LJWorld Green

Reporter conducts recycling experiment: One week of one person’s garbage adds up in a hurry

The green movement, a rise in the curbside recycling businesses and a demand for paper products in developing country have meant a booming business for Bo Killough, owner of 12th & Haskell Recycle Center. Watch as he sorts through reporter Christine Metz's trash to see what can and cannot get recycled.

September 25, 2008


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Pre-sorting - that is the secret of successful recycling.

If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have told you that for years I had been among the recycling faithful.

I am a compulsive plastic bag reuser. There's a bright orange bag storing them in my kitchen. I have a box for wine and beer bottles, another one for newspapers and magazines, and a bag for soup cans and plastic milk jugs.

One of my favorite weekend chores is the cathartic task of throwing glass bottle against glass bottle at the Wal-Mart Community Recycling Center.

However, this recycling self assessment was before I took on the challenge to track everything I threw out and then schlep it over to the Twelfth & Haskell Recycle Center to see what could be recycled and what couldn't.

For one week, I catalogued - spreadsheet and all - everything I trashed.

I stashed coffee cups and candy wrappers in my office desk drawer so I could take them to the growing heap of trash at home. I put peach peels, tomato bits and tea leaves in a "compost" bag.

And at the end of the week, I went through an overflowing trash can, separating out the chipboard, plastic, paper and metals. Laid out before, my life seemed to be reduced to 9 1/2 pounds of waste and a seemingly dismal mess: 45 napkins and paper towels, nine coffee cups, eight receipts, five candy wrappers, one ticket stub - the list goes on and on.

When I pulled up to the Twelfth & Haskell Recycle Center it was with three times the amount of garbage I usually recycled. I expected to bring at least half of it back home to my garbage can.

The owner, Bo Killough, had been one of the few people in town willing to go through my week's worth of trash (not an appealing task, I know).

On the site of an old salvaged yard, Killough's business started with recycling metals and aluminum cans. It took off three years ago when the Wal-Mart recycling center shut down for a few months. Killough set up cardboard boxes for paper and plastic products.

Now the business ships out a semi-trailer full of chipboard, plastic and office paper every 10 days.

A combination of the green movement, a rising demand for paper products in developing countries and growth in the local curbside recycling business has seen Killough's business boom by a third every year.

The recycling center pays for metals, allows for different kinds of plastics to be mixed together and has a rather short list of what it doesn't accept. Among them are rubber tires, propane tanks and wood.

In my case, Killough took everything but the inner tube of an old bike tire. Everything included packaging for a new set of sponges, pastry bags, tea bag wrappers, tinfoil and junk mail.

I was shocked that so much of my waste - those inconspicuous plastic wrappers and paper packaging - could actually be recycled.

I do have one confession to make. I left my 1 1/2 pound bag of compost at home (something the recycling center doesn't take). After a few days of trying to find a place where my food scraps could return to the earth peacefully, the smell was so strong I caught waves of odor as soon as I walked in the front door.

My green resolve dissipated. I threw it in the garbage can.

But, I figured 1 1/2 pounds was better than nine.


Danielle Brunin 9 years, 9 months ago

For people without yards, I recommend vermicomposting. It takes very little space, doesn't smell, and the kids love it!http://www.unclejim.com/planetnatural.com I've ordered from both and Uncle Jim's Worm Farm was cheaper, and the worms were better quality.

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