Proper use needed at recycling depots

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They say you can learn a lot about a society by going through its garbage. The same can be said about going through a recycling depot. I recently spent the better part of a day wading through cardboard and other materials left at a local recycling depot and that has given me a pretty good picture of who is using it and why.

Regardless of the cultural connotations of our discarded packaging, people use recycling depots for different reasons. For some it's the environmental concern and for others it's a cost savings measure. But for some, unfortunately, it appears to just be a way to get rid of stuff they don't know what to do with or want to pay to get rid of properly.

In accordance with state law, the Walla Walla County Solid Waste Management Plan outlines what we do with our solid waste in the county, including how we address our recyclable waste. Under the plan, the city is the designated urban population center for the county and must offer a level of service for recycling (i.e. curbside service) that is more robust than in areas outside the city limits.

Many people are aware there are recycling depots in our area to encourage residential recycling efforts for people who are not able to participate in curbside service. That includes people who live in apartment complexes of 10 or more units in the city limits or people who live outside the city limits.

There are three recycling depots in the city in areas to serve apartment dwellers and three additional depots to serve residents in outlying areas. These six depots are serviced by a correctional work crew with funding from a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology.

All of the depots we have are heavily used and it is encouraging to see so many people recycling. However, heavy use of a depot is not to be considered a victory in itself. The proper use of a recycling depot is the true measure of a successful program. Not only is it important to exclusively drop off items that are accepted at the depot, it is also critical for users to exercise depot etiquette. If a depot becomes a nuisance or receives unacceptable materials there is a risk that the depot will be removed. Also, the added cost for disposal of non-recyclable materials puts a strain on the program's meager budget.

In order to continue offering residents of our area the opportunity to recycle to the greatest extent possible, we would like to present the following rules and etiquette for our depots:

Depots are only for residentially generated recyclables within Walla Walla County. Businesses need to contract with a local recycling company that can provide service for commercially generated recyclables. Residents outside the county should contact their refuse collection provider to see if recycling service is offered.

Only leave items that are listed on the containers at the depot. No styrofoam (blocks or peanuts), lumber, glass, plastic bags, garbage, miscellaneous household items, used motor oil or other chemicals should be left. It is dangerous for the crew servicing the depot, and contamination caused by unacceptable items will mean the material has to be sent to the land fill rather than the recycling center. Leaving items that are not listed on the containers is considered illegal dumping, and people caught doing so will be cited. The Household Hazardous Waste facility located at Sudbury Landfill can take residentially generated moderate risk materials for free, including motor oil, antifreeze, car batteries, paint, and other items. Call 527-3746 for more information. Styrofoam peanuts can be recycled at local shipping service businesses. Call 524-4549 to discuss options for other hard-to-recycle items.

Only leave a reasonable quantity of items at each visit. A reasonable quantity is defined as what is normally generated by a household on a weekly basis. Depositing large quantities that have been accumulating for months or even years is not allowed and causes the depot to become over-burdened in between service dates. If you have a large quantity of cardboard boxes generated from moving, they should be taken directly to the local recycling center at 827 N. 12th Ave., or left in smaller batches over multiple weeks at the depot.

Flatten all cardboard and place in the container labeled "cardboard." Do not leave boxes or flattened cardboard on the ground as it can easily become flying debris and become dangerous not to mention a mess; larger boxes may need to be cut into smaller pieces to fit in the container properly. Do not leave packing materials such as Styrofoam, binding straps, or plastic bags inside of boxes.

Only leave clean, uncontaminated items. For example, cardboard that has been soiled by food, oil, or other leaking items should not be left at the depot. Exercise good judgment about lightly rinsing cans and plastic containers and don't leave food in packages to avoid attracting pests and causing odors.

Do not leave any items on the ground outside of the containers. If the depot is full, take your items to another depot or the recycling center or save your items until the depot has been cleaned out, typically once a week. Leaving items on the ground is considered illegal dumping regardless if the material is an accepted item or not.

Do not remove items that have been placed at the depot. It is illegal to remove items for purposes of mischief or profit once they have been left at the depot. Of course, we'll make an exception if you're being a good steward by picking up garbage and disposing of it properly.

Do not leave items inside garbage bags or other plastic bags. Plastic bags are not recyclable at the depots and create handling issues and garbage the crew has to deal with when servicing the depots. Empty your bagged material into the appropriate container and then take the bag home to reuse for next time or dispose of it in your garbage.

Report observed inappropriate use or illegal dumping at the depot. Since depots do not have attendants and operate on an honor system, it is up to the users to help ensure responsible use of the sites. Concerns about the depots should be reported to 524-4549.

We are in the process of evaluating the depot system in our area and working to make them more efficient, effective, and user-friendly. Replacing containers that are broken or inadequately sized and moving depot locations to areas that more accurately reflect the intended purpose are two goals that we hope to accomplish by the end of the year.

We also plan to install better signage at all the locations to help users become more knowledgeable about the depots and the benefits they provide to our area.

If you have suggestions for depot locations or other improvements to the depot system, please contact me at mwarner@ci.walla-walla.wa.us or 524-4549. I want to make sure that the depot system reflects the needs of our community at large and welcome your input.

In the meantime, please, no more mummified carcasses of dead cats included with the items dropped off at the depots. Thank you.

Melissa Warner is the city of Walla Walla's sustainability coordinator.

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