Taking out the trash

Seven Clark County families take part in a waste-reduction contest and get some tips on proper disposal





Go to Wastebusters to see how some local families are competing to recycle more and waste less.

Recycling rejects

Don’t recycle these items curbside:

• Most mixed materials.

• Small, flat objects.

• Items smaller than your fist.

• Items with food waste.

• Frozen-food boxes.

• To-go containers.

• Plastic bags.

• Cardboard with film.

For a complete list, see Waste Connections' Curbside Recycling Guide.

Waste-reduction specialist Terra Heilman dumped a week's worth of the Davis family's garbage into a kiddie pool. Diapers, bottle caps and a not-so-pleasant odor emerged.

The family wasn't engaging in unconventional spring cleaning. The Davises, along with six other households, are participating in a waste-reduction competition sponsored by Clark County Environmental Services. Several of the families gathered around the piles of trash Wednesday afternoon outside the family's northeast Vancouver home to listen to Heilman's tips on cutting down waste.

The competition comprises six different challenges with various emphases over the course of six weeks. This week, the families offered their garbage and recycling to Heilman, who sorted through their trash and gave them advice on proper disposal of items.

She works for Waste Connections, a private company that disposes of Clark County residents' recycling.

Since the introduction of the company's blue recycle bins in 2010, Heilman said residents have been recycling about 18 percent more of their trash. She contributed the rise to a nationwide trend as well as the switch to the large blue bins, which reduce the need to sort recycling.

However, the new system has its problems.

"We get more material; we also get more contamination," she said.

While looking through the Davises' recycling (gloves donned), Heilman said the family was "overzealous" in its recycling efforts.

She picked out several items, including filmy plastic bags, paper Starbucks cups and ice cream boxes. Waste Connections cannot process these materials, but families can recycle plastic bags in most grocery stores.

Heilman acknowledged it sometimes can be confusing to know what to toss in the blue bins. She said it's usually best to recycle items only when you're sure the plant can process them.

"When in doubt, leave it out," she said.

She also stressed the importance of reducing food waste. A quarter of food produced in the U.S. goes to waste and ends up in landfills, she said. This rotting food produces methane, which contributes to global warming more than carbon dioxide does, she said.

Heilman recommended that families freeze, dry or juice their foods before they go bad if they aren't able to eat them.

Moving on to the Davises' garbage, Heilman picked out various things that could avoid the landfill. Coffee grounds can be thrown in worm bins, paper towels can be tossed in a backyard composting area, and recycling company Empower Up will take unwanted block foam.

The Davis family has cut about 20 pounds from their trash load since their first weigh-in. This week's garbage weighed only 15 pounds.

Clayton Davis, 17, said recycling isn't a struggle, and that he was interested in the competition as soon as he got the solicitation in the mail.

The household with the largest reduction percentage will be named top "Wastebuster," and all families will be honored at the Recycled Arts Festival June 23-24 in Esther Short Park.

Yvette Hulse, whose family is also competing in the waste-reduction challenge, said the competition has given her family the push it needed to recycle more.

"We've always kind of been on that route, but this was that boot-kick, 'Quit being lazy, get back on that horse.'"

Hulse said she plans to continue recycling and reducing waste after the competition ends.

Jeff Mize, spokesman for Clark County Public Works, said 57 percent of the county's waste is recycled and kept out of landfills.

"It's one of the better percentages in the state," he said. "We're proud of it. … It's indicative of what we're doing, but it's indicative of how we can do better, too."