'Bloomington Recycles: Fact or Fiction?'
After touring two “recycleries” and interviewing at least a dozen public and private officials with responsibility for recycling in Monroe County, the best answer I can give those who asked is:
“Your glass bottles probably are being recycled. But you have to take the word of a $4.5-billion Florida-based waste-hauling corporation on it, an industrial giant that also owns and operates landfills across the country, including one about 50 miles east-northeast of here.
Last in a series
That's the proportion of recyclables collected in Monroe County that actually get remanufactured into something useful, according to the No. 2 man at the Republic Waste Services recyclery in Indianapolis.
"Ninety-three percent of what comes in this plant is recovered and turned into some product that is recycled," said Assistant General Manager Mike Laverty.
Fourth in a series
Of that portion, roughly 20 percent is glass, he said. It's by far the costliest recyclable material to process and has no commercial value, at least not for an operation the size of his.
"It costs me money to ship my glass out," Laverty said. "I don't get paid for glass. It costs me money."
Ask just about any citizen at the Recycling Center how long they have been recycling, why they do it and how they would feel if their recyclables weren’t being recycled, and you get remarkably similar answers.
“As long I’ve lived in Bloomington -- six years,” said Cathleen Paquet, while her friend Elizabeth Gibbs nodded in agreement.
Third in a series
“I think it’s important for our planet, to prevent massive landfills,” said Dale Hartkemeyer, who recently moved to Bloomington from Michigan.
Steve Volan was the only Monroe County Solid Waste Management District board member to give a straight answer when asked if glass and other materials collected at the Recycling Center and rural drop-off sites are recycled or landfilled.
Second in a series
Board members Joyce Poling and Mark Kruzan couldn't respond. Poling did not attend the district's Aug. 7 public hearing on the 2009 budget at which the issue was discussed. Kruzan arrived late and left early, before the conversation arose.
Board member Patrick Stoffers said he believes glass is being recycled but couldn't say for sure.
"Do I know?" he said. "I have never gotten in my vehicle and followed a truck to its final destination."
The Farmers Market may be the only place in town on Saturday mornings that is busier than the Recycling Center on South Walnut Street.
But while the environmentally conscious hordes that inundate the center with glass, plastic, cardboard and other materials believe their meticulously sorted household refuse will be remanufactured into new products, there is no guarantee that they will.
First in a series
Indeed, those who run the place -- the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District -- can't assure recyclers that their milk jugs, wine bottles or Bloomingfoods deli containers won't be dumped in a landfill. Some citizens who have asked questions worry that is exactly what is happening. And they don't like it.
"If it's being landfilled, then the city should know that and be communicating that to the residents and businesses so that we are not wasting our time separating trash for no reason," one concerned citizen familiar with the situation said in an e-mail to the Alternative.