Recycling facility tour reveals complex waste reduction system
By Alex Wilson 12/08/2011
When people run around the track at Ventura High School they might be treading on a surface made from their old shoes. That’s one of the surprising things I learned while investigating exactly what should go into recycling bins.
My wife, Dawn, asked me to find out because of confusion in our own home. We knew that cans, newspapers and glass bottles were recyclable, but what about cardboard covered in colored dyes or the various types of drink containers?
I toured Ventura’s Gold Coast Recycling and Transfer Station to see how recyclables in our curbside bin get separated and shipped off to become new products. It’s affiliated with the county’s largest trash haulers, Harrison Industries, which collects recyclables from across Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, with the exceptions of Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Santa Paula.
I watched recycling trucks drive into a cavernous building. Machines fed the growing pile into huge contraptions that shook and spun it to separate heavier stuff like glass and metal from lighter items like paper and plastic. Workers further separated items passing along conveyor belts and kept a close eye out for things that should be kept out of landfills, like hazardous items and coins.
Nan Drake is director of governmental affairs and public relations and says people are surprised by how much stuff can now be diverted from landfills. “All newspaper, all of your junk mail, including the shiny stuff,” says Drake.
Glass containers are recyclable, with the exception of things like ceramic coffee mugs. “The major user of glass is the wine industry, and you wouldn’t want a piece of pottery in your wine jug,” says Drake.
Styrofoam is not recyclable in Ventura County. Even though it’s possible to recycle it, Drake says it’s not worth the effort. “Diversion is about percentages, so we go after the heavier items,” says Drake. “Styrofoam is like bagging nothing.”
Other things that can’t be recycled are cardboard containers coated in wax that can’t be mixed in with other paper-based products.
Drake says consumer choice can convince companies to stop putting products in containers that can’t be recycled. “If you don’t buy a manufacturer’s product, they get it, and then they go to a different type of material,” says Drake.
They do recycle the thin plastic shopping bags now banned by some cities, but Drake discourages their use because so many blow away and cause environmental problems.
Batteries and broken electronic devices cannot go to landfills. People should drop them off at the facility; and short of that, it’s better to put them in recycling bins instead of mixing with garbage, for easier retrieval.
Hazardous waste like pesticides and paint also needs special handling. Most cities offer periodic drop-off days for that stuff, and Harrison collects them twice a month at its facility.
It also accepts antifreeze and used motor oil at the transfer station located at 5275 Colt St. If people want to make money for their recycling, they can drop it off themselves.
Harrison also handles plant materials that are reused for agricultural products. Food waste may be recycled in the future and used to generate electricity.
After scratching the surface of this topic, it became clear that there’s a lot to it. The laws are changing and mandatory diversion rates will grow from 50 to 75 percent in coming years.
Gold Coast has a website with videos and further explanation at www.goldcoastrecycling.com.
The old athletic shoes go to Nike for use in products that include playground equipment and running tracks.