Contamination can’t be recycled

Recyclable materials falling loose into a curbside binContamination is the term used by the recycling industry to describe anything in a recycling bin that shouldn’t be there. Contamination decreases the value of recyclables, increases processing costs, can be dangerous for workers and can cause your recyclables to be sent to the landfill. The average contamination rate among communities and businesses is currently about 25 percent. That means that roughly one in four items placed in a recycling bin is not actually recyclable.

So how can you fight contamination? Prepare recyclable items correctly, and don’t recycle unacceptable items.

Proper prep

Give a quick rinse to all cans and plastic containers and keep items loose in your recycling bin — not in bags, not in boxes. Plastic bags aren’t recyclable curbside. Plus, anything in a bag is assumed to be trash and goes straight to the landfill. Recyclables can get stuck inside boxes and may not get properly sorted and processed.

Never in the bin

The following items should never go in your curbside recycling bin:

plastic film bag

Plastic bags and film — Recycling processing facilities are not set up to process plastic film, whether it be shopping bags, product overwrap, air pillows or bubble wrap. It gets caught in the sorting machinery or disposed of on the sorting line. Instead, recycle plastic bags and film at your local grocery or big box store.

A great way to reduce single-use plastic bags is to use durable, reusable bags.

Photo of group of fast food containers: take out box, hamburger box, french fry container, Chinese take out container and fast food drink cup.Food & liquids — Food and liquids can ruin an entire load of recyclables and send them straight to the landfill.

Though made primarily of paper, coffee and soda cups, paper plates, frozen food containers, takeout boxes, and fast food containers cannot be recycled for two reasons. The first is because they’re all coated with a thin layer of plastic, not wax as is commonly believed. The second is they are heavily contaminated by food and beverages.

Pizza boxes can be iffy — you can recycle the clean part (usually the top), and compost or dispose of the greasy part (usually the bottom). The only parts of disposable cups that are recyclable are the plastic lids and cardboard coffee cup sleeves.

Paint can with brush resting on top

A great way to reduce single-use food containers is to go durable.

Hazardous waste — This includes medical waste such as sharps, and prescription drugs, personal hygiene items such as diapers and toilet paper, and household hazardous waste (HHW). HHW is any item with Danger, Warning or Caution on the label including paint, automotive fluids, lawn and garden chemicals, cleaners, and many beauty products.

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Properly dispose of sharps and prescription drugs. HHW can be properly disposed through your local HHW program. Everything else should go in the trash. And toilet paper? Only in the toilet!

For the most complete list of items that should and shouldn’t go in your curbside recycling bin, download the Recycle More, Recycle Better flier.

Man using Boomerang bag at market Boomerang bag with produce inside shopping basket

Boomerang Bags: Reducing single-use plastic one bag at a time

By Cheryl Birkey, Boomerang Bags KC

I had a realization in early 2017 ― I wanted to work toward solving social issues I cared deeply about. At the top of the list ― reducing the overuse of single-use plastic, namely plastic shopping bags.

I know other places throughout the U.S. have successfully banned plastic bags, so I looked into what it would take to ban plastic bags here in Missouri. Unfortunately, I found out that Missouri has a ban on banning plastic bags. Plus, stores are even prohibited from charging money for plastic bags.

This information shocked me. I had to figure out a Plan B.

People making bagsThen, a friend sent me information about Boomerang Bags. Boomerang Bags started in Australia as a program that provides cloth bags to shoppers who have forgotten their shopping bags. It’s a free (yes, free!) cloth bag that you borrow. And when you return to shop again, you return your Boomerang Bag for someone else to borrow and use your own reusable bag to shop. It’s a movement that is spreading all over the world and I thought it would be a great fit here in Kansas City.

Once I decided to bring Boomerang Bags to Kansas City, I needed to find a place to launch the initiative. My initial plan was to focus on a grocery store. I talked to Cosentino’s in Brookside, a store that cares about product quality, organic produce and the community ― in other words, a great fit for Boomerang Bags! When I approached them about featuring Boomerang Bags in their store, I found out that that store uses 3,000 plastic bags per day! I’m not afraid to dream big, but I’m also realistic, and I knew there was no way I could produce that many bags or combat that sort of waste as I launched Boomerang Bags.

