March 10, 2008

Marion County Recycling Update

The massive amount of waste our country and world even is a situation that consumes much of my thought process. Both in how I contribute and how I can reduce, reuse and recycle. Remember, those three R's from school. Frankly, I am quite scared about how plastics in particular play into this. For those who want a good read check out "Polymers are Forever" by Alan Weisman from the Orion magazine. The moral of the story is...plastic never actually goes away. It breaks down into increasingly smaller pieces but in the limited human idea of time it never goes away. It is even killing the bottom of the food chain. Guess what happens when the bottom of the food chain dies out? Let's just say it's not too pretty for those of us a little higher up! Okay, now you have a background on why extreme plastic consumption concerns me (don't get me wrong, it's a useful product in the right situation).
Having lived in Corvallis I am very familiar with First Alternative's wonderful recycling program that supplements the curbside program. I have taken things like Styrofoam and aseptic containers there for years. Since I still go to Corvallis about once a month, I usually save these containers and take them down with me. Well, last week I noticed a sign stating that Allied Waste (the Corvallis office) was taking aseptic containers curbside. Oh...I thought to myself. This will require some looking into! After some dialog with First Alternative, I contacted my local Allied Waste. This is where I have to say, if all you get out of this discussion is a knowledge of what an aseptic container is then I will be happy. The woman on the other end of the line said, "Septic containers? No those are not recyclable!" I then explained what aseptic was. She referred me to the Mid-Valley Recycling and Garbage Haulers (or something like that). Basically, the people who run and who tell our garbage haulers what can or cannot be recycled. There I was referred to Mary (their president or head person, nice, has been with the organization since 1986). Anyways, Mary called me back today and we had an interesting discussion about aseptic containers and their recycling. They do have a program with the local schools for recycling these containers. They do not accept them curbside or at the transfer station and Mary did not anticipate this happening anytime soon. Why might that be? Well, aseptic containers are a "bug-a-boo" to recycle. First issue is they must be clean! On a side note, this really goes for all recyclables! The second issue, even if they are clean, is that they are layers of paperboard, plastic and metal. Great for the manufacturer and consumer, not so great for the recycling. According to Mary, only about 15% of the aseptic containers that end up at NW mills (this is how Mary referred to them) are actually recycled. The rest, due to cleanliness issues or just the inherent nature of aseptic containers, is basically sludge that is land-filled. This is disappointing but...maybe we can minimize our usage of these products (maybe you don't use them at all and this is a mote point) so that we are not contributing to our landfills. Now of course the Aseptic Packaging Council (APC) wants us to believe these containers are wonderful and the wave of the future. And, they are wonderful in the right situations. The APC also make the recycling process sound so easy. Just put it in a blender and like magic you have usable paperboard with plastic and metal on the side!
So what are I missing here? On a somewhat lighter note, according to Mary, Marion County leads the state in recycling at 60%. I followed up on this a bit and it looks like closer to 58% with Metro at 56%. What she failed to mention is that the energy facility (burning our garbage) makes Marion's levels higher. If you're really interested the DEQ report is an interesting read.
And in case you were interested,here is APC's list of the cities in Oregon with aseptic recycling programs:
City of Eugene
City of Portland
City of Troutdale
Clackamas County Incorporated Cities
Clackamas County Unincorporated
Lane County
Washington County

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