Space for the recycling center is provided by Haas Builders. PHOTO BY KEELY LARSON

A refresher on the three R’s

And a reminder on the recycling center’s purpose
“Basically the bottom line is, when in doubt throw it out. It would be better to put one or two items into the landfill than contaminate the recycling bins,” Howard said

It appears the fine and thick lines concerning recycling protocol can both be blurred. Recycling is having its moment now and for good reason, but a refresher course on proper etiquette at recycling stations may be timely. More so, a crash course on what those little numbers inside the recycling symbol, that are occasionally impossible to read on an opaque plastic container, would be equally beneficial. Patty Howard, outreach educator with Gallatin Solid Waste Management District (GSWMD) has the basics covered.

“1-7 on plastics doesn’t mean they’re recyclable or not. What it means is what particular type of plastic they’re made from. That just tells you what it is,” she explained. Somewhere deep in the recess of our collective memories there is an old-school, how-to-recycle infomercial running. Howard continued to refresh by describing how plastics labeled with a one are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and number two plastics are composed of high density polyethylene. 

Different processes are used to form these plastics. Blow molding forms a plastic to a mold, producing singular containers like jugs or bottles, labeled number one. Injection molding involves heating a material and inserting it into a mold, creating more solid plastics like laundry detergent containers that can be labeled with either number. 

Resin, or an additive, gives plastics different colors and can affect the rigidity of the container. “A milk jug you can recycle because of its components, but a clamshell you can’t recycle because of its components,” Howard said. A clamshell is crinkly and that characteristic speaks to the low-quality of the plastic used to create it. Howard described how clamshells are made from #1 PET Thermoform plastic, which is not the same as just regular #1 PET plastic. #1 PET Thermoform needs to be heated to a different temperature and therefore recycled separately to avoid affecting the #1 PET plastic recycling process.

GSWMD provides 16 recycling bins throughout Gallatin County. The one in Big Sky is located just off Highway 191, though according to conversations Howard had with people at a recent Farmer’s Market, not a lot of people knew it was there. The recycling center was historically located in the Town Center, but as development progressed, it was removed to provide for more parking spots. People were not happy about this change. “So it was gone and I approached Ciara Wolfe and said, so we really want to do this and what do we need to do to make this happen,” John Haas of Haas Builders stated. 

It was a good thing Haas made this connection. According to a press release from Big Sky Community Organization, “data provided by the Gallatin County Waste Management District reports that 282,900 pounds of recyclables were collected from the Big Sky site in 2018. That is up from 212,280 collected in 2017. Cardboard is the predominant material being recycled, attributing to about 60% of collected materials.”

The recycling bin was reinstated, but new problems developed. People are not always responsible with their use of the recycling center. “We’re trying to figure out a solution. We still get people who drop junk,” Haas mentioned. Additionally, the bins get overflowed and litter covers the ground, allowing the wind to pick up excessive recycling or trash left over. The bin overflow problem, however, has an easy solution. “If there’s ever a problem we definitely get that taken care of within the day we’re called,” Howard reassured. Over the weekend, the area was bursting at its seams. Someone called GVWMD on Monday and the bins were emptied the same day. 

Bernadette Bear of Bear Smart Big Sky would not be pleased with the litter on the ground left by people being overzealous, or maybe a bit impatient, with their recycling goals. If there are too many items in the bins, take the recycling back home. The cost of inconvenience is less than the cost to the environment and wildlife. Also, worst case scenario, if the litter persists the site may be shut down. Haas Builders does maintenance and cares for the area, along with community members who pick up extra trash left behind willingly. There could always be more help in this regard, or people could also remember the recycling center is not a place to leave garbage. 

A landscaping project is due to start in a couple of weeks in the recycling area with services, material and labor donated by Alan McClain with Big Sky Landscaping. “They’re going to clean up all the weeds and put up a fence and make it feel more enclosed. We’re going to put up a nicer sign to try to announce it more,” Haas provided. A larger parking lot will be implemented as well, which will be a great addition in making the area more accessible. Haas feels strongly that this area is here for the long haul and knows it is an important community feature.

The disconnect that happens when people do not realize their garbage cannot go in the recycling area is costly. “They’re conscious enough to go with their recycling, but then they also leave bags of trash,” Haas pointed out. He described the public as being helpful with the policing of each other, even taking to social media to shame those who misuse the site. A camera system has been considered to keep an eye on repeat offenders not respecting the area. 

When you were a kid you may have thought the toilet paper roll just got replaced on its own, or the tooth paste just never ran out. Some continue to have this mentality about recycling. It is not a magical process. When there is a mess at the recycling location, regular people have to clean it up. “We’re super excited to provide this service to the Big Sky community and we hope everyone uses it, and kindly remembers that this is for recycling only and not trash,” Haas said.

This sentiment applies not just to the ground area, but to how much people are thinking about what they put into the bins. Contamination of the bins increases the cost of processing the loads at Four Corners Recycling and if it gets too costly, the facility could go out of business. “They can accept a certain percentage of contamination, but when they take loads that are contaminated, it lowers the value of that load. Unfortunately, if you’re not sure, the best thing to do is to put it in the trash,” Howard said. 

More contamination leads to more human labor in the sorting process and potential damage to the machines at Four Corners Recycling. These machines process, bundle, bail and ship the material to the next recycling facilities in the process. “Basically the bottom line is, when in doubt throw it out. It would be better to put one or two items into the landfill than contaminate the recycling bins,” Howard said. This contamination can have a snowball effect. Once one bin in Big Sky is contaminated, the entire truck load it is dumped into is compromised. It can take as little as one misplaced clamshell in the plastic recycling to ruin a whole load. “Crinkly isn’t recyclable,” Howard reminds.

Down the pipeline, Haas hopes to see those recycling receptacles with aluminum, plastic and trash options all over town, like in larger cities. Four cardboard recycling centers exist in town that are funded by four different developers, Haas explained. GSWMD provides these types of portable recycling disposals for use at public events. Consideration of these at the Farmer’s Market or PBR could make quite an impact.

To sum up the recycling refresher, the other two R’s must be mentioned. Out of reduce, reuse and recycle, reuse may be the most valuable of the three. Reducing and reusing do not involve any amount of carbon or energy expenditure. “Reduce and reuse should be the top two. They are more important than the recycle because you’re trying to give each product a longer lifecycle, and every time you use it you’re expanding the product’s lifecycle and you’re keeping it out of the landfill longer,” Howard said.

It started as a trilogy for a reason.

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