Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Calling all plastics

County can now recycle all grades, staff says

Express Staff Writer

Though the Blaine County Recycling Center used to only accept certain plastics such as water bottles, it now accepts yogurt cups, produce containers and deli containers. Photo by Willy Cook

Blaine County staff members were caught by surprise Tuesday when they learned that the Environmental Resource Center had announced that the county had expanded its plastics recycling program.

The center announced in a press release Friday that the county commissioners decided to expand the county's recycling program to include plastics of all grades, marked with recycling code numbers 1 through 7.

"I'm not aware of the board making any policy change to recycling," County Director of Operations Char Nelson said in a meeting Tuesday morning. "It's not any new policy change, to my understanding."

The Blaine County Recycling Center, located at the Ohio Gulch Waste Transfer Station in mid-valley, used to only accept No. 1 and No. 2 grades of plastic, as indicated by an old sign. Those grades included primarily soda and water bottles, milk jugs, detergent bottles and butter tubs.

However, Nelson said, at some point in the past—she couldn't specify when—the county began accepting plastics through No. 7. The sign has since been replaced with one that lists all plastics grades.

Nelson said the recycling center accepts all plastics, with a few minor exceptions. Produce containers, plumbing pipes, yogurt cups, styrofoam containers and even baby bottles can all be placed in curbside plastic recycling, dropped off in Environmental Resource Center recycling bins across the county or brought to the transfer station.

"It's appreciated if they are rinsed out," Nelson said with a laugh.

Unacceptable items include plastic swimming pools, buckets or anything that contained contaminants such as car oil, Nelson said. Plastic bags are also not accepted, as they get caught in the sorting machinery and jam the system.

"It's still kind of an expansion, since they're starting to make the change public knowledge," said ERC interim director Lisa Huttinger on Tuesday. Huttinger said she knew the recycling center already accepted all grades of plastic, but a county discussion and new signage at the center has made the change "official."

Though this is not a true change in policy, Nelson said she hopes to see more recyclables coming into the center with increased education. The county included a budget item in its proposed fiscal year 2012 budget to hire a new person to help educate county residents about what can and can't be recycled.

Had such an employee been in place, Nelson said, confusion could have been avoided in this case.

"Perhaps this is another good reason why the board has determined to have a new employee that will assist with outreach and education to the public," she said.

County commissioners continue to research the benefits of switching to single-stream recycling, in which recyclables such as aluminum, paper, plastic and cardboard are all collected in the same bin.

Unlike the current curbside sort program, residents wouldn't need to separate anything except for glass, and the labor required by the hauler is significantly less as well. Nelson said the budget process has taken top priority the last month, but she has been working with Commissioner Larry Schoen to determine if this system would work for the county.

"We don't want to jump into a program and find out that it's not necessarily better for the environment or that there are financial consequences," she said.

Katherine Wutz:

What can I recycle?

Here's what can be recycled at the Ohio Gulch Transfer Station north of Hailey:

- Corrugated cardboard.

- Magazines (glossy magazines & catalogs).

- Newspapers.

- Phone books and paperback books (no hardcover books or spiral bindings).

- Mixed paper (junk mail, cereal boxes, file folders, packing paper, paper bags).

( Glass.

= Plastics marked with numbers 1-7 (including bottles, yogurt containers, milk jugs and detergent bottles.

- Aluminum and tin cans

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