Reducing an ecological footprint

When the city of Maplewood converted from recycling bins to roll-out carts, Tennis Sanitation had some old bins converted into a recycled bench. The donated bench now sits outside City Hall with the inscription “Recycle today for a better tomorrow” across the backrest. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
When the city of Maplewood converted from recycling bins to roll-out carts, Tennis Sanitation had some old bins converted into a recycled bench. The donated bench now sits outside City Hall with the inscription “Recycle today for a better tomorrow” across the backrest. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Ignacio Vazquez pulls plastic bags and non-recyclables off the line, as recycled items start their way down the conveyor belt. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Ignacio Vazquez pulls plastic bags and non-recyclables off the line, as recycled items start their way down the conveyor belt. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Morena Ochoa manually sorts plastic items as they move down the line. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Morena Ochoa manually sorts plastic items as they move down the line. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Co-owner of Tennis Sanitation, Willie Tennis, points to the stockyard where sorted and baled recyclables sit, ready for shipment to various processors. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Co-owner of Tennis Sanitation, Willie Tennis, points to the stockyard where sorted and baled recyclables sit, ready for shipment to various processors. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Andres Olade, 24, stands in front of bails of cardboard cartons at Tennis Sanitation, where all of Maplewood’s recycled goods are sorted and shipped out to processors. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Andres Olade, 24, stands in front of bails of cardboard cartons at Tennis Sanitation, where all of Maplewood’s recycled goods are sorted and shipped out to processors. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)

Maplewood’s improved recycling efforts show results

When you’re done reading this newspaper, where will it end up?

If you place it in a city-issued recycling bin in Maplewood, it will be hauled to Tennis Sanitation in St. Paul Park and wind up on a conveyer belt. Bypassing 20 pairs of gloved-hands that are tirelessly sorting milk cartons and plastic bags from glass jars and aluminum cans, it’ll make its way down a chute, where it’ll be baled for shipment to a paper mill.

Having started with recycled material — envelopes, letterhead or copier paper — it’s about to be recycled again.

While there’s no way to tell how many Reviews or city newsletters are reincarnated as an egg carton, paper plate or building insulation, Maplewood is keeping tabs on its overall recycling performance.

A look back at the 2014 Recycling Report, prepared by Tennis Sanitation, indicates participation in the city’s curbside recycling program increased with the introduction of the new recycling carts. And with a new focus on encouraging businesses to recycle, city officials and staff hope to reduce Maplewood’s ecological footprint even more in 2015.

“I think recycling is one of the easiest things you can do to help save the earth,” city environmental planner Shann Finwall says. “How much simpler can it be than deciding which bin to put something in?”

Rolling out new carts

Since the City Council voted to switch from using carry-out curbside recycling bins to 65-gallon carts on two wheels, Tennis has tracked an uptick in the overall volume of recycled goods.

In 2014, the average participation rate for single-family households hit 91 percent, according to the annual Recycling Report. Participation is counted if a household places recyclables out at least once a month.

Notably, the average weight of recycled materials from single-family households has increased 22 percent over the last year, from 43.78 pounds to 53.49 pounds.

With participation up from 84 percent in 2013, the city appears to be making steps in the right direction.

“Those figures help show the story that the recycling carts really added the volume people needed to recycle their products, and the convenience people needed,” Finwall says.  

Even bigger demand

Initially, the city issued 65-gallon carts to single-family homes and 35-gallon carts to townhomes; but Finwall says more and more residents are opting to upgrade to 95-gallon carts, so they have more capacity for recycling.

Dale Trippler, vice-chairman of the city’s environmental and natural resources commission, says the city ran a three-month trial period when deciding whether it made sense to switch from recycling bins to carts. The neighborhood randomly selected for the survey posted a significant increase in the amount of recycling.

Moving forward, Trippler’s main concern was that people would start indiscriminately tossing more non-recyclables, or “residuals,” into the carts.

