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).

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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.

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.

Yes We Can! 2017

The MARC Solid Waste Management District held its 2017 Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. Jason Morado from ETC Institute spoke about the results of the district’s recent residential recycling survey. The survey explored resident’s thoughts, attitudes and behaviors with regard to recycling. The survey also examines changes since the last survey in 2012.

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From left, Joan Leavens for Shawnee Mission School District; Rob Fort, KC Water;  Patti Rine and Mike Scruby for American Legion Post #61;  John Blessing for Waste Management.

The district also recognized several individuals and organizations that have made notable contributions to regional waste management and recycling efforts. See photos from the event on Flickr » The 2017 Special Recognition Award recipients include:

Public Employee — Rob Fort, City of Kansas City, Missouri Department of Water Services

The Public Employee award recognizes a public employee who has shown dedication to the development and advancement of waste reduction and recycling through individual achievement and commitment.

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TESA awardee P.J. Born with Joan Leavens (right) and Matt Riggs (left).

Outstanding Program — Shawnee Mission School District & Board of Education

The Outstanding Program award recognizes an innovative or outstanding waste reduction or recycling program. Joan Leavens, Sustainability and Community Engagement Coordinator, accepted this award.

Waste Industry — Waste Management of Kansas, Inc.

The Waste Industry award recognizes outstanding waste reduction and recycling efforts for a business in the waste industry. John Blessing, Public Sector Manager, accepted this award.

Every Little Bit Counts — The American Legion Post #61

The “Every Little Bit Counts” award recognizes that small actions are meaningful. Mike Scruby accepted the award.

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TESA awardee Muriel Desbleds-Wilson with Kate Delehunt (right) and Matt Riggs (left).

Teaching Environmental Stewardship Award

The Kansas City Environmental Education Network also recognized two teachers who provide outstanding environmental education in the Kansas City metro:

  • P.J. Born, Shawnee Mission South High School
  • Muriel Desbleds-Wilson, Académie Lafayette

Learn more about their accomplishments »

green cleaning sponge on top of pair of orange cleaning gloves

Rid your home of dangerous chemicals

icons of bug spray, motor oil, 9-volt battery and paintThe can of bug spray on the shelf… the toilet cleaner and drain opener in the cabinet… the old gas, lawn chemicals and paint stored in the garage… these products are all considered hazardous because the chemicals they contain pose a threat to human health and the environment.

Hazardous waste generated at your home is called Household Hazardous Waste (HHW). HHW is any flammable, toxic, corrosive or reactive product labeled “Danger”, “Warning”, or “Caution”, and none of these should be tossed into the regular trash.

Even when used as directed, many household chemicals can endanger health and safety and pose risks to children, pets, communities, wildlife and the environment.

Fortunately, there are convenient ways to safely dispose of your HHW. And for many of these products, there are safe alternatives that are readily available, easy to use, and often cheaper than their more dangerous counterparts.

Safe disposal

Missouri residents who live in Cass, Clay, Platte, Jackson and Ray counties, have access to proper HHW disposal through the Regional Household Hazardous Waste Program. Residents who live in participating communities can dispose of HHW for no cost at one of two HHW facilities or numerous HHW collection events. Missouri residents who don’t live in participating communities can dispose of HHW for a fee at Summit Waste Systems in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

Kansas residents who live in Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami, or Wyandotte counties can take their HHW to the HHW facility in their county for free.

Please note that these services are for residents only. Any hazardous waste not generated by a resident is classified as business hazardous waste by the states of Kansas and Missouri. This includes businesses, industry, manufacturing, rental property owners, nonprofits, governments, schools, churches, etc. It is illegal for these entities to take their hazardous waste to a residential collection facility or collection event. For more information, visit Business Hazardous Waste.

icons of baking soda, ecofriendly spray bottle, lemon wedge and spray bottleSafe alternatives

There are many safe alternatives to household chemicals. Baking soda, or Borax (a naturally occurring mineral) work well as mild, abrasive cleaners as alternatives to chlorine or silica-based scouring products. White vinegar is an all-purpose cleaner. It can be used on hard surfaces or glass as an alternative to ammonia-based cleaners and other corrosive products. Lemons are highly acidic, which makes them a strong cleaning agent. Plus, they provide a refreshing and clean scent.

For more information, including a list of recipes, visit Safe Alternatives.

Paints

Conventional paints contain several toxic chemicals: volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fungicides, biocides, and chemical pigments. When purchasing paint look for low VOC, low biocides and natural pigments.

Calculate the amount of paint you need for a project before buying to reduce the chance of running out before finishing the job, or having paint left over.

For more information on recycling, visit RecycleSpot.org.

Image of female blowing a dandelion gone to seed, with blowing seeds morphing into recycling symbols/chasing arrows. Photo by Robert Couse-Baker, CC 2.0.

When NOT to recycle

Have you ever put something in the recycling bin that you’re not sure about?

  • If you don’t know if it’s recyclable, but hope it is…
  • If it has a recycling symbol or label on it, so you assume it must be okay…
  • If you’re pretty sure it’s not recyclable, but hope that somewhere down the line someone will be able to recycle it…

…You might be a wishful recycler! You may have the best of intentions, but improper recycling can hurt more than it helps. Take time to learn what CAN be recycled in your area.

If it has a symbol, is it always recyclable?

In a word, no. Just because something has a recycling symbol on it, or says “recycle,” “recyclable,” or “recycled content” does not mean you can definitely recycle it in our metro area.

ChasingArrowQuestionMarkArtboard 1_RSblog-350pxThe numbers you see inside the recycling symbol on plastic bottles are resin codes developed by the plastics industry to help them properly sort plastics for recycling. In the Kansas City metro area, for example, milk jugs (#2) and yogurt containers (#5) are recyclable. However, Styrofoam takeout boxes (#6) and antifreeze bottles (#2) are not. Contact your hauler to find out which types of plastic can be thrown in the bin.

Some items that say they’re “recyclable” may be in other parts of the country, but it might not be true in our area if there is no local end market for reuse, too little value in the material, or both.

“Made from recycled content” doesn’t always mean an item can be recycled again. For example, you may find a ballpoint pen that says it’s “made from recycled bottles.” That’s great— buying recycled is essential to closing the recycling loop — but it doesn’t mean you can recycle the pen.

The unintended consequences of wishful recycling

When you put an item in your recycling bin that isn’t accepted by your curbside program or drop-off facility, you’re merely relocating your trash: now someone at the recycling facility will have to throw that item away. You may also inadvertently contaminate other recyclables in the bin, which can lower their value or negate it entirely.

How? Let’s say you throw a glass pickle jar in your curbside recycling bin, even though your program does not accept glass. As the glass gets crushed in the recycling truck, glass shards and dust contaminate all the other recyclables they touch, lowering their value. Or, let’s say you throw a half-full can of paint thinner in the bin because it comes in a metal can, and your program accepts metal cans. Once that can is crushed in the recycling truck, the paint thinner could contaminate enough of the recyclables that the whole load has to go to the landfill.

What’s the solution?

So, what can you do to avoid “wishful recycling”? Only put items in your recycling bin that your program accepts. To find this information:

  • Contact your hauler or check the label attached to the top of your recycling bin.
  • For plastics, check out our Plastics Recycling page which clearly explains the type of plastics that are and are not recyclable in the Kansas City metro area.
  • Give us a call: (816) 474-8326.

For more information on recycling, visit RecycleSpot.org.

Reuse and recycle your unwanted toys

It’s that time of year when new toys move in and old toys move out. Ensure that the old toys get a second life by reusing and recycling them instead of throwing them away.

Donate

Photo of bathroom sink counter with soap dispenser, plastic shark toy, and toothbrush holder made from Legos.Donating old toys is the easiest option. As long as toys are clean and in good working condition, you can donate them to thrift stores and local charities. Most large thrift stores offer pick up services. You can also drop your toys off at the nearest donation box (only toys that will easily fit in the box’s door).

Three organizations that accept toys for donation and work with local kids and families in need are Operation Breakthrough, Scraps KC and The Giving Brick.

Host a toy swap

Avoid the after-the-holiday blahs by hosting a toy swap. It is a great way to clean out the closet, help the environment, and help stave off you and your kids’ cabin fever.

Recycle electronic toys

Whether it’s a broken video game, remote control car or a Nerf Blaster, it’s all recyclable. Midwest Recycling Center and The Surplus Exchange both recycle all toys that run on batteries or a power cord. If you have a video game junkie in your home, you can recycle old gaming devices at Best Buy, Staples and Office Depot / Office Max.

Repurpose

Who knew toys can be made into a wreath, a toothbrush holder or bookends? Search “How to repurpose toys” on the internet, and you’ll find countless cool things to make from unwanted toys.

For more information on reuse and recycling, visit RecycleSpot.org.