In the wake of the Trashion Show, it’s important to dispel some rumors that have been spreading about whether recycling matters. When the event was first conceptualized it was a way to use art and creativity to heighten awareness around waste and promote the idea of up-cycling.
Upcycling refers to the adaptive/creative re-use of a material in its current form, as opposed to recycling which typically reduces the item into raw materials to be used again. The items that would eventually become trash, that is, put in the landfill and non-recyclable, are the items that deserve upcycling, because they really can’t be recycled by our modern methods.
The first Trashion Show had a zero-waste mission, whereby all the items used to serve drinks and food were actually being reused. As the event grew, glass mason jars were abandoned for recyclable cups. Names written on cups encourage their re-use during the evening, but still lots of cups piled up. The event has grown with such popularity that the explosion of cup use became problematic. This year, they encouraged people to bring their own cups or buy one at the event, cutting down on use and waste.
Recent reporting from across the country of recycling efforts ending up in the landfill have garnered skeptics, leading to some rumors that need dispelling. The first and most disturbing rumor is that recycling just isn’t happening. Rumors that China collects it and dumps it — maybe even in the ocean, or that it sits in large containers at ports or warehouses in Texas and the Midwest – are common. Casey Buchard from WasteWise and Betsy Cushman at Methow Recycles emphatically deny these rumors and want to set the record straight. Here in the Methow, recycling matters.
What seems to have gummed up the issue is that single-stream recycling, where all items are put into a bin and sorted at a recycling plant, encourages more recycling but can lead to lazy recyclers. People eager to recycle almost anything — with the assumption that it will get sorted and cleaned at the plant — tend to throw almost everything in the bin. This can lead upwards of 25% percent material contamination. This generally occurs when a consumer doesn’t follow the rules like cleaning food residue off the recyclable material, removing caps, etc.
In large cities with huge volumes of cross-contaminated single stream batches, you can image the daunting task of sorting. A backlog can lead to material pile-ups and otherwise-recyclable items can get contaminated with waste and thrown into the waste stream. Also, shifting markets for materials and changes in technology have led to a backlog of material not immediately getting recycled, leading to holding warehouses full of recyclables until the market demand adjusts.
Here in the Methow, high quality control is achieved through dedicated staff at WasteWise and volunteers at Methow Recycles, where our recycled goods have a great reputation with regional buyers and brokers. This good reputation leads to trusting relationships with their buyers who keep our local recycling providers up to date as to what’s happening to the material.
What’s happening is that our stuff is getting recycled.
The second rumor to dispel is that you can’t recycle glass anymore — not true. Methow Recycles will take your glass. WasteWise no longer accepts glass in their single-stream bins, which may have caused some confusion. However, if you bring your clean glass to Methow Recycles, they accept it and charge a nominal fee to send it to a company in Seattle called Strategic Materials, who recycle it into new glass.
The last rumor to dispel is that recycling pays for itself and recycling companies are making a killing.
It is increasingly difficult for local providers to compete as overseas recycling markets increase. If it wasn’t for our reputation for high-quality material and relationships with partners such as Chad Patterson (who stockpiles the glass at Cascade Concrete until there’s a shipment ready to haul to Seattle), our size and location would likely make the cost of collection, sorting and shipping unsustainable.
Be grateful that we have local entities working hard every day to make sure we can recycle our waste instead of dumping it. But we can’t be lazy, we all need to do our part — remove your caps, rinse your cartons and jugs, set your glass aside for your next trip to Twisp, and don’t throw paper or cardboard with food residue into the bin — that’s what matters.