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Rethinking recycling in Michiana: How to be better when it comes to what you put in your bin

NOW: Rethinking recycling in Michiana: How to be better when it comes to what you put in your bin

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Carbon gases, pollution, climate change, just how much can the average person do to help reduce their carbon footprint? One simple thing that’s accessible to nearly everyone and many people already pay for the service is recycling.

ABC57 is taking a behind the scenes look at the largest recycling facility in Michiana to see how it works and what recyclers can do to improve the process.

The headlines and the statistics are downright scary, you see them on the news almost daily. The Ocean Conservancy Group says eight million metric tons of plastic are entering the ocean every year. Another study says there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean, pound for pound by the year 2050.

Whales are washing up on shorelines with pounds of plastic in their stomachs.

Some corporations and local governments are trying to stem the tide. Kroger announced its plan to stop using plastic bags by 2025. Samsung has vowed to eliminate plastic packaging. Los Angeles has banned fast food restaurants from passing out plastic straws unless customers specifically request them.

What are Michiana residents doing?

“I recycle all plastic and metals and I clean all of them out,” said resident, Connie Caiceros.

“Wash out the bottles, dump out compost,” said resident, Earnest Ferguson,

But others wonder if recycling is even worth it, the problem is just already too big.

“I don’t know if it gets as much of a return as people think it does," said resident, Becki Peterson.

Recycling Works in Elkhart is the largest single stream post-consumer recycling facility in Michiana. It takes in all of the recycling for St. Joseph County along with much of the recycling from all over the Hoosier state. About 100 tons a day to be more specific and that’s a lot. Which means nearly all of that waste is staying out of landfills and out of the oceans.

“Recycling is as important in my opinion, today as it has been,” said Patrick Kennedy with the Waste-Away Group which operates Recycling Works.

According to Kennedy the effort you put into recycling is most definitely worth it and will help the greater effort, even if it seems overwhelming.

“Everything you put in that is recyclable is going to have an impact in some small way, you’re impacting your world around you,” said Kennedy.

That doesn’t mean the industry hasn’t faced some challenges. Globally, recycling has changed with world markets shifting demand.

“China in the last year or so stopped taking mixed paper and what that’s done is flooded the local markets with paper," said Kennedy.

Nearly all of the recycling that’s baled and separated here in Elkhart is sold locally and they’ve felt the pinch from the price drop. But Ferguson said they’re going to keep up their efforts to sell in the Midwest.

Their paper products go to mills in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois.

A lot of the plastics stay in Elkhart County.

“We have a plastics processor in Elkhart County that we ship material to, they use this material in Elkhart County,” said Kennedy.

Here’s where the average person can step up and help. Recycle, but don’t recycle everything, just because you wish something could be put in your recycling bin doesn’t mean you should be.

“We call it wish-cycling," said Kennedy.

'Wish-cycling' doesn’t help the environment or the recycling process.

“Most people have good intentions, but many are uninformed... really think that by putting something in the bin that they’re helping the process, but essentially it’s hindering the process," said Kennedy.

Here are some common things that need to stay out of your recycling bin:

  • Plastic grocery store bags

  • Garden hoses

  • Clothing

  • Bowling balls

  • Dirty diapers

Some of those might sound silly, but they are all daily occurrences at Recycling Works.

Plastic bags can be recycled, but not at a large single stream facility. They gum up the equipment and slow down the process. Bring them back to the grocery store, most stores have their own bag recycle program.

As for other items on the list, garden hoses get caught on the conveyors, bowling balls are downright dangerous to recycling employees and dirty diapers... you know better.

Other ways to you can be a better recycler: Always rinse out all of your food containers. Separate plastic and cardboard packaging before you put it in your recycle bin.

“If you can recycle something and keep it out of whatever stream is not desirable, you’re helping in that process," said Kennedy,

These simple steps will help the process work more efficiently which means more items get recycled, reducing your carbon impact and helping with the larger issue of pollution in general.

“It’s a problem and it’s up to people to do something about it," said Ferguson.

Here are some links for more information about recycling:

And drop off centers if you don't get a regular pick-up:

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