War on waste: Recycling the right way

Friday, January 5, 2018
Tons of recyclables pile up prior to processing at the Marshall County Solid Waste sorting facility.
Tribune photo By Erin Morris

We all know what recycling is, but we're probably doing it wrong.

In most establishments now, you can notice many recycling bins‒just like the ones in every Marshall County classroom. Marshall County Solid Waste dedicates its time to students using an outreach program.

By no means is this limited to just schools, the company is also affiliated with Henry Horton State Park. These outreach programs target strictly the basics of recycling. In the classroom, the program helps kids understand what exactly it means to recycle. On the other hand, the park's program is geared towards litter control in the county.

Recently, Marshall County Solid Waste was awarded for reducing litter in the county from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Despite the recognition for their efforts, Marshall County still faces one problem: people are recycling wrong.

According to 29-year-old Doug Giles, the assistant director at Marshall County Solid Waste, it usually encounters 130-140 tons of waste per month unless it's the holidays. Around Christmastime, the amount increases to over 170 tons.

"We run the most extensive public facility in the state. We prevent 140 tons of waste from going to the landfill," Giles said.

"Our current problem is Christmastime and alcohol. One strand of lights could potentially wrap around a machine and set the company back 16 tons in just four hours. I don't think people think about where their recycling ends up," Giles said.

He explained that most people don't think to empty their alcoholic bottles before recycling. As a result, it poses as a safety issue for inmates. There is only so much the company can do to protect the workers. What comes into the facility is out of its control, but we can do our part to make sure we recycle things that are meant to be recycled.

"The public needs to know what we want," he said. "We are guilty of not considering the aftermath to us recycling."

After you dispose of your recycling, it arrives at a recycling facility where it is hand sorted by actual people along with a screening machine that determines 2D and 3D objects. Technology is not perfect. It can't catch everything. Imagine being a sorter. Your work day would never be the same. Each day, you stick your hands in these huge piles of recyclables but, it's not always the right recyclables.

The acceptable items for Marshall County Solid Waste are: milk, juice and juice cartons, loose metal jar lids, steel bottle caps, empty aerosol cans, newspapers, file folders, regular and junk mail, paperboard boxes (cereal, tissue, pasta) and flattened cardboard such as pizza boxes and shoe boxes.

If you are recycling at home, chances are you are doing it wrong. Here is a list of the unacceptable items: Styrofoam, hazardous waste like paints, pesticides and cleaners, used oil containers, medical waste (needles and syringes), window panes, mirrors, food waste and trash. The facility does welcome electronic waste such as cellphones, batteries and computers, but it needs to be delivered directly to the facility to be properly disposed of. Any of the items are safety hazards for the workers on the sorting line. Not only that, the wrong items can and will shut down the company.

In the past year, Marshall County Solid Waste has encountered some strange non-recyclable things. Earlier this year, inmate sorters discovered a 6-foot-long, dead Boa Constrictor. According to Giles, the sorters have also found deer hides, fish heads, needles and even weapons. They get more guns than you'd think.

The random findings are not the only problem. It's the normal everyday objects too. Something as simple as an old shirt can cause issues as well. It could potentially wrap around a machine and shut down the whole place. It's hard to imagine one wrong item could have such a costly effect. The hardest part of recycling is knowing what separates your recyclable items from trash. If you are still unsure, please contact Marshall County Solid Waste or go to its website.