Instead, I began thinking on a much smaller scale and the perfect place hit me ― my beloved Brookside Farmers’ Market!

It was March 2017, and the outdoor location of the Brookside Farmers Market wasn’t open for the season, so I could focus on making inventory. The Boomerang Bags website provided a template for the bag, and I made a single bag from some unused fabric I had on hand. Once I was confident in my construction abilities, I asked for help and my friends pitched in without hesitation.

We met up for a few social sewing events before opening day of the market. We gathered at Keystone Church in Waldo one Sunday, then again in my friend’s garage. I also had people over in my living room. We worked in groups and individually when we could. I also had people reach out to me through social media to donate fabric, as well as cut, sew and assemble bags. I met with strangers in my house and sewed with them or picked up trash bags full of fabric from friends of friends that I met on Facebook. The initial support was awesome and validated that I was on the right path.

Woman Holding lots of Boomerang bagsJust a few weeks later, on April 15, 2017, I launched Boomerang Bags at the Brookside Farmers’ Market for the first day of the season with 100 bags. I came back week after week with more bags each time. By the close of the 2017 season, I had distributed 625 free cloth bags to the patrons of the Brookside Farmers’ Market, so they could take home their organic tomatoes and farm fresh eggs, plastic-free.

As winter approached, I continued cutting and sewing and cutting some more to prepare for the 2018 season and expansion. This year, I added the Downtown Lee’s Summit Farmers Market as a Boomerang Bag venue while continuing to make bags available at the Brookside Farmers’ Market. I attended both markets at the beginning of April and continue to visit each market nearly every Saturday, handing out Boomerang Bags to patrons in need. My goal is simple ― replace just one single plastic bag with a single Boomerang Bag.

Now, I can’t provide 3,000 Boomerang Bags to any one establishment, but I can change people’s behaviors one interaction at a time by engaging in conversations about single-use plastic that expands beyond plastic bags to plastic to-go containers, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, etc. And that’s exactly what I do each Saturday at the markets.

What makes this project especially appealing to me is that it not only helps reduce plastic bag use, but also gives me an opportunity to repurpose unwanted items. The bags are made of materials that might otherwise sit around and collect dust ― fabric purchased for a project and never used, for example, or used bed sheets and tablecloths.

So far in the 2018 season, we’ve constructed and distributed 555 Boomerang Bags to the patrons of the Brookside Farmers’ Market, the Downtown Lee’s Summit Farmers Market and beyond. This brings the grand total to 1,110 Boomerang Bags distributed in Kansas City in just over a year. And we have even more bags in various stages of production. With each fabric donation and each person who donates time, this becomes a community endeavor of love and support for Boomerang Bags and the environment.

As much as I love Boomerang Bags, I don’t want to do this forever. My long-term goal is to become obsolete (yes, really!) I want this project to end because people finally begin to remember their reusable bags when they go to the market, the grocery store, anywhere and everywhere, or that those places become plastic-free, or that legislation finally passes, which bans the ban on banning plastic bags. There’s still plenty of work to do, but with every bag we make and share, we get a step closer to the ultimate goal of reducing ― and, eventually eliminating ― single-use plastic.

To stay up-to-date and learn ways to help Boomerang Bags, find me at Facebook.com/Boomerangbagskc.

Boomerang Bags KC was a 2018 MARC SWMD mini-grant recipient.

Cheryl Birkey is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with more than 10 years’ experience. She discovered her love of fitness during a step aerobics class at the University of Missouri Rec Center (go Tigers!) and has been learning, teaching and sharing ever since. She’s also the founder of Boomerang Bags KC, which creates and distributes reusable bags to help reduce plastic bag use. When she’s not at a gym or working on Boomerang Bags, you can likely find Cheryl spending time in her garden or with her beloved dachshund, Peanut.

What do you throw away?

Did you toss something into a trash can today? If you are like most people, you probably did — on average, about seven pounds’ worth. Have you ever really thought about what you throw away? The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) has thought about it and has studied it.

In September 2016, MoDNR began field work on a statewide waste composition study to better understand the types and amounts of materials sent to landfills. This study was completed in 2017.

