With the nationwide recycling industry in a tough spot due to China’s import restrictions on most plastics and recyclables coming out of the U.S., the cost per bale of cardboard and plastic has plummeted. But communitywide efforts to avoid “contamination,” the inclusion of unrecyclable items, may boost recycling-center profits.

Colleen Clark—Blaine County’s Recycle Center outreach and education specialist—said that in order for the center to capitalize on its two main commodities, cardboard and aluminum, simple recycling decisions can make a world of difference.

“We’re not getting a premium price for plastic anymore,” Clark said at her presentation during a Ketchum City Council meeting Monday. “With these global changes in policy and market, it’s really understandable to think that your efforts are futile—but our community has recycled or diverted over $3 million of matter this year alone, and that’s incredible.”

In addition to providing simple recycling guidelines, Clark also demonstrated the positive impact Blaine County residents can have on the environment.

For starters, aluminum and tin can take only six weeks to be recycled into new cans.

“If all you do is recycle aluminum, tin and cardboard—that’s already impactful,” Clark said.

The Recycle Center, located off Ohio Gulch Road north of Hailey, relies on a multi-stream recycling model in which items have been previously separated into paper, plastic and metal categories.

That’s because of the center’s size; with only three employees and two machines, the Recycle Center depends on the public to sort well.

“We are fortunate to have so many community members passionate about recycling, who do much of the work at home,” Clark said. “Collaboration is everything.”

More than 70 percent of the center’s profits come from cardboard bales, Clark said. But “cardboard” can bring many things to mind, leading well-meaning residents to recycle flatboard, the single-layer cardboard used in cereal and tissue boxes—while the center can only process multi-layer, or shipping-box-type cardboard.

After being pressed into bales, the corrugated cardboard is shipped from the center to Oregon and Utah, and aluminum and tin go to United Metal in Twin Falls. Newspaper and copy paper is also processed in Twin Falls, turned into environmentally-friendly hydromulch and insulation.

At a Q&A following the presentation, Clark said that by diverting glass to one of the many designated drop-off zones across the valley, people can help reduce landfill pileup.

“Instead of going into a landfill, [the glass] actually goes into our inert pit at Ohio Gulch, where it breaks down naturally and becomes sand,” she said.

For more information on what can be recycled, see co.blaine.id.us/287/Recycle-Center.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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