Staying Green: What you can do
By Olivia De Valk
PORTAGE COUNTY – On average, 2,000 tons of non-recyclable material and 200,000 tons of recyclable materials are sent through Portage County’s recycling center each year.
Amanda Haffele is the Solid Waste Director at Portage County Solid Waste. Haffele decided to pursue a degree in waste management after a summer job at a state park left her feeling frustrated by the number of people recycling improperly.
“I thought it was the easiest thing in the world to do and yet so many people were doing it wrong,” Haffele said.
We sat down with Haffele to learn about the most common recycling mistakes and how to avoid them.
Don’t send in your recyclables in plastic bags. Because garbage bags that aren’t see through are assumed to contain garbage or other potentially hazardous material and are thrown away before being sorted.
Do keep the lids on your plastic containers. Because the caps will fall through the screen and end up with the glass, which will be transferred to the landfill. Even though the gap and bottle may be two different kinds of plastics, later on in the recycling process they will be shredded and sorted properly.
Don’t over flatten your recyclables. Because tin cans that look like they’ve been run over by a truck will get sorted as paper by the machine.
Do throw paper products like plates and towels into the garbage. (Unfortunately, they aren’t recyclable!)
Don’t recycle shredded paper.
“Shredded paper is one of our nightmares here, it sticks to everything,” Haffele said. Shredded paper sticks to other recyclables like aluminum and steel and makes it less valuable to buyers.
Don’t recycle flexible plastic packaging, like plastic wrap and bags, through commingled recycling services like Portage County’s. Plastic bags and other thin plastics get caught in the machinery and take time to clean up before they are ultimately thrown into the garbage.
Do save flexible plastic packaging and recycle it through retail stores like Walmart and Target.
“If they collect plastic bags, they collect plastic film,” Haffele said. And she knows this from experience, she recently dropped off a year’s worth of plastic film at a retail store in the area.
One common misconception about plastic film is that it’s bad for the environment, but it’s actually a little more complicated than that.
Flexible plastic packaging, like plastic film, is more sustainable in every aspect except end-recyclability, which only accounts for 5 percent of its overall carbon-footprint.
“That wrap can keep your food fresher longer, so it doesn’t spoil as quickly,” Haffele said. “It’s so light-weight, it’s not as bulky, so you can fit a lot more material in a semi-truck so you can ship more so there’s less emissions and gas and all that stuff. It’s just a saver – even though there’s so much of it and it doesn’t all get recycled.”
One final mistake people make with their recycling is what Haffele calls, “wish-cycling.” They wish it could be recycled and so they recycle it. Among these items are harmless every-day things like paper towels and plates, but occasionally potentially harmful things like propane tanks make their way into the recycling center and must be sorted out by employees before they reach the compactor.
Recyclables and non-recyclables come to the Portage County Transfer Facility and Material Recovery Facility from Portage County, with additional material coming from Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, Waupaca and Wausau.
For an easy print-out on what can and cannot be recycled in Portage County visit the Material Recovery Facility page on Portage County’s website.