In our area, many regularly observe Earth Day by quietly supporting Tri-County Recycling.
On Tuesdays, at the old nursing home on Highway 9 in Salem, a small green trailer sits at the edge of the parking lot, often with doors open and bags sticking out of it.
The trailer contains five separate compartments to hold recycled bottles, cans and paper. People involved in recycling programs usually call it a "Pro-tainer," which is the name of a company that makes the trailers.
While there are no signs proclaiming "recycling day" or directing people to the recycling receptacle, a surprising number of people find the trailer and use it regularly.
"When we moved here three years ago, I didn't know recycling was available until a lady came in the South Fork restaurant and started talking about the weekly recycling," said Patty Horner, as she dumped a bag full of clear plastic bottles into a bin in the Pro-tainer.
"I try to recycle everything I can, storing it at my home and coming here about every two weeks, when I have a big load," Horner explained.
Horner got into the habit of recycling after living in several large U.S. cities and Europe.
In North Carolina, Horner could dump all of her recyclables into a container, without sorting them, and the container would be picked up at the curb in front of her house.
According to Horner, "recycling is everywhere in Europe."
But, here in the Ozarks?
"I encourage neighbors to recycle but most don't," said Horner. "People aren't used to it."
They should be, since recycling came to Fulton, Izard and Sharp Counties in 1991. That is the year an Arkansas law was passed, meeting a federal mandate that every city and county begin some sort of recycling collection program.
County Judges in Fulton, Izard and Sharp Counties decided to work together, since they could not afford to operate three separate programs, and Tri-County Recycling was formed.
"Tri-County is a little unusual in that it is a stand alone organization," said Sara Sexton, Recycling Coordinator for the White River Regional Solid Waste District. "Since it is not a city or county government agency, it has to run like a business and make its own payroll and cover operating costs. That is not easy to do."
Tri-County Recycling does get yearly funding from the three counties and some cities and occasional grants from White River, but it depends on collecting and selling recycled materials to stay afloat.
"We get about a million pounds a year of cardboard, paper, plastic and cans," said Steve Penny, manager of Tri-County Recycling. "The amount has been increasing and the prices we get from selling the recycling has been pretty good lately, especially for cardboard."
"They (Tri-County Recycling) are making money right now, so we hope we will have to contribute only $3,000 this year," Izard County Judge David Sherrell told an April 5 Quorum Court meeting. "We have appropriated the full amount we usually pay, $5,000, but will keep $2,000 in reserve, unless they need it."
Fulton County Judge Charles Willett says strong recycling collections and good prices for selling recycled materials are good news for county budgets.
"For years, Fulton County paid $15,000 a year to help keep the recycling program going," said Willett. "This year, our share is only going to be $3,000. That is a big help, since money is tight."
Mammoth Spring Mayor Jean Pace, who is also Chairwoman of the Board of Governors, is quick to say Tri-County is not exactly "making money."
"We are holding our own, especially since cardboard prices are up," said Pace. "The problem is, the price for recycled materials fluctuates. We keep a line of credit with a bank to help us through, when prices are down. One time, we owed $30,000. We had to borrow to keep operations going."
But, after 20 years, Tri-County has survived and is meeting its goal of recycling materials that would be taking up valuable space in the landfill.
While cities and counties are required to offer recycling, some do more than others to encourage citizens to participate.
"Cherokee Village has a great system," Penney said. "No other town even comes close to the amount it recycles."
On Wednesdays, from 9 a.m. to noon, Tri-County brings trailers to the Town Center. Volunteers run the program, collecting and sorting the items citizens drop off.
"During the three hour period, we usually collect over one ton of newspaper and paper, a half ton of cardboard and a quarter bale of plastic," Penny said.
Ash Flat and Mammoth Spring both get high marks for allowing people to drop off recycling anytime by placing bags under carports, allowing city workers and volunteers to sort the items and place them in proper bins.
Ash Flat's recycling center is at the Fire Station on Arnhart Street.
Mammoth Spring's center is at 180 North 4th Street.
Horseshoe Bend uses volunteers to collect and sort on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at 704 West Commerce.
Mammoth Spring and other cities also put containers at businesses that generate a lot of cardboard and paper and the containers are emptied regularly.
"We really need people to help us out and put plastic, paper and cans in the right bins," Penny pleaded. "There is only me and two other people here at Tri-County to make pick ups and bail the recycled materials for sale."
When people fill a can compartment with plastic, for example, or, even worse, dump garbage into Pro-tainers, everything dropped off often winds up in the landfill. Tri-County workers don't always have time to sort it out.
Salem and Viola share a Pro-tainer, with Salem open for drop offs on Tuesday and Viola on Thursday at City Hall.
Neither site currently accepts cardboard. That is because people continually polluted the cardboard trailer by throwing garbage, old televisions, microwaves and other non-recyclable items on it.
"A lot of people are really dedicated to recycling but, unfortunately, some see a recycling site as a place to get rid of their trash," said Penny.
Up until this year, Melbourne did not have a recycling site.
The White River Regional Solid Waste District has furnished a trailer and inmates at the Izard County Detention Center help run a drop off point at the Sherriff's Office on Tuesdays between 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Jean Pace estimates that, in most areas, fewer than 30% of citizens recycle, but she has seen more people in her city participate since it devised a system to allow for drop offs at any time.
"The amount of materials Tri-County collects each year, about one million pounds, is a good amount for three counties with lots of rural area," Sexton said. "It's a valuable service for the three counties."
Back at Salem's recycling site, Patty Horner wishes the city will start accepting cardboard again and that more could be done to get the word out recycling is available.
White River Recycling Coordinator Sarah Sexton agrees the biggest weakness in rural recycling programs is the lack of money for promotion.
"Our biggest need is education and awareness, to get more people involved in recycling," said Sexton.