Recycling 101

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, March 3, 2019

48,000 pounds of recyclables move through the Waste Management facility in Clarks Grove daily

CLARKS GROVE — Pizza delivery boxes, plastic bags and styrofoam — just a few of the things that can’t be recycled, yet show up all too often at the Clarks Grove Waste Management facility.

A lot of people like to recycle, but not all of them understand what all goes into residential recycling, according to Jay Behrends, a residential route manager for the facility.

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The facility has about 26 employees, with 16 trucks servicing its recycling pickup areas — eight of which are residential recycling trucks. Behrends said in addition to covering Albert Lea, the facility covers Ellendale, Manchester, Freeborn, Twin Lakes, Glenville, Emmons, Waseca, Waldorf, Owatonna and a portion of northern Iowa that extends from around Lake Mills to Forest City.

Behrends said about 6,000 homes are serviced in Albert Lea each week, or about 1,300 homes a day. Each day, he said about 48,000 pounds of recyclables move through the facility.

A typical day for residential route drivers consists of picking up curbside recycling and then bringing the materials back to the Clarks Grove facility, where it’s all compacted before being shipped off to Blaine, where it’s sorted (including the removal of non-recyclable materials) before being sold. About two or three semi-truck loads are shipped out each day from the Clarks Grove plant.

Behrends said there is some misunderstandings among the general public about what can and can’t be recycled. Items that have come in to direct contact with food, such as pizza delivery boxes or cardboard takeout cartons, cannot be recycled, as they grow mold or deteriorate too much before they can be recycled. Items that once held food-grade items that can be rinsed out, such as milk jugs or plastic food containers, can be recycled. Plastic bags and styrofoam cannot be recycled at all. There is no number system to what can be recycled — any rinsed out, non-contaminated plastic containers or bottles, or aluminum, glass or paper/cardboard products can be recycled.

“Recycling is good, so we try to make everything reusable when we can,” Behrends said.

Other misconceptions people have about recycling is what all goes into picking up curbside bins, the route manager said.

The residential Waste Management trucks drivers use are designed so that drivers have to get out of the truck as little as possible — for multiple safety reasons. A mechanical arm extends from the truck to pick up bins and dump their contents into the truck before replacing the bin. The arm can only reach 5 feet, so bins need to be curbside, and need to have 3 feet of space around them — from obstructions such as other bins, mailboxes and cars, among others. If everything can’t fit in the bin, it needs to either wait until the next pickup date or be dropped off at a recycling center or a drop-off site — which is free.

Drivers cannot safely get recycling from the curb and then 12 feet up in the air into the truck, said route driver Shawn Freeman. If bins are overfilled or have breakable items like glass spilling out, he and other Waste Management drivers often get blamed for any loose materials that fall out. Drivers getting out of the truck run the risk of being hit by surrounding traffic, or getting too close to heavy machinery and equipment.

“If it’ll fit in the bin, it’ll fit in the truck,” Behrends said.

Other misunderstandings often stem from people forgetting a large recycling truck doesn’t operate the same as a typical vehicle. It takes a lot more to stop a truck when it’s cut off by another driver than it would for a car, and tight spaces such as alleyways or other narrow streets can provide some touchy situations for trucks to get through. There are times when weather prohibits routes from being completed on time, delaying them a few hours or sometimes a day, but ice isn’t something to mix with large recycling trucks.

“You don’t want to get yourself or someone else injured over garbage,” Freeman said.

By the number

1,300 – Albert Lea homes serviced each day, five days a week, on Waste Management’s recycling routes

3 – Feet apart recycling bins should be from all other objects — such as other bins, cars or mailboxes


About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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