Earthworms’ Castings

ROG Volunteers in Tent

With Jean Ponzi

State of Recycling 2017
Around St. Louis – What’s Working?

Recycling takes the spotlight on November 15, as America Recycles Day, like Earth Day, encourages us to practice Green.

I’ve worked with recycling, since 1996, as a community enviro-educator for the EarthWays Center of Missouri Botanical Garden. I also serve on the executive board of the St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District, representing the City of St. Louis. Each year our District awards recycling grants totaling over a million dollars, supporting the waste-reducing projects of a wide range of local enterprises. This all generates a pretty good perspective.

What Can You Recycle, Where?
Across our region, one part of recycling is consistent: we can “co-mingle” a full range of plastic, glass and metal containers and paper goods into a Single-Stream Recycling bin for regular collection. In some places you can’t recycle #6 plastic, or you hear “no glass” but really these variations are rare. The Single Stream idea is that more people will recycle when recycling is easy, convenient and (mostly) consistent. It’s working here. Recycling gets confusing when the list of stuff you can toss in your bin is different from place to place. Recycling service providers contract with municipalities – sometimes with a county – to provide collection. But services can still vary, geographically. Call your Public Works or Health Department to confirm what you can and can’t recycle – and to advocate for service improvements!

University City is one example of a town that provides commercial as well as residential recycling services. But in most locations, commercial accounts – including businesses, places of worship, and even schools – must negotiate for recycling on their own. If you can’t recycle the same things where you work, learn or pray, compared to where you live, talk to your municipal officials. We have good working models that can be replicated, town to town.

Now You See It: Recycling Gets Popular!
The experience of recycling is good at places like the Garden, Zoo or Science Center. You expect these community institutions to demonstrate some Green. But when you go to a Cardinals baseball game or get off a plane at Lambert Airport and see those blue bins, RECYCLING GETS REAL!

St. Louis Earth Day’s program RECYCLING ON THE GO supports collection efforts at dozens of our region’s festivals. From PrideFest downtown to Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park to St. Charles County’s Festival of the Little Hills to the movable feast of Food Truck Fridays, you’ll find ROG-powered recycling, and often also food waste composting! ROG makes waste diversion affordable and practical for event organizers, accessible in public venues, and popular for festival-goers, region-wide. Consider volunteering to support these efforts. BONUS: free admission to cool events!
Where would you like to experience recycling? Talk to the staff at venues you enjoy. Local resources are available to help EVERY community institution get their basic Green in gear.

No Free Lunch with eWaste
Obsolete electronics continue to be America’s top recycling concern. Massive quantities and the complex constructs of valuable gold, copper, data and more feeds a terrible temptation to handle stuff wrong.

The dark side of this issue, in third world countries where too much of our eWaste goes, has children and adults wading through toxic sludge, dissolving the valuable content off of motherboards with acid. Top this with personal security issues when data on devices is not certifiably destroyed.

There are only two local electronics recycling enterprises I will recommend: MRC and EPC-USA; both maintain the strictest R-2 and RIOS certifications. There are plenty of eWaste recycling firms operating in our area, but no others as yet demonstrate my standards for dealing with this complex resource stream.

If the service is really cheap, the costs are being paid somewhere, horribly. Proper eScrap handling generates enough revenue to allow a recycler like MRC to hold community collection events, accepting “anything with a cord.” Grant funds and host site partnerships also support this convenient service. But don’t expect or trust any electronic recycler to take your CRT monitor or TV set without a charge. Lead in these components MUST be responsible recovered, incurring a cost for every unit.

Neighbor-to-Neighbor Recycling
Recycling is important to many people, but plenty of folks are more concerned about things like keeping their kids in school, off the streets, and alive. What does it take to engage residents with recycling, when they have more pressing concerns?

Brightside, serving the City of St. Louis, has documented success with sending neighbors door-to-door with recycling information, and grant-funded home recycling bins. Could your interest prompt your community to replicate Brightside’s process – perhaps with your volunteering support?

Special Material – Special Services
Durable medical equipment – from wheelchairs to grab bars, walkers to bathroom aids – is circulating freely, thanks to the work of St. Louis HELP. This health equipment lending project turns donations into no-cost loans, keeping these valuable items in beneficial REUSE for folks who need them. HELP can use volunteers too, year-round and for spring and fall collection drives.

Pharmaceutical drugs are now accepted for disposal – different from recycling, but the right way to go – by police departments, region-wide, 24-7, 365. Getting surplus pills out of the household medicine chest helps prevent drug abuse, especially by kids. Collected meds are incinerated. They should NEVER be flushed down the toilet; our water treatment systems can’t filter these powerful chemicals.

Household Hazardous Waste – or the leftovers of most kinds of consumer chemical products – can go to our regional HHW recycling centers. Locations in South and North St. Louis County serve City, County and Jefferson County residents. Locations in St. Charles County serve folks up there. An online reservation and modest fees may apply.

Food waste composting is an important way to turn organic matter into beneficial soil amendments, conserving all the goods embodied in once-living stuff. Some U.S. cities now offer curbside organic waste pickups, but I am not a fan of adding truck routes and all their impacts to our civic carbon footprint. Options to learn about backyard and indoor composting options are regular offerings on public library and community college calendars. Missouri Botanical Garden offers hands-on composting classes too. The big jump-up in organic waste management is happening here at public events, and in schools and workplaces, where the drop-off points drop some education into our still-wasteful modern human minds.

Go Visit a Recycling Facility!
Chaperone a field trip for your kids’ school, or organize a group tour from your neighborhood, workplace or congregation. In our area, Republic Services and the City of St. Peters both welcome visitors to tour their facilities; schedule in advance, please. You’ll learn a lot seeing how recycling works when stuff leaves your bin, and you can write it up for your group publication!

Then you’ll want to visit a Landfill, to see where too much of our “waste” still goes, when we throw it “away.” And that, friend, is another story.

Missouri Botanical Garden’s Green Resources Answer Service will respond to your recycling – or any other sustainability-focused – question, anytime, free of charge. Simply email greenresources@mobot.org or call 314-577-0246.