By Ken Singer
You dump your recycling into one of the green bins by the skate park and that’s the end of it. At least from your end. Have you ever thought about where all that recyclable material goes?
Well, it all goes to the Boulder County Recycling Center at 1901 63rd St. in Boulder, it is a state of the art facility separating the glass from the
aluminum, paper, cardboard, plastic containers and metal cans. The single waste stream program employs some human “pickers” but it relies mostly on mechanical conveyor belts, shakers, air puffers and optical lasers to produce high quality materials for domestic markets.
The Chinese market for recycled materials has dried up recently, but the county facility has not been hurt by the lack of foreign buyers for the recycled products. that are then used for new cans, bottles and various plastic goods. It has cultivated demand across the country for its quality recycled materials bottles and various plastic goods.
Kathleen Thurmes, who writes a monthly column for the Recorder, and works for Eco-Cycle, gave a tour of the facility this past Wednesday. (Although this was an announced tour for Lyons residents, she said they can set up tours for individuals and small groups at most times.)
The 90-minute tour was preceded by a 15-minute video, also available on You Tube (search Boulder County Recycling). Since the Recycling Center operation is fairly noisy, Thurmes suggested watching the video before the tour, since noise from the machinery made questions/conversations difficult while the tour went on.
Although there are signs at the Lyons Recycling roll-offs stating what is acceptable and what’s not, people don’t always pay attention. This can lead to contamination of the raw materials and make the bale of plastic, glass, paper, or aluminum worthless and the entire bale could wind up in the landfill.
Lyons has been working to be a “Zero Waste Community” and recycling is a big part of that goal. Even people fairly diligent in their recycle waste stream can be mistaken in their efforts. For example, how often do you see plastic bags or cardboard boxes deposited in the roll-offs? Corrugated cardboard is a valuable product for the recycling market (how about all those Amazon boxes?) and there is a separate container for these boxes. When the boxes are tossed in with the other recyclables, Eco-Cycle doesn’t get the higher price of pure cardboard.
Plastic shopping and produce bags gum up the works at the Center. Many supermarkets will take those white plastic shopping bags and the bags for produce off your hands, so bring them back. Better yet, bring your own reusable shopping bags - they are much sturdier and can be reused many times.
People often think they are doing the recycling center a favor by crushing aluminum cans or plastic bottles to save space. Thurmes suggested against that as a flattened can or bottle can wind up looking like paper to the sorting machines and the squished product may wind up in a bale of paper. They ask that aluminum foil be balled up, and if you remove the metal lids from glass or plastic bottles, it helps keep the waste stream moving along yielding a fairly uncontaminated product.
Food residue is often an issue. The Center encourages people to rinse out containers to reduce attracting animals and insects, as well as odors. While some municipalities offer composting - industrial in addition to backyard bins - Lyons does not have a program for that yet. (Although the Sandstone Concert programs have barrels for recycling, landfill and compost, the food, paper plates, and wrappers are brought to the Stone Cup which has a dumpster for industrial composting.)
There are more items that can be recycled, Thurmes said. Relatively new are smaller “berry boxes” to go with the larger produce containers for such items as lettuce, etc. Pill bottles and flower pots are also recyclable and the rigid four- and six-pack holders (but not the soft rings), and plastic buckets and crates are now acceptable as well.
The rule of thumb for frozen food boxes (including ice cream cartons) is “don’t put them in with the recycling,” according to Thurmes. While there are a few frozen brands of boxes, like Amy’s and Evol that can be recycled, most others have a thin plastic liner in the paper to prevent damage from freezing and thawing. This problem of plastic liners also includes paper coffee cups which have a liner to keep the hot liquid in the cup instead of your lap. In addition, the cardboard containers that many restaurants give you for leftovers have that plastic liner as well. Take-out containers that are plastic are usually recyclable. There is a chart showing the seven varieties of plastics (marked with the triangle and a number). Fortunately, you don’t need to know what number you can take to recycling- the machinery and the “pickers” seem to know.
Styrofoam cups are another problem, as the plant can’t recycle this type of plastic. Block Styrofoam packaging that came with your new TV and these cups can be handled at CHaRM (Center for Hard to Recycle Materials) nearby, however, they cannot accept Styrofoam “peanuts” that come with some products. Other packing materials such as shredded paper is not acceptable at either facility and they recommend that it can be composted in backyard bins or placed in the “Shredded Paper” bin at the Boulder recycling center.
Other “no-nos” include drinking glasses, plastic cups (especially the red “Solo” cups), light bulbs, ceramics, explosive or hazardous materials, especially syringes. Thurmes said that the lines have to be shut down if someone discover a “sharp” or syringe.
Recycling is just one of the ways people can be better citizens of the world. “Reduce consumption, reuse products, recycle, and compost,” according to Thurmes. “Do you really need a disposable plastic straw with that drink?” she asked. And take your own containers for leftovers when you go out to eat.