In Our View: Curbside Progress

Local recycling efforts show improvement, but we still can do better

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Four small words appear rather discreetly at the bottom of the Clark County Regional Solid Waste Program’s “2010 Annual Report,” but the message is loud and clear: “Printed on recycled paper.”

Clark County recycling by the numbers:

236,488 — tons of waste sent to landfills

37,460 — tons of recycling material collected

26,919 — tons of yard debris collected

133,689 — households served through residential curbside collection programs

890,000 — trees saved annually by recycling paper

2.7 million — pounds of household hazardous wasted collected, topped by 951,912 pounds of motor oil waste

2,011 — volunteer hours devoted by Master Composters/Recyclers to public outreach efforts

372 — tons of waste salvaged from demolition projects

300 — tons of material received daily at the West Van Materials Recovery Center

Preach it, brother! Yes, local recycling officials never pass up an opportunity to sing the praises of giving second life to discarded material. The public-awareness and educational-outreach efforts of this department are numerous and extensive.

And these solid-waste experts possess great patience when enlightening customers who still don’t understand all the details of modern recycling. For example, when recycling mistakes are found in selected neighborhoods, an “Oops!” tag is left on the big blue roll carts. Local officials have noticed an encouraging compliance rate when the reminder tags are used, and on the next visit a complimentary “Your recycling looks great!” tag is left.

The annual report carries key findings as 2010 was the first full year with the big blue roll cart system. Gone is the old three-bin system. Now, local residents use the large blue roll carts, plus the small glass bins that many people take to curbside only once a month or so.

The good news is that recyclables increased by 18.5 percent in that first full year, but the discouraging news is that we’re still recycling only about 46 percent of what is possible.

And as Eric Florip reported in a Friday Columbian story, the first three months of 2011 produced more recycled materials than the same time period in any previous year. That story also revealed a rare ray of good economic news, so to speak. In 2010, the county saw an increase in the amount of garbage sent to the landfill, after three straight years of decline. Granted, measuring garbage is not the most precise economic indicator, but these days, we’ll take good economic news wherever we can find it.

As West Van Materials Recovery Center manager Chris Thomas points out, separating garbage from recyclables “isn’t a perfect science.” The best source of answers is the county website: http://www.co.clark.wa.us/recycle/. The No. 1 mistake continues to be plastic bags tossed into recycling bins. These bags become entangled in rollers of sorting machines and — until the technology advances to the point of solving this challenge — the bags will continue to cause unnecessary delays at the recycling center.

Another common misunderstanding: You can recycle milk cartons but not frozen food boxes. And that glass is only for bottles and jars, not window glass, ceramics or light bulbs.

Clark County residents have come a long way in improving our recycling habits, but there’s still room for improvement. Let’s all stay informed, active and effective as we reuse, return and recycle stuff we used to think was mere garbage.