Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
By Richard DuPertuis
Story and photos by Richard DuPertuis
FOLKS AT THE Redding recycling facility want the public to know how much they appreciate those who make the effort to separate reusables from garbage. They would also like you to know how to make a little better job of it, because many people trying to divert waste from the landfill unwittingly contaminate their recyclables, literally turning them back into garbage.
Nobody wants that, least of all Christina Piles, Redding Public Works Supervisor, who names the top three offenders in recycling. “We hate pizza boxes here – they are garbage, garbage, garbage,” she declares. “All the food and grease gets all over the good recyclables. It spoils good paper.”
Those thin, #1 clear plastic clam-shell containers often used to package sandwiches are also on her list of offenders. Though the Redding facility does accept plastic marked with a 1 framed in the tiny recycling triangle, it cannot recycle this particular #1 item, she explains, because there is no market to purchase it and make it into something new.
The number one offender in recycling? Plastic bags, empty or filled with anything. The empty bags, as light as paper, need to be separated from mixed paper at the facility, which clogs up its process. “The less trash we have on the sort line, the more they’ll be able to pull the recyclables off,” she says.
Plastic bags filled with even the cleanest recyclables will be treated as plastic bags and thrown into the trash, because there’s no time to open them and look inside. Plastic bags can be used to collect recyclables, and then emptied into your blue recycling bin, but don’t toss them in, too.
Worst ever, a plastic trash bag filled with garbage. Keep in mind that trucks specializing in recyclables – and only recyclables – pick up that blue bin and dump it in with all the other recyclables picked up on its route. Piles cringes when she envisions someone throwing a bag of garbage into their recycling bin.
“All that garbage, that food, that nasty stuff all greasy, usually breaks loose in the truck. Inside, there’s a packer with a heavy blade that squishes the load back,” she says. “This contaminates all the clean recyclables. It can contaminate a whole truckload.”
That costs the Redding Solid Waste Utility hard cash. Its recycling facility is, after all, an enterprise, one that takes monthly bids from vendors who commit to buy for repurpose tons of clean paper, clean #1 and #2 plastic bottles and jugs, clean food and beverage glass containers and both clean aluminum and clean tin or steel cans. Items from each category are baled or crushed into blocks which are stacked and stored until one tips the scales at 40,000 pounds, the minimum weight for shipment, according to Piles.
How clean? “Jars don't have to be spotless,” she explains. “If you have a dog, it’s pretty easy. I wash them with the dishes, when I’m done with my pots and pans.”
Shipment is the end of a process that begins when a loaded recycling truck dumps its contents on the floor of the facility. A vehicle with a pushing blade shoves recyclables onto a conveyor belt that takes them up about one story to a complex of belts and sort lines manned mainly by employees of Shasta County Opportunity Center.
Employee Services Instructor Paul Holland says they contract sorting services for the city. He’s been with the Opportunity Center for 26 years, and has worked this site since the early 2000s. “We only processed about 11 to 13 tons a day before we had the machine,” he says, referring to the conveyors and sorters working overhead. Today, an average day sees output of 30 tons.
The city started its recycling program well before the state mandated one. “They have a very progressive attitude,” Holland offers. “I love this collaboration of county and city. There’s goodwill that keeps our individuals with developmental disabilities employed.”
These individuals first pull from the conveyor belt cardboard, the facility’s biggest volume product. They toss it into a chute where it falls a story to a mounting pile of cardboard on the floor. Another worker pulls out the aforementioned garbage, which falls to a pile destined for the landfill.
On a similar sort line, the conveyor finishes by dead-dropping its product onto a mountain of mixed paper, maybe not yet clean. “They’ll go down and sort through it again,” says Piles, eyeing a pyramid of paper five feet tall. “We’re trying to get as clean a product as possible. If it has plastic bags, no one is going to buy it.”
For certain drop-off recyclable items, admission to the facility is free of charge. That would include mattresses, up to five a day, and what she calls rigid plastic, such as solid resin lawn chairs. Batteries are accepted, delivered in special bags which can be found free at Redding City Hall and some stores in town. And Redding’s is the only e-waste facility in Shasta County, taking in computers, monitors, printers, personal electronic devices and the like.
Much more information to guide the conscientious recycler can be found online at www.reddingsolidwaste.net, including videos and a Waste Wizard, to help determine what can and cannot be recycled here. •
www.reddingsolidwaste.net • (530) 224-6201
Monday-Saturday 8 am-4:30 pm