The study involved collecting and sorting more than 250 samples of trash generated by households, institutions, businesses and industries — otherwise known as “municipal solid waste.” Each sample weighed more than 200 pounds and was hand-sorted into 48 categories. By the end of the study, more than 7,000 pounds of waste from 16 transfer stations and landfills was sorted and categorized.

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What do the results by weight show? You may be surprised:

  • Over 32 percent by weight of what we throw away falls into the “organics” category (food waste, wood, and yard waste).
  • The next largest category (26 percent) consists of paper products (cardboard, newsprint, office paper and compostable paper).
  • The single most prevalent material found was food waste, which accounted for about 15 percent of what was thrown away.
  • The second most prevalent material found was cardboard at more than 8 percent by weight.

The chart below reflects the composition percentages of the nine broad material categories.

Missouri Statewide Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Composition. Pie chart reflects the composition percentages of the nine broad material categories in Missouri landfills. Text reads "MSW Composition. Organics, 32.4%; Paper, 26%; Plastic, 15.3%; Inorganics, 12.7%; Textiles, 4.8%; Metal, 4.4%; Glass, 2.8%; Electronics, 1.2%; HHW, 0.4%.

The top ten components of residential, commercial and institutional waste are listed below. When summed, they account for over 59 percent of the overall municipal solid waste tonnage.

Top 10 Most Prevalent Materials in Statewide Municipal Solid Waste Stream. Bar graph reflects the top ten components of residential, commercial and institutional waste are listed below. When summed, they account for over 59 percent of the overall municipal solid waste tonnage from the study of Missouri landfills. Text reads "Top Ten Materials. Food Waste, 15%; Cardboard/Kraft Paper, 8.5%; Compostable Paper, 8.1%; Contaminated Film/Other Film, 5.9%; Wood - Painted/Stained/Treated, 4.5%; Mixed Recyclable Paper, 4%; Wood - Clean/Untreated, 3.7%; Remainder/Composite Organic, 3.5%; Disposable Diapers & Sanitary Products, 3.1%; Bulky Items/Furniture, 3.1%.

Municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 67 percent of all of the waste sent to landfills for disposal. The study also evaluated other waste streams including construction waste, demolition debris, industrial waste, special waste and “other” waste. The chart below illustrates Missouri’s combined waste stream.

Missouri Statewide Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Composition Disposed. Pie chart shows percentages of materials disposed of in Missouri landfills. Text reads "Combined Waste composition. Organics, 26.5%; Paper, 18.2%; Plastic, 11.4%; Inorganics, 15.3%; Textiles, 3.3%; Metal, 3.4%; Glass, 2%; Electronics, 0.9%; HHW, 0.4%; Non-MSW, 18.7%.

This is the third time that Missouri has conducted a waste composition study, with earlier studies conducted in 1998 and 2008. If you would like to learn more about the types and quantities of solid waste disposed of in Missouri landfills, all study information can be found on the MoDNR website.

And the survey says…

Residents feel it’s important to recycle

Image of Blue curbside recycling bin. Text reads: "73% of residents are recycling more than they did in 2012"In October 2017, the MARC Solid Waste Management District contracted with ETC Institute to conduct a recycling survey of residents in the nine-county Kansas City metro area. The survey evaluated current recycling activities and knowledge to determine what recycling services residents would like to see in the future, and determine focus areas for expanded services and outreach priorities. The survey also looked at how citizens’ values, behavior and awareness levels have changed since the 2005, 2008 and 2012 surveys.

Curbside is king

When asked how much emphasis their household places on recycling, 82 percent of the residents surveyed indicated their household recycles most of the time, and 10 percent recycle all the time. This is due in large part to the increasing availability of curbside recycling in the metro area. More than 73 percent of residents reported they are recycling more compared to five years ago, specifically because curbside recycling is available.

The recycling activities that residents participated in most frequently — in addition to curbside recycling — were recycling plastic bags (65 percent) and recycling glass food and beverage containers (59 percent). The waste reduction activity that residents participated in most often was donating clothing and household items (94 percent).

RSblogArtboard 1_surveyGraph

Satisfaction ratings

Respondents were most satisfied with services available for clothing and household item donation (81 percent), curbside recycling services (80 percent), materials accepted in curbside programs (63 percent), and yard waste collection and composting services (56 percent).

