Monday, July 18, 2011

Recycling and Trash

If we are to live sustainably on this earth we need to think beyond our carbon footprint and try to reduce our wasting of the Earth’s natural resources and our own resources. In 2009, Americans generated about 243 million tons of trash and recycled and composted 33.8% of this trash (or 82 million tons) mostly through curb side recycling services. On average, Americans recycled and composted 1.46 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.34 pounds per person per day. According to Scott MacDonald, Recycling Program Manager of the Prince William County Landfill, we in Prince William County Virginia generate 5.65 pounds of trash per person per day and only recycle about 32%. Much of this trash could have been reused or recycled or in many instances not purchased in the first place.

We need to reduce our waste. Our trash, or municipal solid waste as it is more properly called, is made up the things we buy and then throw away. Our household and commercial waste includes paper (magazines, newspapers, advertising, computer print outs) packaging, food scraps, grass clippings, sofas, computers, old tires, broken electronics and appliances, old clothes, broken dishes, and old appliances. Municipal solid waste does not include industrial, hazardous, or construction waste (except small builder or homeowner construction waste). As the population grows we have been generating more and more waste, but we have also increased the waste generated per person from an average of 2.68 pounds per person in 1960 to the current level of 4.34 pounds per person, a 61% increase. The peak average per person trash generation was in 2000 when the United States generated on average 4.72 pounds of trash per person. It is to be noted that the recycling rate went from 0% in 1960 to almost 34% in 2009. The EPA and lots of other groups has a list of suggestions to reduce the amount of trash that we produce, read it, some of the suggestions are simple painless steps, others will save you money. See what changes you can make.

The EPA estimates that residential waste (including waste from apartment houses) to be 55% to 65% of total trash generation. Waste from commercial and institutional locations, such as schools, hospitals, and businesses, accounted for 35% to 45% of total waste. Mr. MacDonald could only speculate why the trash generation per person in Prince William County exceeded the national averages. He thought it might be because we are an affluent community, but there could be demographic or cultural causes that produces the higher generation rate here. Whatever the reason, we need to improve both in total trash generation and the percentage of trash recycled. We need to move away from the disposable, single serving container behaviors and reduce, reuse and recycle. Really.

More than 77% of the typical waste can be recycled. According to the EPA the municipal solid waste typically consists of 28% Paper and paperboard, 28% is yard trimmings and food scraps (which can all be composed and really should not be buried in the landfill), 12% Plastics, 9% Metals; 8% rubber, leather, and textiles, 7% Wood, 5% glass and 4% Other miscellaneous wastes. Mr. MacDonald believes that the make up of the Prince William municipal solid waste is probably very similar to the national averages, but no analysis has ever been done.

The Prince William Landfill on Dumfries Road provides areas for depositing reusable items like clothing, furniture and functioning (and non functioning) appliances. In the front area of the landfill are Tire Recycling containers for disposing of used tires. These tires are ground up and used as cover for the land filling operation. There are also Scrap Metal Recycling containers for recycling metal items such as appliances, auto parts, bicycles, swing sets, mowers (with all the fluids removed), metal pipe, metal fixtures, metal siding, chain, microwave ovens, sheet metal, tire rims, chain link fencing, cable, and other similar metal items. Recovered metal is often sent overseas where the manufacturing of such items actually takes place. Refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and other Freon containing appliances must be placed in a special designated area so that the Freon can be removed and properly disposed of or recycled depending on the age and type of the coolant fluid. There is an area for bottles and cans, mixed paper, newspapers, magazines, corrugated cardboard, and Special Waste Recycling for hazardous household waste requiring special handling (motor oil, oil filters, anti-freeze, car batteries, florescent light bulbs and household batteries). There is an area for Yard Waste/Brush containers for grass and leaves and brush recycling these materials will be turned into mulch or compost. Finally, there is a great place to leave items that still have usable life like used furniture, the Too Good to Waste Place. This is a great way to give away household items. Of course there is a regular Trash Disposal area with large containers for disposing of non-recyclable waste.

Many residents have trash pick up service with curb side recycling. The curb side recycling is also call single stream recycling because all recyclable waste is mixed together in one collection container at the curb. In some places the newspapers are separately recycled (and my husband still likes to separate the newspapers). The commingled recycling is then hauled away to a recycling center (not the landfill) that is equipped to process and separate recycling that is single streamed. The materials are then sorted by the type of recyclables. In Prince William, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties the recyclables are hauled from our curbs to a Waste Management single stream recycling facility in the region where the recyclables are separated and processed. As Waste Management has expanded its capabilities more and more types of materials are now acceptable. Waste Management has expanded it capabilities and shortly your trash collector will be able to collect newspapers, magazines and catalogs as well as other types of paper, paperboard packaging, cardboard, plastic containers #1 through #7 narrow neck and wide mouth containers and tubs, metal food and beverage cans, spray cans (no hazardous substances), aluminum foil wrap and pie pans with food residue removed and balled up. Milk, juice and soup cartons (without the plastic caps and straws) and glass bottles and jars. The expansion in items acceptable for recycling should be in place shortly and we can all expand our recycling.

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