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What's The Status Of Recycling In Bloomington?

Family sorts recycling as solid waste management district

McGlasson says there is no charge for dropping off materials at the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District. (Zach Herdon, WFIU/WTIU News)

Bloomington resident Jared Beard thinks recycling takes a lot of time and effort.

He says he and his wife carefully clean and sort their materials each week before putting them out for the city’s curbside program .

But this year, he heard on the Planet Money podcast produced by NPR that China announced it would no longer be taking the world’s contaminated materials. That affected U.S. recycling because China took 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste.

He started to wonder if his efforts were making a difference, or if all he and his wife’s endeavors were ending up in a landfill.

“I want to put stuff in the right place, but it’s just so much effort,” he says.

He wanted to know more, so he asked our City Limits series to answer the question, “What is the current status of the recycle program and all of the items they collect as they relate to the nationwide recycling issues?

Tom McGlasson Jr. is the executive director of the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District. He says China’s change in policy has affected the global market for recycled goods, lowering the price materials can be sold.

“In the simplest terms, when China quit taking the materials, supply went through the roof so the prices went down,” he says. That made recycling some materials less profitable.

Despite the drop in the value of materials, Indiana’s recycling programs are in better shape than most coastal states, which took a heavy hit when China stopped accepting mixed paper and plastics in 2018. That’s because one the largest expenses of recycling is transportation, and Indiana, a landlocked state, never sent the bulk of its materials to China. 

Materials from Bloomington’s curbside recycling go to Hoosier Disposal Republic Services to be sorted and then processed. 

The Waste Management District’s facility, which is separate from city’s curbside program, has contracts with Republic Services too.

“The majority of that material goes to a sorting facility they have up in Indianapolis. They have a number of mills and processors in the Midwest that they send materials to,” he said. “It’s hard for them to specifically tell me which ones our materials go to because once things get to the sorting facility, things get mixed together with other sources.”

McGlasson says people are always surprised to hear how much of their waste is not recyclable, and should check with their local hauler to see what is being accepted because not all mills are capable of handling the same types of material.

Man recycles at solid waste management district
A man sorts his recyclables at the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District. (Zach Herdon, WFIU/WTIU News)

The city says it’s essential for materials to be clean, otherwise they will be thrown out during sorting. City Director of Sanitation Rhea Carter says too much uncleaned recycling thrown into one container can ruin multiple bins that have been picked up.

McGlasson agrees when loads become contaminated, recyclables could wind up being sent to a landfill or incinerator.

He says his center and the city program consistently update the materials they can and can’t take. For current lists go to https://bloomington.in.gov/sanitation/recycling and http://gogreendistrict.com/recycling.

Many processors are charging municipalities and other recycling programs fees to take materials because their market value is so low right now.

To keep their programs going, many cities have started to charge residents for curbside collection. 

For the moment, Bloomington picks up recycling for no additional fee.

But Beard says as long as he knows his materials are going to a processor, he’d be willing to pay a fee for curbside recycling. And that Beard he and his wife will continue to spend about an hour a week cleaning and sorting their trash and recycling if he’s confident these efforts count.

“I think I would continue to pay an extra five dollars a month or so to know what I was doing was being recycled,” he says. “If it comes back that the effort is legitimate and it is worth doing, then by all means I’ll continue to recycle”

While the recycling industry catches up with China’s policies and the market recovers, McGlasson says Indiana residents should keep recycling. 

 

Have a question? Ask City Limits:

Our community is changing, from closing businesses to traffic and road construction to affordable housing, and we see the impact of these changes all around us.

We want to know: What questions do you have about how the Bloomington of tomorrow will impact your work, your personal life, your community and your future?

Here’s how it works: You submit a question you’d like us to explore about how Bloomington has changed over the past few decades, what you want to see for the city in the future and how ties with IU continue to shape the community.  

So: What do you wonder about how Bloomington is changing and how it impacts your life?

Interested in an ongoing conversation how Bloomington is changing? Join our Facebook group!

 

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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