However, since the 2012 survey, satisfaction decreased in several areas including glass container recycling services. This is not surprising, given that, since 2009, the only widely available option for recycling glass in the metro area has been drop-off collection. Satisfaction has also decreased with the lower availability of drop-off recycling locations. Several communities (eight in the last two years) have closed their recycling centers and many schools and churches have closed their recycling drop-off bins to the public due to increased costs.

Government role

Most residents support public policies to improve recycling and waste reduction. Since the 2012 survey, residents also showed increased support for local government to:

  • Inform the public about existing programs/services (six percent increase).
  • Support waste reduction and recycling programs (four percent increase).
  • Educate on the importance of waste reduction/recycling (seven percent increase).
  • Develop policies to expand waste reduction/recycling (four percent increase).

However, many respondents are unwilling to pay for trash collection services based on the amount of trash set out for disposal (46 percent). In fact, since 2012, there was a significant decrease in the level of support for cities and counties implementing pay-as-you-throw programs (down 12 percent).

The road forward

The services residents would most like to see offered or expanded in their community are: glass container recycling, household hazardous waste collection, computer/electronic recycling, bulky-item pickup and expanded curbside collection service. More than half of those surveyed indicated that they would be willing to recycle food waste through curbside programs.

Residents indicated a decreased interest in receiving recycling information through city newsletters, the Kansas City Star or their local newspaper, and an increased interest in receiving it from an internet source that’s easy to find (53 percent) and utility bills (40 percent).

Finally, residents were asked if they had ever put something in a curbside recycling bin that they weren’t sure was recyclable — 53 percent indicated that they had. And 60 percent of residents reported they were recycling “everything possible.” Given the high contamination rates in curbside recycling and the fact that “everything possible” doesn’t account for all the additional recyclable items respondents are unaware of, the MARC Solid Waste Management District is going to double-down on helping residents not only to recycle more, but recycle better in 2018.

The full survey is available on the district’s website.

Congratulations to our 2018 SWMD grantees!

One of the most important things the MARC Solid Waste Management District (SWMD) does is provide financial support to organizations on the Missouri side of our region for projects that reduce the amount of material we send to landfills. The district receives funding every year from the fees collected from the landfills and transfer stations in Missouri. Half of that amount is used to fund local waste reduction, reuse and recycling projects through a grant program. So far this year, we have awarded more than $403,812 to 11 grantees.

The 2018 grant projects so far include:

Avenue of Life:  $32,500 to support the fifth year of a regional mattress recycling program.

Avila University:  $8,790 to purchase recycling containers and create signage for a campus-wide recycling program.

Bridging The Gap:  $84,674 to provide one-on-one consultations and assistance to businesses interested in starting new or expanding existing recycling and composting programs.

Franciscan Mission Warehouse: $30,400 to support staffing and purchase equipment to increase collection and distribution of used medical equipment.

Kansas City Zoo:  $24,991 to purchase recycling containers and create signage to support recycling at the zoo.

Meredith Used Car Sales & Recycling:  $14,925 to purchase of five, 30-yard containers for the collection of scrap metal in Cass County.

Missouri Recycling Association:  $30,000 to support costs for the annual recycling conference scheduled for September in Kansas City.

Platte City:  $5,686 to create educational materials and provide staffing to decrease the presence of non-recyclable material placed in curbside bins.

ScrapsKC:  $37,325 to support a staff position to increase material donations and to create an inventory database system for the creative reuse store.

Sleepyhead Beds:  $83,451 to purchase a truck and fund staff positions to increase the collection and distribution of mattresses.

Urban Lumber:  $51,070 to purchase a drying kiln and shelving for reclaiming urban trees for reuse.

We are very proud of our 2018 group of grant recipients and excited about their projects. The district could not accomplish its waste diversion goals without our grantees! Visit the Solid Waste Management District’s website to learn more about the grant program.

colorful plastic shopping bags on wooden background

Bring back your bags — and more!

