Kern Health jul18 Asthma leader

Trash Talk

How to ride the recycling wave

Families living in Kern County probably think they are responsible recyclers because they know how important it is to the environment. But knowing what to put in which bin and keeping up with all the changes to the state's mandatory recycling policy can be as challenging as getting all the peanut butter residue out of an empty jar.

It's mandatory

California requires its residents to participate in a local recycling plan.

"Our state has made that a top priority for a number of years," explained Jacob Panero, CEO of Varner Bros. Inc., a solid waste disposal and recycling service based in Bakersfield. "The intent is to keep material out of landfills and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in a landfill."

Panero said his company primarily handles general trash, but also hauls green and blue material weekly through Metropolitan Recycling LLC.

He said he's seen changes over the years in what can be recycled and knows first-hand how challenging that can be for families to keep up — he has four kids of his own, ranging from 3 to 13, that he has raised knowing how to recycle.

"We start with the little things," he explained. "They are responsible for taking out containers and figuring out which container materials go into and making sure we’re breaking down boxes and cleaning out jars."

Panero said many of the things we used to recycle aren't being recycled anymore and that's due, primarily, by the secondary market for those items. "China used to take 62 percent of California's [recyclables]," he said. "Now, they’re taking 1 percent.

That market has tried to shift to other countries, but other countries aren’t taking it either. We’ve got a problem."

Fortunately, there are still some items that are worth recycling, including cardboard, numbers 1 and 2 plastics and some metals, to name a few and not every community recycles the same items. "Check your local programs. Every jurisdiction is a little different," Panero said.

Hazardous waste

Despite the guidelines and instructions, Panero said his company, as well as others, often end up collecting items that shouldn't be recycled. "We have a problem in our industry. People want to recycle things that aren't recyclable. We call this 'wishful recycling,'" he explained. "Even though you think plastic bags should be recyclable, they aren’t. They get wrapped up in the recycling machinery, which causes delays and damage to our equipment."

His tip: "When people wonder if their plastic is recyclable, generally, if you can poke a hole through it with your finger, it’s typically not." Other items that cause problems are batteries and needles. "Batteries cause fires," Panero explained. "Lithium ion batteries will combust when they are crushed."

Fires are an obvious danger to the operation, but needles are health hazards.

"We get thousands and thousands of needles. Our people get stuck by needles on an all-too-frequent basis," Panero said. "We have to stop the entire plant and go up with a trained professional and collect those with a specific procedure."

Panero said for families struggling to know what to put in which bin, rather than just dropping it in the green or blue, keep it simple: "If in doubt, throw it out," he said. "It can contaminate an entire stream if you put leaded glass or a hazardous battery or something that could contaminate or damage a facility or individual sorting it. It’s not worth it to risk so much for an ounce or two of recyclables."

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Tags: Featured Story, Food & Home, Green, Health

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