As we focus on the Environment this month, we asked Cathy Williams from the Wayne Union Recycle Board to discuss the waste treatment and recycling processes in Wayne and Union Counties.
A little history to begin with about WUR. The state Legislature created SWMD’s (solid waste management districts) back in the 1990’s as they feared that the state landfills would be filling up and then what would we do with all the trash/waste we were creating. Wayne, Union and Randolph counties were the 3 in our original SWMD, but as time passed and circumstances changed Randolph dropped out and created their own SWMD and so we became WUR, Wayne Union Recycle.
Let’s “talk trash” BUT in a nice way. How many times have you driven along county or city roads and streets and seen the trash that people unthinkingly OR uncaringly throw out their vehicle window? I think you would be “hard pressed” to find any road or street today with NO trash or debris alongside the roadway or in the ditches. We have laws against this, but people do it anyway. Litter is just the “tip of the iceberg” as recycling, renewing and preserving our natural resources go. We have got to change the mindset that it’s ok to throw trash out your vehicle window “out of sight out of mind” because IT’S NOT OK.
Recycling seems to follow that same mindset. We send everything to the landfill and once it’s out of sight it’s definitely “out of mind”. We need to preserve the resources we have, or they may be gone forever. The more we can share the importance of recycling, the greater the impact we can have reducing our waste and protecting our earth for current and future generations.
We like to call our current materials system a linear system (aka throwaway culture) because we take raw materials, make them into products, use them once or for a short period of time, and throw them away. Take, make, waste.
So, what’s the big deal? It might be kind of gross and possibly even smell bad, but once you throw your trash in the dumpster, it goes away—out of sight, out of mind, right?
Trash doesn’t just go away when you put it in the bin. In the US, we have two main ways to dispose of trash (that isn’t composted, recycled, or otherwise reused)—landfilling and incineration. Both options cause pollution that contaminates our air, water, and soil—and not just that of those who live near these facilities. Incineration can release toxic substances such as lead, mercury, particulate matter (which can cause asthma, lung disease, cancer, and heart damage), and other chemicals into the air and water. Landfills can also leak toxic chemicals into our water systems, oftentimes the very water systems we drink from. Thanks to federal legislation, landfills have done a lot to mitigate pollution. But the potential for leaks still exists.
Limited Natural Resources
Everything we use and buy takes natural resources to produce—many of which are finite resources in limited supply. This includes not only the resources needed to make the physical product, but also the hidden energy and water that that go into producing, distributing, and using those products. For example, you might think about a bottle of water as 12 oz of water. But, it takes nearly 1.5 gallons of water to make the plastic bottle holding the water.
In addition to environmental problems, disposing of waste is, quite literally, throwing valuable materials, economic activity, and jobs in the trash. You heard that right: keeping materials out of the trash creates jobs.
Waste isn’t just something to get rid of—it has value. One great example of the value in our waste is recycling. In 2020, recycling generated over $5 billion dollars in economic impact and fueled 22,000 jobs in the state of Indiana alone. Yet Indiana’s current recycling rate is only 19.1%. We need to stop thinking about materials as disposable, or something that only has use for a few years—or days, or even minutes. We should see materials as valuable commodities that can be used to make new and useful products over and over again. In this way we can transform the linear economy into a circular economy!
Recycling alone creates 10 times as many jobs as landfilling or incinerating trash. Think about it this way—it takes only one step to get your trash from your bin to the landfill. Recycling takes many steps (sorting, transporting, processing materials, and making new products). That’s why many more people and jobs are involved.
WUR places a higher value on rethinking the way we interact with materials to eliminate waste before it is created, to re-design products to be durable, reusable or recyclable, and to repair or remanufacture rather than making something new.
So yes, please recycle. But don’t stop there. You should always rethink, reduce, repair, or reuse however you can before recycling.
Here are some of the ways in which WUR helps to support recycling in our counties and communities:
- Pay for the recycling costs at both the Wayne and Union County Transfer Stations
- Pay for recycling for K-12 public schools outside of the Richmond Sanitary District and at the Union County school buildings in Liberty
- Provide recycled materials for students at Wayne County Conservation Days (3rd/4th grade) and Union County AG Day (3rd grade)
- Educator providing education and recycled content materials at local fairs/events
- “Where can things go for reuse, recycle, or disposal?” guide for Wayne and Union Counties is updated as needed or by Intern when available
- Provide information through www.waste-not.org and www.facebook.com/WURSWMD
- Educator is usually first contact when someone has question on disposal of materials, works to find a solution when possible.
- Educator writes grants to hold special collections or recycling projects
- WUR works to partner with other groups and hold special collection events such as:
Document shredding, E-waste Collection, Tox-Away Days and Tire Collection
10. Provide recycled glass awards for the Recycling 4-H projects in Wayne and Union County
11. Compile and submit data annually for amount of recycling materials collected and special collections into ReTrac for IDEM
12. Promote recycling and proper disposal through education, newspapers, annual reports, billboards, and other media.
I hope this blog will challenge all of us to remember the adage “waste not, want not” and what that truly means!
For more information to reduce reuse, recycle, please go to the following website: circularindiana.org/support-us