Most plastic bags and wraps are made with materials that are recyclable. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean they can go in your curbside recycling bin. Why? Most facilities that manage curbside-collected recyclables use machines to separate rigid materials like cans, bottles or paper products. Due to their size and shape, plastic bags and wraps end up clogging the machinery. Employees must remove the plastic by hand, which is a time-consuming and potentially dangerous task.

So what can you do with them? They can still be recycled, they just require a different system. Many retail  and grocery stores offer free drop-off locations for  bags and films to be properly recycled. All you need to do is make sure the bags and wraps are clean and dry, and that you have removed any non-plastic items such as receipts and labels.

Let’s recap some of the “DOs” and “DON’Ts.”

Please DO recycle:

  • Grocery and retail bags. (Not in your curbside bin, but at a retail or grocery store with a collection bin. Don’t forget to remove the receipts!)
  • Newspaper, bread, produce and dry cleaning bags.
  • The outer wrapping from bulk beverages, napkins, paper towels, bathroom tissue and diapers.
  • Cereal and cracker box liners. (Unless they tear like paper.)
  • Bubble wrap and air pillows. (Pop the bubbles and deflate the pillows.)
  • Resealable storage bags. (Make sure they are clean, dry and don’t have any food residue.)
  • Poly mailers or plastic shipping envelopes. (Remove the shipping labels first.)
  • Document mailing/shipping envelopes such as FedEx Paks or Tyvek® envelopes. (Remove the shipping labels first).

Please DON’T recycle:

  • Plastic bags that tear like paper. (Recyclable bags have some stretch to them.)
  • Cellophane. (The plastic that makes a “crinkly” sound.)
  • Frozen food and pre-washed salad bags.
  • Food or cling wrap.
  • Candy wrappers. (You can recycle the bag that the candy came in.)
  • Snack bags, such as pretzels and potato chip bags.
  • Coffee pouches or other resealable food pouches, such as shredded cheese or trail mix.
  • Pet food bags.
  • Zippered packaging for bedding and garments.
  • Biodegradable or compostable bags.

If you come across a bag or film that is not listed above, a simple test will determine whether it is accepted for recycling or not. If you give the bag or wrap a slight tug and it stretches, it is likely recyclable. If it rips or tears similar to paper, it is likely not. When in doubt, don’t include bags or films you are unsure of — toss them into the trash.

Plastic bags and wraps can be recycled into many useful products, such as low-maintenance fencing and decking, building and construction materials and of course, new bags.

So remember, take your bags and wraps back on your next trip to the store!

For more information about plastic bag recycling, visit PlasticFilmRecycling.org.

Reducing waste through creative reuse

It’s a craft store — a design center — a make-and-take space. It’s a treasure. It’s ScrapsKC! Welcome to Kansas City’s newest and only creative reuse center.

You are probably familiar with the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle. Following that order, reuse is the second-highest and best use of materials — better than recycling. After experiencing ScrapsKC, you may become hooked on the reuse concept.

ScrapsKC, an SWMD 2017 grantee, is located in an older brick building in the west bottoms of Kansas City. Climb the wooden steps inside, labeled with words such as “crafts” and “birthday parties”, and enter the store — you will be greeted by an array of things any child, artist or teacher could dream of. ScrapsKC is a well-organized shop filled with a multitude of colorful craft items, art supplies, paper, fabrics and useful materials, all available at a dramatically reduced cost. A walk around the store and your creative powers will start to explode!

ScrapsKCcollage: photos of interior of retail space.

All of the material in the store is donated and was otherwise destined for the landfill. Businesses, manufacturers, schools and community members donate items that are useful to artists, teachers, makers, scouts, Do-It-Yourselfers and other creative people. In just one year, ScrapsKC has diverted over 25 tons of materials from the landfill.

In addition to the retail store, ScrapsKC features a “Make & Take” space, a Design Center, space for field trips and birthday parties, and plenty of volunteer opportunities.

ScrapsKC also provides opportunities for the homeless to volunteer in the retail store. In exchange for their work, homeless volunteers receive a homemade meal and survival items to help them get through another day. ScrapsKC hopes to grow its resources and support network to employ these homeless volunteers as paid workers.

A visit to ScrapsKC is a win-win: for your pocketbook and for the environment.

The store is located at 1324 W. 12th Street, Kansas City, MO 64101. Learn more at: www.scrapskc.org.