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Curbside recyclables mistakenly not recycled: Solid waste district switches to a different recycling facility

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Recycling bins

Recycling bins on downtown city streets are collected by the Canyonlands Solid Waste Authority. [Rachel Fixsen / Moab Sun News]

Single-stream recyclables from Grand County will now be delivered to a facility in Denver, after the local solid waste district realized that the Salt Lake City facility it had been using was not recycling glass.

The Solid Waste Special Service District # 1, recently renamed the Canyonlands Solid Waste Authority, has managed waste in Grand County since 1993. It operates two landfills in the county, as well as the Community Recycle Center on Sand Flats Road, where Grand County residents can drop off sorted recyclables.

This spring, the district also took over waste collection in the county, buying out Monument Waste Services, which had been serving the county up until then. The district promised to maintain the services offered by Monument Waste, including curbside garbage and single-stream recycling collection. The single stream-recycling collection does not get processed through the Community Recycle Center, a source-separated facility where residents can choose to bring their recyclables.

According to an Oct. 29 press release from the Solid Waste Special Service District #1, since September of 2020, single-stream recyclables collected in Grand County and Moab City were taken to a materials recovery facility in Salt Lake City owned by Waste Management, a Texas-based waste services company that operates all over North America. When the district took over local recycling collection this spring, it continued to use the same facility.

“Prior and subsequent to the [Monument Waste Services] acquisition, [Canyonlands Solid Waste Authority] was informed and understood from Waste Management that all single-stream recyclables being collected locally were accepted and recovered at the Salt Lake City [materials recovery facility] for recycling,” according to the Oct. 29 press release from the district. Recently, the district learned that “it has been misinformed,” and that the materials recovery facility in Salt Lake City does not recycle glass.

“Glass recycling rules vary by city, county and state,” said Vicki Gomes, spokesperson for Waste Management in the Four Corners area. She explained that Salt Lake City contracts with another company, Momentum Recycling, to process glass separately from other mixed recycling; single-stream materials recovery facilities in the area don’t have the equipment to separate glass from single-stream recycling.

According to a 2018 brief from the National Waste and Recycling Association, about 20% of material recovery facilities nationwide no longer accept glass, due to issues with contamination and low value.

Gomes said misinformation was unintentionally provided to the Canyonlands Solid Waste Authority about the facility’s ability to process glass.

“As soon as we were aware that misinformation was provided, we contacted our customer to apologize,” Gomes said in an email to the Sun News. “We sincerely regret this unfortunate incident and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

When Canyonlands Solid Waste Authority learned that the glass was not being processed at the Salt Lake City Waste Management facility, it “immediately stopped transporting single-stream recyclables to the Salt Lake City [materials recycling facility],” says the press release from the district. Instead, starting this month, the district will take single-stream recyclables to a facility in Denver operated by a company called GFL Environmental, Inc. The glass received at the GFL Environmental facility is transferred to Momentum Recycling, another waste processing company, and is mostly used in the production of new glass bottles. Some of the glass is also used to make fiberglass insulation. The district’s press release says representatives from Canyonlands Solid Waste Authority plan to soon visit the Denver facility to confirm that the single-stream recyclables “are being recovered and recycled to their fullest extent.”

Solid Waste Special Service District #1 Manager Evan Tyrrell acknowledged that transportation costs will be higher to deliver the materials to Denver (about 350 miles) rather than Salt Lake City (about 230 miles). The district is still working out the details on that issue, Tyrrell said.

Grand County residents may choose to drop off sorted recyclables at the Community Recycle Center on Sand Flats Road. Those materials are sold based on market conditions. The center may choose to store some materials for some time to wait for favorable prices, sell different materials to different buyers, and switch buyers based on the best values available.

The National Waste and Recycling Association compares the advantages and disadvantages of single-stream and source-separated recycling: Single-stream is easier for the public and reduces collection costs, but it also increases processing costs and the rate of contamination of materials.

Local recycling advocate and founder of the nonprofit Moab Solutions Sara Melnicoff hopes to see the county shift away from single-stream recycling and expand the Community Recycle Center. Not only is the rate of contamination increased when recyclables are combined and compacted together, she said, but single-stream recycling devalues the activity of recycling itself.

When people sort their own recyclables, Melnicoff said, they’re more aware of how much disposable material they’re using, and more likely to seek out ways to reduce: filling a large container with filtered water from local outdoor shop Gear Heads, for example, or refilling containers at local cooperative Moonflower Market. She’s been visiting the Community Recycle Center regularly since 2000, and she says it’s a community hub where she often runs into and chats with acquaintances. Curbside single-stream doesn’t allow for that.

“It’s like the difference between Wonderbread and handmade bread from a really good baker,” Melnicoff said to describe the difference between hands-off single-stream recycling and engaged source-separated recycling.

Tyrrell declined to comment further on the misunderstanding regarding the Salt Lake City facility’s ability to recycle glass.