With Earth Day coming up, the Obama administration going after greenhouse gases, and environmental concerns constantly coming up, it’s not surprising that interest in recycling waste is gaining in Gilbert.
But with participation comes confusion, as everything from materials to machinery to economics has a role in determining what actually is recyclable.
Bottle caps, for instance. Recycling companies have long asked users take them off water and other plastic bottles before throwing them into the blue, rather than black, bin.
“They’re completely recyclable, but recycling companies don’t like them because they get caught in the machinery,” said Tim Rinesmith, vice chairman of the town’s Environmental Task Force.
Gilbert resident Laurie Bingenheimer went to last month’s task force meeting with a bag of items. She and a neighbor wanted to know if they could be recycled.
“I know about all the obvious things like milk bottles and pop bottles, but there’s plenty of other packaging material that looks like it could be melted down and reused, but what do I know,” she said Friday.
She didn’t realize beforehand that the task force meeting would be more about formulating town policy than public education, so she didn’t press for a lot of answers to her questions.
“I held up an envelope, because at one point I was told that if the envelopes you get in the mail had a plastic window, and most of them do, then the recyclers didn’t want them,” Bingenheimer said. “I still don’t have an answer to that one.”
Rinesmith said paper recycling companies can now accept all mail, including the envelopes with plastic windows that people have gotten accustomed to.
Gilbert became one of the first Arizona municipalities to offer single-stream recycling in 1991, saving customers the hassle of sorting their recyclables and putting paper in one bin and glass in another. Residents are given two cans, one for recyclables and one for waste bound for the landfill.
The continued influx of new residents and changing technology still leaves a lot to be sorted out, but Bingenheimer said she’s been grateful for the town’s recycling program since moving to Gilbert 16 years ago.
She said she’s been recycling since her parents instilled her with the importance of doing so some 40 years ago, so when she came to Gilbert “it was a nice byproduct to live in a place where you could throw everything into one can and forget about it.”
Phone books at one point had to be separated from the rest of the paper goods, but several years ago the companies Gilbert sends its waste to decided they were able to handle the covers and other materials which go into these books, Rinesmith said.
Most plastics are reusable to some degree, but the numbers found on the bottom of most plastic packaging indicate exactly how easy it is to recycle. The lower the number, the “greener” the package.
The economy dictates the value attached to recycled materials, and therefore what actually is recycled. But in reality, Rinesmith said, “almost everything is recyclable, it’s just a matter of difficulty,” he said.
The paper and plastics Gilbert residents throw into the blue bins can wind up anywhere from Pittsburgh to China for reuse in steel and paper factories. Glass heads to California to become wine bottles and glass jars. Stuff gathered through the town’s household hazardous waste collection events also is reused, including paint, oil and carpet cleaner.
Rinesmith said that education and motivation is key, and the sooner an impression can be made the better.
“Everyone should take a trip to the landfill while they are young, so they can see what’s beyond their trash cans.”
Bingenheimer said she left members of the meeting with an idea she had for continuing the educational process: inserting stickers into utility bills.
“As things change, everybody could get a new sticker to put on the recycle cans to say something like 'no pizza boxes’ for example,” she said.
The following can be disposed of in the blue recycling bins provided by Gilbert’s Solid Waste Department as part of its weekly service
• Plastics (numbers 1-7)
• Metal cans
• Junk mail
• Newspapers and magazines
• Phone books
• Shredded paper (must be bagged)
Source: Town of Gilbert