When it comes to recycling, Mike Myers encourages Grays Harborites to keep on keeping on.
We recently talked with Mike, the current chair of Grays Harbor County’s Solid Waste Committee, who came to the committee in 2008 after 40 years of work at wastewater treatment plants. He is such a wealth of knowledge in the area of all sorts of recycling that we thought we’d share his broad perspective on the topic with our readers.
The last few weeks we’ve been encouraging Grays Harborites to clean up their homes and environs and make use of the area’s various recycling outlets, donation drop offs as well as free days at the LeMay Transfer Station for various city residents. (See the list of days at the end of the column.)
Today we thought we’d step back and take a look at recycling from a broader perspective.
Properly treating waste – whether that is sewage, food waste, garbage, unused pharmaceuticals or recyclables – makes a great difference in our cities and our environment, Mike said.
“The price per ton that recyclables are sold for is historically quite volatile. Right now with China’s recently instituted ban on buying recyclables from the U.S. and other industrial countries that started March 1, the recycling market has been set into a tailspin for a time,” he said.
“However, what the average person needs to know is to just keep recycling, don’t worry about the volatility. Companies are gearing up to make their products cleaner and after technology catches up to create cleaner recyclables, I foresee China wanting to buy again.”
Meanwhile, he said, the cleaner – the less contaminated – the recyclable “product” is to sell as a raw commodity, the more attractive it will also be to others.
“Soon American entrepreneurs and innovators will stand up and make new products out of recyclables.”
Mike noted that already recycled plastic water bottles go to Kentucky, where they are ground up into small particles from which other companies create fleece garments!
With recycling, it can become a symbiotic, “waste to profit” process where not only is waste eliminated, but a company can make money on what it can produce as an end product.
FOOD WASTE IS NEXT
With the country’s number of curbside recycling programs on the rise – in 2002 there were 8,875 and by 2015, that increased to 9,800 – most folks in the U.S. now do some sort of recycling.
Once you take the common recyclable products out of what the garbage and recycling industry refers to as “the waste stream,” the biggest thing left is food waste, he said.
In other words, if you are a recycler in Grays Harbor County and make sure to recycle your newspaper, cardboard, mixed paper, metal cans and appropriate plastics in your recycling container (and glass separately taken to the recycling center) then what’s likely the biggest item by volume in your garbage can is likely food waste.
That is, unless you happen to recycle that too by composting or perhaps even feeding it to chickens or livestock, which many people in Grays Harbor do.
Mike encourages home recycling of food waste and is also hopeful that some sorts of commercial recycling of food waste – perhaps to make methane gas or to provide some other product – will be developed and widely available by entrepreneurs.
“It’s a lot,” he said. “Right now 350 million tons of food waste is created in this country each year. And 50 percent of the food we produce doesn’t get eaten.
“At grocery stores about 1 to 2 percent of food that they have is thrown away. At family restaurants about 3.1 percent is tossed. At fast food restaurants, where they struggle to effectively predict demand, 9.5 percent of food they make is thrown away. And at convenience stores the number is an astounding 26.3 percent,” Mike said.
“We are missing the opportunity to make better use of the recyclables that we are not recycling,” he said.
KEEP IT CLEAN
Another thing that the average person can do to help the overall recycling cause is to make sure that what you are putting in the recycling bins isn’t contaminated.
For instance, Mike said, take-out pizza boxes with bits of pizza sauce absorbed into the cardboard belong in the trash, not the recycling. Shiny, plasticized paper should not be in the recycled mixed paper. And, tubs – like those used for sour cream, cottage cheese, margarine and yogurt – aren’t among the plastics that are recyclable right now and therefore “pollute” the recyclables collected.
One thing that should be out of your house and out of the waste stream is expired or no longer needed medicines. These should not be flushed down the toilet or put in the trash can, either, Mike said.
One place locally these pharmaceuticals can be taken is to the Hoquiam Police Station. A disposal drop off is available in the lobby, which is open 24-7. Later the items collected are safely destroyed through incineration so that they don’t become a hazard in homes, or enter our water tables after being improperly flushed into sewer systems or thrown away.
With the rising opioid epidemic, Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers has provided outstanding leadership statewide in helping to get unused medicine out of medicine cabinets and developing drug take back programs, such as Hoquiam offers, Mike said.
In fact, in large part because of Chief Myers efforts, Washington State has just passed legislation for the nation’s first state-wide, drug take-back program that will be financed by pharmaceutical manufacturers.
That’s great work for a variety of reasons!
Of course we don’t want drugs around that can be misused, but we also don’t want pharmaceuticals to go to a landfill or down the toilet.
“Wastewater treatment is not intended or designed to effectively remove the thousands of different pharmaceuticals. And, it’s not good if they end up in the landfill because the uncontrolled conditions mean that some eventually contaminate ground water or end up in the rivers. We are even seeing health effects on certain fish and frog species,” Mike said.
Thanks to Mike Myers for your perspective and work for our county on the Solid Waste Committee and Chief Myers (no relation) for your leadership in helping with legislation to help establish drug take-back programs!
Now, here’s a reminder of upcoming days at the LeMay Transfer Station.
THE CLEANUP DATES
ABERDEEN residents have their choice of days during the month of April. A city-issued voucher accompanied by a driver’s license, is the ticket to a trip to the LeMay Transfer Station any day the transfer site is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturdays. Basically you have one week left to take advantage of this great program.
OCEAN SHORES residents will have dumpsters brought to their city on April 24-26. That’s this Tuesday through Thursday
MCCLEARY residents will have dumpsters brought to their city next Saturday, April 28.
TOKELAND-SHOALWATER BAY residents will have dumpsters placed in their town beginning April 30.
WESTPORT vouchers can be picked up by city residents soon at City Hall for a free dump day in May. Licenses are also required
HOQUIAM residents are scheduled for June 6-9. A city-issued voucher plus a driver’s license is the ticket to the free dump day.
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.
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