have it cleaner on the frontside,” added Roscoe Dorsey, site manager of the company’s Blue Ridge Transfer Station.
The ins and outs of recycling in Gilmer County
﹣ Paper products: Newspapers and inserts, craft paper, paper grocery and shopping bags, tissue boxes, paper towel and toilet paper cores, cereal boxes, shoe boxes, magazines, catalogs, envelopes, calendars, phone books, paperback books, computer paper, junk mail, greeting cards, beverage and cigarette cartons.
﹣ Cardboard: Corrugated cardboard boxes, pizza boxes cleaned of any food residue.
﹣ Food cans: Steel cans and lids cleaned of any food residue.
﹣ Beverage cans: Aluminum cans, baking tins, food containers cleaned of any food residue.
﹣ Plastics: Plastics with the following numbers: 3 through 7, milk jugs (2), soda and water bottles (1), plastic detergent bottles (2).
﹣ Do NOT recycle plastic bags, glass and Styrofoam in local single-stream collection facilities. The recycling facility used by Gilmer is not equipped to handle these items.
Find a site near you
There is no charge for recycling in Gilmer, and county compactors for recyclables are located at:
﹣ Cartecay: 4154 Hwy. 52 East
﹣ Coosawattee: 1738 Hwy. 382 West
﹣ Tower Road: 456 Tower Road
When putting your recyclables in the compactor, remove them from the box or bag you are carrying them in and dump them loosely into the bin so they can go through the sorting process more easily.
Local recycling facts
The total waste collected by the Gilmer County Solid Waste Department for the month of March 2017 was 495.48 tons, which included 301.25 tons of household waste, 42.62 tons of recyclables and 151.61 tons of construction and demolition waste.
Gilmer also held Tire Amnesty Month in April, and citizens brought in an astounding 18,024 tires to local landfill sites. The normal fees associated with recycling old tires were waived for the month.