Trash talking

The City of Hillsboro?s recycling center is the hot spot in town on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings.

And for good reason.

It is here that area residents joining Hillsboro?s effort to reduce the amount of trash it sends to the landfill.

Recently, however, concerns have been raised regarding the final destination of recyclable materials. Is Hillsboro?s recycling program truly diverting solid waste from landfills? Are recyclables really being used for remanufacturing purposes?

Several years ago, the city of Hillsboro approached McPherson Area Solid Waste Utility about cooperating with Hillsboro?s recycling efforts.

McPherson Area Solid Waste, which oversees recycling efforts in McPherson County, decided to enter into an agreement with the city. They agreed to provide collection containers and pick up recyclables for a per-household fee.

?We thought it was something we could do,? says John Hawk, special project manager at McPherson Area Solid Waste. ?Although our mission is the serve McPherson County, it has worked out well.?

On a regular basis, trucks from McPherson Solid Waste come to Hillsboro to pick up the recyclables from the recycling center.

Once the materials arrive at the processing center, they are sorted and bailed into three-foot-by-three-foot-by-six-foot bails.

When they have accumulated a truckload full, usually about 30 bails, McPherson Solid Waste locates a buyer for their products.

?Cardboard and newspaper accumulate quickly,? Hawk said. ?It?s our biggest volume. We go through a lot of paper.?

Newspapers, cardboard, and office paper are sold to paper mills, Hawk said. In fact, one Kansas mill leaves its own trailer on the site, and paper is loaded directly onto their truck.

When it?s full, the mill picks up the trailer and takes it to their processing plant to be recycled

Several years ago, Asian countries, such as Japan and Taiwan, were big customers of recycled paper,

?They are small countries that lack the natural resources to produce their own paper,? Hawk said.

Since the Asian economic crisis several years ago, they have had less money to import recycled paper.

Aluminum and tin are handled in a similar manner.

According to Hawk, plastics accumulate more slowly. It is also more difficult to find buyers, so they will often use a recycling brokerage firm to sell these products.

After glass products are crushed and stored in large containers, it is sold to glass processors. They, in turn, produce new bottles and some fiberglass.

McPherson Solid Waste works primarily with two glass processors in Oklahoma.

?We have found a more efficient way to work with glass,? Hawk said. ?We simply put the crushed glass into large open-top roll-off boxes, and then store it.?

According to Hawk, the recycling market is not very demanding.

He says,?Typically, it costs us more to collect and process than what we get back from the sale,? he said.

Hawk attributes this to a good economy, where more products are made out of virgin material. When more money is available to make new product, there is less incentive to recycle.

Until recently, the low petroleum prices also limited the demand for recycled plastics. As the price rises, however, the demand for these plastics may increase.

One of the biggest advantages to recycling for Hillsboro, Hawk said, is the ability to reduce the cost of disposing trash.

?It costs money to collect and throw away trash,? he says. ?You pay the transfer station for what you take there.?

Recycling also reduces the amount of trash going to landfills.

According to the most recent records available from the City of Hillsboro, more than 250,000 pounds of recyclable materials were collected at the Hillsboro site during the first nine months of 1999?trash that avoided the landfill during those months.

?All materials we accept are recycled and turned into new product,? Hawk said. ?None of it is sent to landfills.?

McPherson Area Solid Waste Utility was formed seven years ago as part of an interlocal agreement between McPherson County, the City of McPherson, and the smaller cities in the county.

?McPherson Area Solid Waste Utility is a unique entity,? Hawk said. ?It?s an equal partnership. Each partner holds the same stake.?

Hawk says their relationship with Hillsboro has been a positive one. ?The volunteers do a great job at your center,? he says. ?It?s worked out well.?

The Hillsboro recycling center is located under the small water tower, west of the Cooperative Grain & Supply service station.

Recyclables include aluminum, corrugated cardboard, glass, plastic, newspaper, tin cans, and office paper. Hours are Thursday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon.

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