When the county switched to single stream recycling in November, conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork to suggest it was a trick. Since all the paper, plastic and cardboard are now put in the same container, the county must really be throwing it away -- so the argument went.
Utter hogwash. The county recycling is now sent through two massive national companies: Waste Management hauls it to a facility RockTenn operates in Cobb County.
In about 10 minutes, I had seen enough on the internet to feel pretty confident that single stream recycling is for real – though the search turned up where single-stream was also questioned in other areas.
As our own public works director mused it’s hard to see why companies want it mixed but they do.
I understand people’s concern. If you are doing your part to separate your trash, lug nasty bins to either the Camp Road or Cove Road transfer sites, you want to know your old orange juice bottles and cereal boxes really are being remade later as new products.
I will not attempt to understand the whole recycling process, but I can assure you the county is doing its part and those large companies really earn money by handling recycled goods – quite a bit of money in fact.
In the national economic model recycling makes a lot of sense. Again taking to the internet, you can run down studies, from standard government recycling advocates, radical environmentalists and business groups that all conclude recycling is a more effective way to operate than trashing everything and starting from raw materials every time.
Unfortunately, turning waste back into new products such as plastic lumber, packaging, and occasionally cool by-products (fleece jackets from plastic bottles) does not create a huge advantage financially.
The process to do things like convert old office paper into packaging is not without its own costs – though recycled paper is one of the more successful parts of the industry. Glass, plastic and cardboard recycling are all a bigger challenge to make work in a business sense.
The challenges of making recycling viable financially are apparent at the local level. The Pickens public works director Greg Collis explained that they were switching to single stream as the company that had been servicing the county’s recycling center was ceasing operation here. Collis also said that over the years, they have had trouble getting rid of plastics at times and cardboard at other times. Recycled materials are one step above trash, but not by much. Further evidence of this is the two large bins of old Progress papers going back months that no one seems to want. The company that emptied those was the same as the county used. And no one is rushing to get the newsprint. (If anyone wants a load of old papers, feel free to help yourself, though retrieving them from a dumpster is not easy.) Working with Green Team recycling, the Progress bins for the past year generated $42 -- total.
A much bigger advantage of recycling is every load of cardboard you drop off at Camp Road is a load that isn’t going to a landfill.
While there is some value in recycled cardboard, there is only cost with garbage. The county still spends money to monitor methane from the former Jones Mountain landfill. You can hear the pumps running when you drive by and know that the county will be paying for those pumps to run for decades.
A further note, one of the greatest motivations to recycle in government and in industry comes from public demand. Locally, Collis said even though recycling has never paid off, it is something they recognize the people here want.
At a national level, technology companies like Dell and Cisco have both announced changes in their packaging as they feel customers expect them to cut the excess packaging and use compostable packaging materials.
If you already recycle, please continue to do so, confident that your old magazines and beer bottles are getting where they need to go.
And if you don’t recycle, now is a great time to start, especially as single stream has made it even more convenient.