SALT LAKE CITY — A handful of cities in south Salt Lake County are limiting residential recycling to the so-called Big 3 categories, citing issues with contaminated waste, economics and global changes in the recycling market.
However, Salt Lake City and other municipalities don’t seem to be having the same challenges and continue to allow a wider range of recyclables in their curbside programs for residents.
Six of the seven cities that own and operate the Trans-Jordan solid waste facility, including Draper, Midvale, Murray, Riverton, South Jordan and West Jordan, have opted to limit residential recycling to corrugated cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs with necks, and metal food/beverage cans. All other formerly recyclable items, like non-corrugated cardboard containers, newspaper, mixed paper and other plastics will now have to be delivered to city drop-off points, if available, or go into regular garbage containers.
Midvale City Manager Kane Loader, who is also the chairman of the Trans-Jordan board of directors, said a combination of factors led to member cities, with the exception of Sandy, moving to limit curbside recycling to the Big 3.
“As we started looking at the amount of recyclables that had to be returned to the landfill, 50% ended up having to be hauled back to the landfill,” Loader said. “We end up hurting the environment because the material needs to be bundled up at the recycling processor and hauled to the landfill, creating more truck trips... and emissions.”
Loader also highlighted the price differential in hauling garbage to the landfill, which costs $16 per ton, versus processing recycling, which costs $50-60 per ton.
Salt Lake City reported typical contamination rates for its stream was about 22% but audits performed over the last three months averaged 12% contamination.
Loader also noted changes in global recycling, an issue recently covered by the Deseret News, have contributed to a tighter recycling market.
“What’s happened over time, with the foreign market dissolving and China not accepting material, really has caused a lot of this,” Loader said. “We have to be a lot pickier with what we can recycle.”
Loader said Midvale is contracted with Rocky Mountain Recycling for its curbside program, as are a number of other Trans-Jordan member cities. A spokeswoman for Sandy noted that city’s recycling is processed by Waste Management, which also handles recycling for Salt Lake City
Walt Mathiason, Material Recovery Facility Manager for Waste Management of Utah, said his company’s facility processes a wide variety of materials beyond the Big 3 and continues to find sources for downstream processing.
“Waste Management continues to accept the same materials in curbside residential recycling carts: clean paper, cardboard, metal food and beverage cans, and plastic bottles, jugs and tubs,” Mathiason said. “We have not changed the list of acceptable materials and we continue to find markets for quality recyclable materials.”
Mathiason added that one of the biggest challenges continues to be keeping residential recycling clean — meaning, limited to materials that can actually be recycled.
“Rather than focus on what’s not recyclable, we encourage everyone to focus on what is recyclable and to keep trash out of the recycling,” Mathiason said. “Bottles, cans, paper and cardboard are the key items. We want these materials to be put to their next best use, which is why we need everyone to keep their recyclables clean.”
Some interesting recycling facts provided by Waste Management include:
- About 3 in 4 items being put into recycling bins are acceptable materials; the remaining 25 percent is trash that doesn’t belong in the recycling stream.
- During a typical 8 hour shift, Waste Management materials recovery workers will remove 200+ diapers from the material stream.
- The most dangerous contamination items regularly removed from the recovery sorting lines are propane tanks, medical needles, pool chemicals and batteries. The most unusual item found recently? A mortar shell. (Munitions are not recyclable.)
Earlier this year, Mathiason told the Deseret News that China’s decision to limit its purchases of recovered recyclable materials from the U.S. was not a crisis and believes the market will realign and recover.
“It’s not a crisis because we can still sell the product,” Mathiason said. “It’s just at a much lower price.
“We at Waste Management believe it’s temporary. The industry has to adapt to the change.”
Mathiason’s company is building a new recycling facility in Salt Lake City and said the operation should be online by the spring of 2020. The new facility will be equipped with advanced automated sorting equipment and, once operational, will be capable of processing and sorting 35 tons of material an hour, which is more than 700 tons of recycled materials per day.
Residents with questions about curbside and drop-off recycling options should consult their local government’s website for further information.