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Monday, May 2, 2016

More than you think goes into recycling

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Each week, hundreds of people in our area take materials to recycling drop off points, instead of tossing them in trash bags to be buried in the landfill.

But what happens to all those bottles, cans, paper and cardboard, once it is dropped off?

"Come on back. Come on back," Steve Penney says as he guides a truck backing a utility trailer into a metal building on Landfill Road.

Penney is manager of the Tri-County Recycling Center and the metal building on the edge of the landfill is where all of the recycled materials collected at eight area cities winds up.

Tri-County Recycling is the organization formed in 1991 by Fulton, Izard and Sharp Counties to jointly run a recycling program, required by federal and state governments.

Penney and two employees, Doug Sutherland and Kevin House, are responsible for organizing and bailing recycled materials, so they can be sold to companies which reuse the recycled materials.

On this day, House headed to Hardy, in a big truck with a large trailer attached. He will make about ten stops in the Hardy area to pick up cardboard and paper that the post office, a bank and several restaurants and businesses save for recycling.

While Penney helps unload a trailer full of paper and cans a citizen has brought in, Sutherland puts cardboard in a press, a machine which compresses the material and holds it in place so metal straps can be wrapped around to make large bundles to be sold.

"We take in about a million pounds a year," said Penney, "so that's a lot to bundle and keep track of. When we have enough cardboard or cans or plastic, we call our broker who sells the load."

The broker keeps track of the companies that buy recycling and try to get the best prices for materials Tri-County has to sell.

"The things people drop off are shipped all over the country," said Penney. "Our cardboard usually goes to International Paper plants in Arkansas and Louisiana. Plastic goes to different mills. We often sell to a company in Michigan but it just depends on who is buying at the time."

"I cannot believe it! We've been in the hole for so long," exclaimed Mammoth Spring Mayor Jean Pace at a recent meeting of the Tri-County Recycling Board of Directors.

Pace, who is board chairwoman, was celebrating the fact that prices for recycled materials have been good recently, especially cardboard prices.

As a result, the board had just paid off its line of credit, and actually had $15,000 in the bank.

"Right now, newspaper is up. We're getting $145 a ton and cardboard has dropped a little to $140 a ton," Penney reported to the board.

"Those are wonderful prices," Pace responded.

Board Secretary Jimmy Chandler of Cherokee Village had his fingers crossed the trend will continue.

"We've got a good balance," said Chandler. "Let's hope we can keep breaking even or staying close."

Board members are used to more bad news than good, when it comes to prices for recycling.

While cardboard has recently been worth $140 to $150 a ton, it often plunges to $40 a ton.

Two years ago, it dropped to just $5 a ton.

"It's hard to make a budget when you don't know what the prices for recycling are going to be," explained Paul Sulser of Horseshoe Bend.

While counties and towns budget money to help Tri-County Recycling operate, the organization depends greatly on income from sales.

When prices get really low, as they did a year ago, Tri-County has to borrow money, using a line of credit, to make payroll and cover expenses.

During the board meeting, Penny suggests using some unspent grant money to "top out" two trailers used to haul cardboard. Adding higher metal walls will allow more cardboard to be collected per trip.

"With the price of fuel as high as it is, I'm for carrying all we can carry," said Izard County Judge David Sherrell.

Other board members agreed and the motion passed.

While Penney likes to see as much recycling as possible come through the center, he said he and his two member staff are handling about as much as they physically can.

Penney said people who take the time to recycle can help by making sure the bottles and cans they drop off are deposited in the correct bins.

The center does not have much time to sort through containers to make sure clear bottles and colored bottles have been dumped into their designated bins or tin cans aren't in the aluminim can bin.

When a company buys a load of clear plastic bottles, that is what it expects to receive. A very low percentage of colored bottle contamination is allowed.

The center sometimes makes "scrap bales." a mixture of recycling materials that the buyer sorts, but they are sold at very low prices.

Most often, if the recycling center receives a trailer that is full of problems, like items in wrong bins or trash in bins, the contents of the whole trailer is sent to the nearby landfill, because of the lack of manpower to sort it.

"It is really frustrating when people go to the trouble of dropping off recycling and others don't bother to property sort their recycling or use the trailer to dump their trash." said Penney.

Cherokee Village, Horseshoe Bend, Mammoth Spring, Ash Flat are given high marks for the filled recycling trailers they deliver to the center. Those cities all use volunteers and city employees who accept recycling and put separate materials into bins themselves, to cut down on contamination.

Penney, who has managed the Tri-County Recycling Center for four years, is a retired plumber and didn't consider himself a "tree hugger" when the took the job.

"I never thought much about the importance of recycling," said Penney. "But I feel good about how much stuff we keep out of the landfill. When we help recycle materials, we are saving trees and reusing resources instead of using up resources. I'm proud of it."

Then it's back to work. There are still piles of materials that need compacting and bundling, new recycling contributions will be arriving and a truck is scheduled to pick up bundles of used plastic that will be turned into new bottles, carpeting and other products.

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