Town Leaders Take Mystery Out of Recycling
Just call it the Recycling Riddle. The daily ritual of standing over the recycling cart and the garbage can pondering things like, “Can this pizza box be recycled or is it trash?”, “Do I have to take the cap off the milk jug before I recycle it?”, “How about this tub of butter, the kitty litter box, these flower pots, and all these plastic bags from the grocery store…which bin do they go in!?”
Clayton town leaders donned hard hats, goggles and safety vests this month to help take that guesswork out of recycling. They made the 30 minute drive to Waste Management’s Recycling Facility in Raleigh to see for themselves what really happens to the nearly 1,000 tons of recyclables collected each year from Clayton citizens.
“I’ve had several residents ask me, ‘Are we recycling what we should or are we throwing things in the recycling cart that we shouldn’t?’” said Councilman Art Holder, who toured the bustling operation along with Mayor Pro Tem Michael Grannis and Councilman Jason Thompson. “I thought it was important we get a first-hand look and see what we’re doing well and what we aren’t.”
Town officials already knew Clayton had bragging rights when it comes to giving garbage new life. A whopping 95% of Clayton residents participate in the town’s recycling program, which, according to waste experts, is an extremely high success rate that only a handful of towns can boast. That kind of participation has saved tons of landfill space.
What officials might not have realized is how lucky they are. The facility in Raleigh that serves Clayton is the only Waste Management site in the entire country that is capable of sorting, separating, grinding and shipping anything plastic you can throw into the recycling cart. That means you don’t have to take the time to check the recycling numbers on the bottom of plastic bottles or containers, or keep your soda cans separate from your newspapers or your soup cans. Just put it all in one container, Waste Management does the rest!
“We want to make it easy,” said Mandy Taylor, Sales Manager for Waste Management’s local recycling facility. “If the resident has to think about what they’re throwing in the recycle container, they’re just not going to do it.”
Clayton leaders say they were amazed by the massive operation off Capital Boulevard, which processes 12,000 tons of recyclables a month from area towns and counties, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Council members got a bird’s eye view of the mountains of unsorted piles of recyclables that arrive daily and watched as giant conveyer belts, high-tech optical scanners, and an army of workers sorted the various types of recyclables. The staff of about 120 employees works intensely, sorting some recyclables BY HAND at lightning speeds as conveyer belts whizz past.
“To see that operation was very impressive,” said Mayor Pro Tem Grannis. “No one would have a clue how detailed and intricate it is.”
So how can you help keep the operation running smoothly and improve Clayton’s renowned recycling reputation? Here are some highlights. Also be sure to download this printable Recycling Cheat Sheet for your home!
* KNOW PUBLIC ENEMY #1: PLASTIC BAGS! Clayton officials witnessed how these pesky plastics clogged up recycling machinery, and at one point, shut down an entire processing line. PLEASE take plastic shopping and grocery bags back to the store – most supermarkets have containers right outside their doors where they accept your used plastic bags.
* NO STYROFOAM, NO PVC! Maybe someday, but right now there are no markets to recycle these materials. So, for now, toss that PVC piping and those Styrofoam cups and trays.
* DON’T PLAY BY THE NUMBERS! Don’t worry about flipping over your plastic bottles and tubs to check for the little numbered triangles on the bottom. Clayton accepts everything from 1 to 7! And bonus: now you don’t even have to take the caps or lids off!! Just leave them on!
* STOP TOSSING THE TUBS! This is a change! Clayton CAN now accept butter and margarine tubs. They’re called polypropylenes and these plastics are marked with a #5 in a triangle. Waste Management’s Raleigh facility is now the nation’s largest collector!
* IF IT TEARS, IT’S RECYCLABLE! From newspapers to junk mail to phone books…if you can rip it, recycle it! Paper products should be a no-brainer. In fact, Clayton can even accept shredded paper if you put it in a CLEAR bag and tie it off. DON’T THROW IT IN LOOSE! When sorters see a clear bag of shredded paper, they’ll pluck it out and make sure it’s recycled.
* DON’T STRESS OVER A LITTLE MESS! You don’t have to run your soup can or spaghetti sauce jar through the dish washer and sterilize it before recycling. Simply rinse off recyclables as best you can. You’ll want to do this anyway to avoid attracting bugs. The facility isn’t permitted to take food, but if there’s a little soup residue in the bottom…they can still accept it. Just no greasy, cheesy pizza boxes, please!