Recycling: Reaping the environmental and financial benefits

Published: May. 1, 2018 at 3:37 PM CDT
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Technology is making it easier than ever to recycle.

Since January of 2013, the process for Shawnee County residents consists of a few easy steps: identifying what can be recycled, giving it a quick rinse (if necessary), placing that item in the all purpose recycle bin and then taking that bin to the curb.

The real work begins at Waste Management’s Rolling Meadow’s facility, located north of Topeka on US-75.

Items that arrive there live to see another day, by way of a complicated sorting process operated by both human and machine.

“You’re seeing a tremendous amount of technology, and a lot of the process are automated, but you can still see it takes a tremendous amount of labor and manpower to make it all work to get those contaminants out,” says Paul Howe, Waste Management's Director of Community Relations.

The list of contaminates facility workers are looking for is long. High on their priority list is what those in the industry call "wrappables" like plastic bags, clothing, anything with a cable or string/rope attached.

“It wraps around our machinery. When it wraps around our machinery, it breaks it down and we have down time,” says Howe.

Sorting can come to a halt for many reasons. During our interview, the line had to be shut down for several minutes after a large container of used motor oil came crashing down on the conveyor belt, spilling everywhere.

Down time also comes from removing items people believe to be recyclable, but are not. Those items include styrofoam, propane cylinders, depleted aerosol cans/containers, paint cans, wire, pizza boxes and more. Those items have to be picked out of the stream by hand and tossed.

Howe says “If you have product or material that you think can be recycled, but are just not sure, we say 'when it doubt, throw it out'."

For those who want to know for sure if an item or items they have should or shouldn't be recycled, Howe suggests logging on to for the final say.

Shawnee County Solid Waste Director Tom Vlach says the curbside recycling program is gaining popularity among residents, nearly doubling the amount of customers since the service was first offered.

Growth has been much slower on the commercial end, and Vlach says businesses are simply missing out on potential savings.

“For instance, if you could reduce the size of your trash container by a third or a half, there’s a big reduction in trash fees associated with that, and a nominal fee associated with the recycling service," according to Vlach.

Vlach said some businesses have reduced their collection bill more than $100 per month.

Keep America Beautiful’s Philicia McKee says most people want to recycle, they just don’t think they have the time.

“I think the hardest thing to do is convincing people that it isn’t that difficult. It just takes seconds every day. Once you get in the habit it takes so little time, and it’s a mindset and habit you have to form. And it’s easy once you get in the habit.

For more information on commercial recycling rates in Shawnee County, or to see if you are eligible for residential curbside recycling, call the Shawnee County Solid Waste Department at (785) 785-233-4774, or follow the link at the right of your page.