Sorting out the final destination of Glenwood Springs’ recyclables
Glenwood Springs is working to move to single-haul trash collection in 2023 to help divert recycled goods out of the landfill and into the local recycling system.
Glenwood Springs City Council has not voted on single-haul trash, nor have they decided on the company they will go with. If they chose to go with single-stream recycling, it might change the recycling company used which would change contamination rates, what is accepted and also where the waste will be sent.
An estimated 80% of the waste taken to the South Canyon landfill could be either recycled or composted, which is taking up crucial and expensive space in the local landfill, according to city documents.
“The composition of our trash going into the landfill has been between 70 and 80% recyclable material,” said Liz Mauro the South Canyon Landfill manager. “We’ve gotten the message that the current system isn’t really working for people to recycle.”
Glenwood Springs’ recyclable materials are sent to the Eagle County Recycle Materials Recovery Facility to be sorted and then shipped out to various places across the nation and Canada.
Jesse Masten runs the Eagle facility and was able to answer all of the grimy questions about where our refuse goes.
First, nothing brought to the Glenwood Springs Recycling center is sent overseas, and contamination rates for the recycled goods processed in Eagle are only at about 8%. That means very little of the stuff people recycle ends up back in the landfill, he said.
Another common misconception is the amount of emissions that recycling different goods creates. Yes, it does create emissions but far less than extracting those raw materials and then processing them.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 1 ounce of carbon dioxide is emitted for each ounce of polyethylene (PET) produced, which is basically your typical plastic water bottle or soda bottle. Remanufacturing plastic saves at least 30% of the carbon emissions that original processing and manufacturing produces.
Here are where each individual item goes and what it gets turned into according to Masten.
No. 1 plastics go to Texas, and occasionally Georgia, to make plastic pellets that are turned into water bottles.
“This facility in Texas takes that No. 1, further pelletizes those plastics and sends them to large companies (that) are using recycled content in their new bottles that they’re making,” Masten said.
When those No. 1 plastics are shipped to Georgia, they are primarily used for textiles or fabric.
No. 2 plastics go to Alabama to make what are called high-density polyethylene or HDPE pellets. Those pellets are then sent to different manufacturers to make HDPE pipe bottles, decking furniture and things of that nature, Masten said.
No. 3 through 7 plastics are sent commingled to Canada, where a processor sorts the different numbers and processes the plastics to everything from furniture to reusable bags and trash bags.
Tin and steel cans are sent to Illinois.
“Those are typically made into new tin and steel cans and also rebar because rebar can have impurities in the steel, which we often see in recycled content for tin and steel,” he said.
Aluminum cans are sent to Alabama to make new aluminum cans.
“The cardboard that we receive is sent to Oklahoma, and this is a cool circular economy kind of material because the mill in Oklahoma that we send it to actually makes the paper backing for wallboard,” he said. “Then, that paper backing is potentially sent back to the American Gypsum Plant in Gypsum and used for the wallboard that they’re producing.”
Paper received at the Eagle County facility is sent to Utah to an insulation manufacturer.
And, finally, glass stays here in Colorado to be recycled in-state.
“Glass, we send it over to Denver to New Momentum Recycling, and they further process it down, potentially to colors, and then they send it out to Rocky Mountain Bottle Company to make new bottles,” Masten said.
It is always preferred to empty all materials, like liquid in bottles, and the city does request that people turn in recycled goods clean; but, Masten clarified that slightly-unclean recycled goods will not contaminate an entire bin of materials.
“That process typically goes through some sort of high-key melting process for that plastic, and those processes and the labels and other impurities that may be attached to the plastic get burned off,” he said. “Water is another commodity, and it’s very important, especially for us in the mountains to kind of preserve that water and not use it when it’s unnecessary.”
One of the biggest contaminants is plastic bags, especially when people throw out their recycled goods in plastic bags. Lids and caps can also cause issues for processing and should not be thrown in recycling. Pizza box grease can also contaminate a cardboard batch and should be composted instead.
If Glenwood Springs switches to a single-haul trash collection, there is a chance they will also change to a single-stream recycling company. That could raise the rate of contamination to closer to 25%, according to the EPA.
The Eagle County Recycle Materials Recovery Center only does a dual-stream recycling, which means that recycled goods are separated into two commingled groups. One is paper and cardboard commingling, and the other is plastics, metals and glass. This is easily done because it is already sorted in Glenwood Springs.
If there is a single-haul curbside pickup used by the city of Glenwood Springs, then it will most likely have to be a single-stream, and Masten said the closest single-stream facility is on the Front Range.
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