Bio-waste found in drop-off recycling container
Porter County – In the midst of announcing changes to its drop-off recycling program, Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction was alerted to a problem with the contents of one of its containers today.
Three bags labeled bio-waste were identified by waste hauler Republic while attempting to empty one of the roll-off containers located on the property of Strack & VanTil in Valparaiso on U.S. 30.
“This is an example of contamination that is placing this program in jeopardy,” said Therese Haller, district executive director.
Republic returned the full container to the site. Tradebe Environmental Services, a company with which the district contracts for household hazardous waste collection events, was called upon to remove and secure the bags. Stericycle will analyze and properly dispose of the contents.
In the meantime, the drop-off containers will remain locked and unusable by the public.
“Not only does contamination cost money, as two companies are now involved for proper disposal, but it can place people’s lives at risk, workers’ and users’ of the service,” Haller said. “In addition, residents may be inconvenienced because a container remains full and locked.
“If the bags leaked or broke open, the entire contents may be considered contaminated and would need special disposal at a cost to match,” she continued. “If user behavior does not change, it is possible that this drop-off service will eventually end.”
Contamination occurs when items that are not recyclable are mixed in with correct materials. Under the district’s new contract with Republic Services, the waste hauler will no longer recycle the contents of the drop-off recycling boxes with more than 10 percent contamination; instead, all of the contents will be landfilled at an additional cost.
New drop-off containers featuring locked lids and restricted openings to help discourage contamination will soon replace old containers in Porter County; however, service changes may not stop there if user behavior doesn’t improve.
“Ideally we would like to move to staffed sites, so we can monitor what is placed in the boxes and only accept appropriate material,” Haller said. “This will mean restricted access to the boxes, fewer convenient locations, and a schedule of availability.”
Porter County Recycling, a government agency, operates drop-off recycling sites in Burns Harbor, Chesterton, Valparaiso, Hebron, Boone Grove and Kouts that are well used by residents; some are without access to curbside recycling, like those who live in apartments and condos. Other residents use the drop boxes when their curbside recycling totes overflow with materials.
The drop-off sites accept the same items that Northwest Indiana residents can place in their curbside totes or bins like plastic bottles, tubs and jugs; aluminum and metal cans; glass bottles and jars; cartons; paper and cardboard.
Larger amounts of contamination were acceptable until earlier this year when countries like China, the United States’ largest consumer of recyclables, said it would no longer purchase materials mixed with trash.
The solid waste district isn’t alone in feeling the effects of this international recycling crisis. As contracts with waste haulers get renegotiated, municipalities across Northwest Indiana are faced with this additional contamination challenge and cost.
In order to sell collected recyclables to China and other countries, material recovery facilities (MRFs) around the world that sort recyclables are pushing back at waste haulers, municipalities and residents to greatly reduce contamination or face increased recycling rates and reduced recycling services.
“Now more than ever, we need quality over quantity when it comes to what residents place in their curbside recycling totes,” Haller said. “When in doubt, throw it out.”
Haller said residents should think about their recyclables as products that a company will buy.
“If your materials are not appropriate, empty or clean, no one wants them,” she said. “If you place contamination in your curbside recycling bin or in our drop-off boxes, you are doing everyone a disservice, including the individuals who are recycling right.”
For information on the district’s drop-off recycling program, visit www.PorterCountyRecycling.org.