Don't Bury Your Problems

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Landfills are A) An increasingly expensive strategy for solid waste disposal. B) A potential source of groundwater contamination and methane pollution. C) A possible source of raw materials for manufacturing in the future. D) All of the Above.
My answer was D.

Recycling is one way to reduce many of the problems posed by landfills. While recycling isn't perfect, it diverts valuable materials and toxic substances from being buried in an unreliable grave.

Recycling is a subject which seems to have been discussed to death, but many people know very little about it and a large percentage of us still don't recycle, but instead keep throwing it all away. I've read a lot about recycling, but I still had some questions which I posed to the staff at the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station (BuRRT) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Some of these answers are specific to Santa Fe, but many of them are true anywhere.

EcoNewMexico: What percentage of Santa Fe Households recycle?
BuRRT: The last analysis of curbside recycling participation was done in 2003 which said that about 40% of Santa Feans recycle. Unfortunately, determining how many people recycle isn't an easy task as not all households put out recycling on every pickup day. An estimate of 30% is probably realistic number for Santa Fe.

EcoNewMexico: Where do our recycled materials go?
BuRRT: Paper is sent to Snowflake, AZ. Corrugated Cardboard goes to Pruitt, NM. Type 1 & 2 plastics are shipped to Chino, CA and Sommerville, GA. Currently, BuRRT is seeking a buyer for aluminum and tin.

EcoNewMexico: Why can't we recycle Paperboard?
BuRRT: Paperboard is a very low quality material, with short fibers and lots of glue. Recycling paperboard gets at best 20% efficiency with 80% waste, making it unsuitable for recycling.

EcoNewMexico: Why don't we recycle Plastic other than Type 1 & 2?
BuRRT: Look through the plastic you consume at home and you will see a lot of type 1 & 2 plastic. You will find very little of type 3, 4 & 5 plastics in the average home. With large volumes of type 1 & 2 plastics it is much easier to find buyers for those materials and achieve better economy of scale. With the low quantities of type 3, 4 & 5 plastic generated it is very hard to find consumers for that plastic.

EcoNewMexico: What materials may we be recycling in the future?
BuRRT: We have just started year-round collection of phone books. The phone books are currently being reused to make cellulose insulation in homes by a company based in Phoenix, Arizona. Being able to recycle new materials depends on finding markets and buyers for those materials.

EcoNewMexico: How much material is diverted from the landfill by recycling?
BuRRT: Curbside Recycling diverts 4,000 Tons from the landfill annually, approximately 4% of the total volume. 500 Tons of Green Waste is diverted from the landfill per month and is chipped into landscape mulch.

EcoNewMexico: What are the most common reasons people give for not recycling?
BuRRT: Some people feel that recycling is inconvenient and confusing. Information for Santa Feans on recyclable materials can be found Here. To get a residential recycling bin call call 505-955-2200 and visit Here.

EcoNewMexico: How do you encourage people to recycle?
BuRRT: Recycling fights Climate change, it saves water, energy and reduces CO2 emissions. Recycling keeps commodity materials out of the landfill and helps generate revenue for the city.

EcoNewMexico: When is the next Household Hazardous Waste Day?
BuRRT: April 20, 2008 is the next opportunity for Santa Feans to bring any toxic chemicals or hazardous materials to BuRRT for free and safe disposal. Household Hazardous Waste Day is very important to Santa Fe as it keeps toxic chemicals out of the groundwater or from polluting the air due to improper disposal or burning.

Please remember that recycling alone is not the answer. The first two points of the cycle are to reduce and reuse. Reducing waste and excessive consumption of materials and energy together with recycling lead toward a sustainable future.

More Info

GrassRoots Recycling Network

National Recycling Coalition

Recycle New Mexico

Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency