Dropping off: Bob Barton dumps a box of bottles into the dumpster at the Indiana State University Recycling Center in June 2018. Staff file photos by Austen Leake
Dropping off: Bob Barton dumps a box of bottles into the dumpster at the Indiana State University Recycling Center in June 2018. Staff file photos by Austen Leake
The thought of preventing plastic water bottles from polluting the Wabash River, the Mississippi or the Gulf of Mexico sounds worthwhile to most people.

So does the idea of turning used aluminum pop cans into new metal products, instead of filling up county landfills.

The critical value of recycling metal, paper, plastic, wood and other manufacturing materials was illuminated last week by a report by Netherlands-based Circle Economy. It calculated the world reuses only a tenth of the 93 billion tons of materials consumed annually, and recycling levels must significantly increase to help stabilize climate change, Circle Economy told Thomson Reuters. Manufacturing worldwide releases 62 percent of the planet’s emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere, the report stated. 

What can a small Midwestern city like Terre Haute do to clean its local river, decrease the amount of reusable stuff in its landfills and curtail global warming?

One way is to make community recycling as simple as possible, and constantly remind residents how they can properly do it.

“Anywhere that you see an investment in education at the individual household level, you see stronger recycling programs and participation rates,” Indiana Recycling Coalition executive director Allyson Mitchell said last week.

Recycling in the U.S. has been rocked by China’s decision last July to stop receiving 24 types of imported solid waste, including recyclable paper and plastic bottles. That reusable materials market disruption adds to a flat-lining of recycling participation, with Americans recycling or composting 1.5 pounds of waste daily — the same amount as they did 13 years ago, according to U.S. EPA numbers cited by the Pew Research Center.

Among people who regularly recycle, just 28 percent think their community strongly encourages recycling, Pew found. A lack of awareness contributes to low participation rates.

Terre Haute and Vigo County have seen recycling options decrease in the past two years. Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries opted to close its recycling operations last year, following a hiatus in 2017. “It’s not easy, so you have to make an effort to do it,” said Jane Santucci, a Terre Haute freelance writer on environmental issues.

Republic Services picks up recyclables for a $7 monthly fee as part of its contract with the city. Less than 1,000 of 23,000 households participate in the paid curb-side recycling program, Mayor Duke Bennett said.

Also, single-stream — unsorted — recyclables can be dropped into the receptacle at the Vigo County Solid Waste Management District Office. That facility at 3230 Haythorne Ave. is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The district also maintains two dumpsters for single-stream recyclables in West Terre Haute. And, the venerable Indiana State University Recycling Center accepts sorted materials 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 6 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Plastic bags can be dropped off for recycling at some supermarkets.

An additional option is in the works, Mayor Duke Bennett said Wednesday. A plan with Republic Services would place a divided dumpster near City Hall to create a pilot program — a drop-off site for single-stream recycling within the next 30 days, Bennett explained. The location, adjacent to city offices, allows for monitoring of the drop offs, which the mayor says is important to prevent people from simply throwing trash in the receptacles.

“We’ll see if people use it right,” Bennett said. If so, and the demand for the recyclable materials is cost efficient, the drop-off site will continue, he said.

“We’re going to have to find a way to keep recycling alive,” Bennett added, “but do it in a way that’s responsible for taxpayers.”

A public awareness campaign would help. “You have to continually pepper the message out there, and you have to be more cohesive,” Santucci said.

Understanding what is accepted and what isn’t is important for folks using the popular ISU Recycling Center. That facility at 447 N. Ninth St. has been accepting recyclable goods since 1980. Paul Reed, manager of custodial and special services at ISU, has been there throughout that time. In the past year, he and the center’s crew have worked with people who’d previously taken their unsorted recyclables to Goodwill. Some have struggled with the adjustment to ISU’s sorted format.

“We’ve had to undergo some training with some individuals,” Reed said. “And, we’ve had some individuals get upset with us and say they’ll never come back. That’s unfortunate.”

Low market demand has forced ISU to stop accepting plastic grocery bags and rigid plastic (as in 5-gallon buckets). Also, ISU accepts glass bottles, but doesn’t accept window glass. The center doesn’t accept TVs or old-school computer monitors. But it does accept a long list of other items, sorted.

Participation as the center has increased since Goodwill’s change, Reed said.

Further north at the Waste Management District drop-off site, participation also has increased for the same reason, said Kathy Kinney, the office’s executive director. Last year, the Haythorne Avenue site received 46 tons of recyclables, which Republic hauls to a processing center in Indianapolis. The Haythorne receptacle occasionally fills up before its contents can be hauled, Kinney said.

Last year, the district also placed dumpsters for recyclables and trash for a few days each in five rural Vigo County townships. Fayette Township brought in 10 tons of trash and 1.5 tons of recylables, Kinney said.

Obviously, the need for recycling remains strong. With more awareness, more people would participate, too. 

Allyson Mitchell of the Indiana Recycling Coalition said the recyclable market has passed the bottomed-out stage is slowly recovering. Another bright spot is that millennials are increasingly committed to recycling. Companies have become more “environmentally aware” of creating more reusable packaging, she said.

“All of that sort of swirls together and shows signs of positive momentum,” Mitchell said.

Terre Haute could be part of that momentum.

© 2019 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.