Every year, with the support of our donors, school teachers and administrators, TVCR staff has the privilege of offering recycling and waste reduction educational presentations to local youth. Developing recycling education lesson plans is an excellent opportunity for me to clearly explain what can be recycled locally, the types of items that recycled products can be made into, how the recycling manufacturing process works, and how to reduce and reuse products so that less waste is generated in the first place. I’ve learned that kids are frequently the educators and recycling promoters of the household. They especially love to share why recycling is important for our earth and the plants and animals in our area, as well as other reasons like recycling saves money and resources by making “new” useful items out of old recyclables. Kids ask great questions and are excited to learn about and get involved in the recycling process.

One of my favorite questions is, “how does recycling work in Teton Valley?” Locally, recyclable items are delivered to the Teton County Transfer Station and Recycling Center either by self-haulers or RAD Curbside. There, items like paper, corrugated cardboard, #1 and 2 plastic bottles, and tin and aluminum cans are sorted into large metal bins that have been colorfully painted by volunteers and youth. Once full, the bins are brought over via fork lift to the white recycling center tent, where items are emptied and sorted even further by county staff and a mechanical baler. Items that are either contaminated with the wrong type of materials or too dirty for processing are thrown out and sent to the landfill. The sorting process is extremely important, as it helps with a clean end-product and reduces manual labor costs, thereby increasing the sellable value of recyclable products. The baler (a key piece of recycling equipment purchased five years ago) is what makes recycling of commodity materials possible and self-sustaining for our county. This equipment has enabled our recycling program to grow, but it requires a fair amount of man-power to operate. We’re quickly outgrowing its capacity (which is good news because that means more people are recycling!), and will be in need of additional infrastructure improvements as our recycling programs grow.

After the recyclable materials are sorted, compressed, baled, and stacked, they are stored until we have a sufficient quantity to sell to market. Then, they are sold to the highest commodity recycling bidder, who either collects and sells the material to domestic and international manufacturers or directly processes the materials into new products. Items like glass bottles and sorted lawn/tree clippings are processed and used on-site at our transfer station. Glass is crushed up into a fine, gravel-like material and used to construct and maintain roads and paths located at the transfer station property. Sorted yard/“green” waste is transformed into compost. For the last few years, Teton County has also successfully composted animal carcasses on-site, and their clean and effective operations are considered a role model for other counties in Idaho.

What do other recyclable products turn into? Corrugated cardboard is made into brown paper bags and packaging; paper towel and toilet paper rolls; and grey/paper board. Recycled newspaper and mixed office paper has many uses. It can be made into newspaper, office and school paper supplies, animal bedding, egg cartons, telephone books, tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins.

Tin and aluminum cans are some of the most profitable, high quality, and useful recyclable products. Recycled aluminum cans are made into window frames, pie and baking pans, foil, construction siding, and more. Recycled metals and cans can be made into new cans, cars, motorcycles, airplanes, appliances, tools, window frames, and toys. All steel products usually contain at least 25% recycled material since steel can be melted down and continuously recycled, as it never loses its quality or strength.

The economic value of recycled plastic #1 and 2 bottles has taken a hit lately due to cheap oil prices, but recycling these items is still important, as it helps reduce extraction of raw materials (including petroleum and crude oil) and reduces waste sent to the landfill. When plastics are buried in the landfill, over time they can emit harmful pollutants into our soil, water, and air. Recycled plastic can be made into new bottles, carpet, lawn and picnic tables and benches, garden pots, and textiles like fleece blankets, t-shirts, and jackets. Patagonia is a well-known company that was the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to make fleece jackets made out of recycled plastic bottles and old, worn-out garments. Recycled plastic made into textile fiber can also be transformed into base layers and outer shell jackets and pants. In addition, recycled plastic is often made into carpet—in fact, over half of the carpet sold in North America is made out of recycled materials.

These are just a few examples of products that can be produced from the remanufacturing of our most common recyclable items. When you buy products made out of recycled materials, you are helping to conserve natural resources, reduce pollution, and increase the profitably of recycled products. For additional information on recycling end products, visit the following websites:

EPA Reduce, Reuse, and Recycling: http://www.epa.gov/recycle

Jen Werlin is the Executive Director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information about waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, and/or to become involved with our community-wide efforts to reduce litter and landfill waste, please visit tetonrecycling.org.

Visit tetonrecycling.org for more information, or email tetonrecycling@gmail.com to reserve a spot.