Ogden sees small improvement in recycling habits, but garbage is still mixed in

Sunday , May 27, 2018 - 5:00 AM6 comments

Ogden residents have improved their recycling habits, although plenty of non-recyclable trash is still going in the blue bins. 

Recycled Earth handles the recycling for all cities in Weber County, sorting and bailing the scrap, then shipping it out to get reused. Last February, the recycler conducted an audit of Ogden’s recycling stream and found only 54.5 percent of the city’s stream was recyclable materials. The rest included plastic bags, contaminated garbage, non-recyclable plastic, glass or waste that can’t be processed.

RELATEDPlastic bags, garbage still trashing Weber County's recycling program

The city’s public works department has spent the last few months trying to educate citizens, working to update its recycling website and mailing out an updated recyclables list with utility bills. Those efforts seem to have brought in some modest success. Another audit this month found just over 60 percent of materials making it to Recycled Earth are useable, recyclable waste.

But Ogden and Weber County residents still have a lot of bad recycling habits.

“I’m surprised there are still so many plastic sacks and bags that are still being put in recycling,” said Amy Rawson, an owner of Recycled Earth.

Thin-film plastics like shopping bags and product wrapping are particularly problematic. They jam up machines and drive up recycling costs. More than anything, Rawson wants Weber County residents to pay attention to those bags.

“Tell your neighbor. Tell three people today about it and three more people tomorrow,” she said.

Changes in the world’s waste market are creating a mess for municipalities, making recycling a tough program to salvage. 

RELATEDGlobal shifts in recycling market creating mess for Northern Utah

Last year, China decided the world’s scrap was too dirty for it to collect. Starting in January, Chinese officials imposed tougher cleanliness standards and slapped an outright ban on 24 materials, including certain types of plastics. Last month, China announced plans to ban even more materials like steel and other scrap plastics.

RELATEDBeyond recycling, Utahns need to start thinking about reducing waste

This month, Chinese authorities put a temporary halt on all recyclables imported from the U.S. That has caused headaches for processors all over the U.S., including Recycled Earth.

“We’re stockpiling. The cardboard (rates) went through the floor and there’s a hold on everything,” Rawson said. “What we’re trying to do now is sell it domestically.”

Some of the county’s recycling goes to Western Metals Recycling in Box Elder County. Brokers are helping Recycled Earth find buyers for cardboard, paper and other fibrous materials in the Midwest. 

“The plastics is where we’re still really struggling,” Rawson said.

This recycling reckoning will likely hit Weber County residents in the wallet. Cities have offered the service for free in the past, but it’s no longer the money-maker it once was. North Ogden already announced plans this month to raise their waste collection rates to help cover recycling costs. 

It’s largely because our recyclables are too dirty. They’re covered in food waste or mixed with messy materials. That can cause a whole batch to get sent to the landfill. 

“They (need) to rinse things out and have it semi-dry before they put it in the bin,” Rawson said.

Those rinsing requests have caused an uproar among locals, who cite the need to conserve water instead. (The Division of Water Resources reports the majority of household water is used outdoors — around 68 percent. Utahns tend to over-water with outdoor sprinklers by about 30 percent.)

“If you want to recycle effectively, it needs to be free of food. Scrape it out with a spatula, I don’t care,” Rawson said. “We can keep doing things the way we’re doing them, but it won’t decrease costs.”

• Flowchart: What can and can’t be recycled in Weber County

Scrap that belongs in Weber County recycling bins includes clean cardboard, paper, aluminum, tin and plastics labeled No.1 and No. 2. Milk cartons are OK, too, as long as the lids are thrown out. Colorful printed paper, including newspaper inserts and most junk mail, can be recycled. Heavy, glossy printed materials like magazine covers should go in the trash. 

Ogden City is working to educate residents about other problematic materials it’s finding in the recycling stream.

“You’ll see people putting in yard clippings, mowed grass. Those things shouldn’t be in there,” said Vincent Ramos. Public Service Operations manager for the city. “People also think they can put shredded paper in plastic bags, but there’s no way to separate them.”

Ramos urges residents to stop recycling plastics labeled No. 3 and higher, too. Glass also doesn’t belong in the blue bin, but it can be recycled at three drop-off points in the city.

 Ogden Glass Recycling Locations

Green Waste Site — 1845 Monroe Blvd. 

Ogden High School  — 30th Street and Harrison Boulevard 

4th Street Ball Park — 502 Wall Ave. 

Both Ramos and Rawson said they’re encouraged by the number of residents who call, concerned about their recycling mistakes. While they can’t change global economics, waste managers appreciate people trying to change their habits at home.

“For the most part, people are really sincerely wanting to do it right,” Rawson said. “I welcome those phone calls when someone wants to know how to do it right.”

For more information on what to recycle, contact Recycled Earth at 801-452-6143 or Ogden Public Services at 801-629-8337. 

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiainthefield or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen

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