Living Columns & Blogs

We are ... not always the best recyclers

Is a mixed message being sent about tailgating?
Is a mixed message being sent about tailgating? Centre Daily Times, file

Picture this — it’s a crisp fall Monday morning in Happy Valley. The Penn State football team just beat Ohio State over the weekend and the town is still rumbling with excitement. A group of fifth-grade students is touring the Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority and sees what looks like hundreds of blue bags full of trash.

“What are those?” asks one curious student.

“Those are the recycling bags from the tailgate this weekend,” I say with a look of sadness on my face. And here is where the lesson begins...

As many tailgaters may know, recycling is readily available at all Penn State football tailgates, as well as at other special events at the stadium (Happy Valley Jam, for example). Attendees can take as many blue recycling bags as they need for plastic bottles, metal cans, glass and paper; however, more often than not, the blue bags are also filled with trash.

When one fills a blue recycling bag at the stadium, it is left to be picked up by the grounds crew. All of the blue recycling bags are then delivered to the CCRRA so the contents may be recycled. Before the items can be recycled, a thorough sorting process is followed.

Employees of CCRRA open each bag by hand and empty the contents. They then sort the materials from the bags (once again by hand) into the following categories: plastic bottles, jugs and jars, metal cans, glass bottles, paper and trash. The recyclables are then baled and sent to recycling centers as feedstock to be made into new products.

Sounds relatively easy, right? It might be if the bags were not also contaminated with trash — which is usually the case.

Bags designated for recycling usually contain other non-recyclable items such as hot dogs, buns, French fries, funnel cakes, other leftover food, food contaminated paper plates, ketchup, mustard, cigarettes, tobacco spit, cups with liquid, cans with liquid and on and on. Sorting the good recyclable material from the trash is not an easy task and it can be extremely gross. In addition, it takes a few days to get through all of the material, which puts other operational tasks on hold.

The more light I can bring to this matter, the better. It kills me to watch my co-workers digging through trash that can be avoided by spreading recycling education.

Some of you may be reading this while attending the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair, where we also offer recycling in bags. I urge you to read the labels on the bins before you place an item inside so that sorting through the recyclables from the Grange Fair will indeed be an easier task for my co-workers. That would put a smile on my face.

As always, thanks for recycling.

Amy Schirf is education coordinator for the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority.