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County to cease plastic recycling


February 8, 2018

The entire globe is feeling the effects of China’s ban on importing the world’s recyclable plastics, which commenced the first of the year. The trickle effect is unfortunately being felt at each level as it passes down from worldwide to nationwide, to statewide, and finally reaching us on a countywide scale.

And so it goes, Sanders County Solid Waste is no longer accepting plastics for recycling.

Following Sanders County recycled plastics to the market is quite simple. Plastics start at the disposal center and are marked as recyclable. Like most rural refuse sites, these plastics are sorted, bailed, and then transported to bigger cities, in our case Missoula.

Now, apply basic economics and you will see the problem. What has currently transpired is a high cost to handle and transport the material, with no market to sell it.

Under the current situation, no matter how the plastic is handled, its demise has only one option – the landfill. It is here where most plastics will sit for 450 to 1,000 years before decomposing.

“Sanders County has been taking a (financial) loss, and it was a very painful decision for the Solid Waste Board to end this program,” members of the county recycling staff said in a statement.

The county’s solid waste board is made up of some “avid recyclers,” so you can imagine the heartfelt regret they had when making the decision. They also have an obligation to be responsible with taxpayers’ money. This program just did not make sense, no matter how they looked at it.

“We have been taking plastic we just can’t sell, and to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, we will currently have to quit taking it,” said Jason Peterson, Sanders County Solid Waste Supervisor.

Although it seems like all the blame could be put on China, “we are at fault for mismanaging our plastics over the years, and now we are paying for it,” county recycling staff commented. The days of burying our waste cheaply, with little accountability from producers of such items, may come to an end.

One example is the large quantities of packaging materials used and disposed of without a second thought. Estimates from the National Waste and Recycling Association calculate that packaging comprises 30 percent of all waste.

Board member and County Commissioner Carol Brooker emphasized that this dilemma does not belong to Sanders County alone. “The whole U.S. is in this bind, and it makes me sad.” She encourages residents to continue recycling the items the department is taking. “We will reintroduce the program as soon as we can,” she stated with regards to plastic recycling.

Dusti Johnson, Montana Department of Environmental Quality Materials Management Specialist, believes now might be the time to find other ways to buy or make products such as laundry soap, condiments and other items traditionally packaged in plastic containers. There are plenty of books and online resources featuring recipes for making homemade detergents, shampoos, conditioners and condiments that are healthier for both the body and environment.

The recycling staff said that although many plastics are no longer acceptable for recycling, two recycling centers in Missoula allow coded 1 and 2 plastics, but they will have to be delivered by personal means. Republic Services can be reached at (406) 721-1120 and Pacific Recycling at (406) 543-7280. Recyclers are encouraged to contact these businesses before taking recyclables to clarify material acceptance.

Republic Services provides sorting bins available 24 hours a day, every day, and accepts number 1 PETE and 2 HDPE Natural only. Pacific Recycling is accepting number 1 and 2 bottles of any color, with mouths smaller than bases only. Lids are not recyclable. Oil bottles are not accepted because oil permanently contaminates the plastics.

Sanders County Solid Waste will continue to recycle all batteries, clean and flattened cardboard, mixed paper, vehicle oil, aluminum beverage cans, and metal. Questions can be directed to Kathy Conlin, Sanders County Solid Waste, at (406) 827-6942, or Johnson at (406) 444-6499.


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