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Science and the Environment

Tracking Trash Series Part Two: Recycling in Springfield

On Saturday mornings, the City of Springfield’s Lone Pine Recycling Center is a hub of activity.  Although the center and the Recycling Center just northwest of Chestnut and Broadway are open Tuesday thru Saturday, the weekend is when more people can take the time to drop off their recyclable items.  It’s here where things that otherwise would have gone into the landfill are collected, shipped off and turned into new items.

Barbara Lucks, materials recovery and education coordinator with the city, says around 4200 tons of recyclables are collected each year.  That includes aluminum, tin, glass, plastics 1-7, mixed paper and cardboard.  You can also take yard waste to the sites and to the Yardwaste Recycling Center west of Springfield.

Lucks says they work through contractors to find end users for the recyclable material.  Nestle-Purina has plant in Springfield that uses the mixed paper collected in the city.  It’s a $3 million, 33,000 square foot facility that Lucks says would not be here if the city didn’t have a strong recycling program…

"And one that they could see we were serious about continuing and had a really strong education element so they felt like it would grow." 

The company makes pet litter—Yesterday’s News Cat Litter is made up of 100% recycled material, which includes mixed paper, corrugated cardboard from Nestle-Purina plants and reclaimed industrial sawdust.  They also make Second Nature Brand Dog Litter.  Mark Brodeur is director of sustainability for Nestle-Purina…

"Springfield has been a very important community for us in helping us make this product." 

The city bids out the other products.  Lucks says they look for someone who will set up bins or give them prices on setting up bins, transport the recyclables and then process and market the new product.  She says they depend on their contractors to find the best markets, and the ones they’ve had the last several years have been in the business awhile and have strong contacts built up…

"Even during the worst of the market crash for recyclables, they had good markets and we were able to continue taking material, and they were able to continue to find a market for it." 

So, what exactly is our garbage turned into?  Glass goes to Kansas City.  Once the City of Springfield found a viable market for it, the cost for recycling glass went from $30,000 a year to practically nothing.  A company in Kansas City comes to Springfield to pick up the glass and uses it to make fiberglass insulation…

"Since they aren't charging us, I'm able to offer the glass recycling service to the outlying communities--we've got wineries.  The downtown entertainment district has 20 bars and restaurants on a glass recycling program, so it has really put the life back into glass recycling in our region." 

The city gets paid for metals, which go back into being metal.  Plastics are made into things like carpeting, clothing, decking materials, shingles and outdoor furniture.

And it isn’t just the city’s recycling centers that are taking in recyclable materials.  The city’s trash haulers are required to offer curbside recycling, though participation by customers is voluntary and haulers are allowed to charge a fee to cover their expenses. 

Lucks isn’t sure just how many of Springfield’s residents are recycling on a regular basis.  But she says volume is increasing and so are calls to the city’s recycling hotline.

But she says as individuals, we can always do better…

"I think more people are recycling and are recycling more materials but as far as I'm concerned until everybody is, or at least 90%, we could still be doing a lot better." 

According to Lucks, there are two main obstacles to getting people to recycle…

"People either think it's really hard or they think it costs money." 

More businesses are recycling.  In the last two to three years, The Integrated Solid Waste Management System has helped more than 100 businesses a year implement recycling programs. 

Lucks says she doesn’t know if recycling will ever be mandated in Springfield, although it has been discussed.  She says she prefers that people do it voluntarily.  And once they do, she says, and once they get into the habit, it becomes routine.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.