Composite study records from Tennis Sanitation, however, show that, in 2014, less than 1 percent of the recycled goods from Maplewood that end up at the Tennis Sanitation facility are items that aren’t recyclable, such as Styrofoam, shoes and diapers.

In comparison to 2013, the amount of residuals decreased by nearly 50 tons.

“It turns out, the amount of residuals has gone down, even though the tonnage has gone up,” Trippler says.

More than machines

The fact that residents are not only taking the time to recycle, but also that they’re being more mindful of what, exactly, they’re placing in their recycling bins means a lot to those working at the recycling facility.

Toward the start of the recycling production line at Tennis Sanitation, two employees are responsible for pulling all the non recyclables off the conveyer belt.

On a bad day, items that should have gone into the garbage or other disposal — used baby diapers, bags of pet waste or insulin needles — find their way into the mix, posing potential health risks to the employees who are handling these items with little more than gloves and glasses for protection.

Tennis utilizes a number of new technologies to assist in the sorting process — like industrial-strength magnets that separate tin and aluminum — but the human element is what allows them to break each load down into 14 categories of recyclables: cardboard, paper, household scrap metal, big plastic, plastic bags, Z-bale plastic bags, PET plastic, tin, colored glass, clear glass, chipped glass, aluminum, linens and milk cartons.

David Domack, Tennis Sanitation’s CEO and general manager, says it’s important to be a courteous recycler to keep the operation relatively clean and sanitary.

“You’ll find out that if you don’t rinse the items out, we’ll still process them. But it’s really messy for the processors,” he says. “If [we] get a full bottle of ketchup or mayonnaise, these will break and get absorbed into the other items.”

Ramping up recycling efforts

Residential recycling efforts only account for a portion of the city’s overall recycling report card. The amount of waste produced by municipal facilities and local businesses also needs to be addressed.

“I think the city’s long-term goal is to try to reduce the amount of waste that’s generated in the first place,” Trippler says.

Recalling a pilot project study of all waste generated at city facilities, including the community center and City Hall, Finwall says they found that 71 percent of the material in this waste stream was compostable, recyclable or reusable. A whopping 29 percent of all waste was comprised of paper towels and compostable paper, alone.

“The next biggest push in solid waste management will be organics collection,” Finwall says.

Trippler agrees that adding an option for recycling organics to the city’s recycling program may very well be the next step toward creating a greener city. But he says the details of this would still have to be worked out with Tennis Sanitation.

“It would have to be some kind of container that might have to be a little bit more secure than a cart, because organics have the potential of attracting rodents and animals,” he said.

Could businesses save money?

Before adding recycling options, city staff and officials are making a push to include more small businesses in the city’s recycling program in 2015.

Since late 2013, small businesses were given the option to opt into the program. As of the end of 2014, 15 small businesses and churches had chosen to participate, routing an additional 30,157 pounds of recyclables from Maplewood to the Tennis Sanitation recycling facility.  

Finwall says that they’re billed the same rate for recycling services as residents, which is $3.03 per month.

“They can save a lot of money because, businesses, their trash is taxed at a higher rate,” she explains.

While some people recycle out of concern for the environment, Trippler says, monetary incentive can also wield power over changing people’s recycling habits.

“I think that we have a tendency in this country to put the wrong emphasis on things by how we bill people for things,” he says. “The people who have the biggest waste bins get the best deal in terms of weight. I think that ought to be reversed.”

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

Maplewood trash and recycling guide


How to manage a messy job

Andres Olade, 24, has been sorting recycled goods at Tennis Sanitation for the past three years. A father of newborn twins, he commutes from his home in South St. Paul to help manually sort more than 80 tons of milk jugs, glass jars, pop cans, and other items that cycle through the facility every day.

“I like it because I get to see how they recycle things,” he says.

His front-row seat on the processing line has influenced his own recycling habits at home. He says he’s always recycled, but now he takes time to rinse out jars and containers before he places them in the recycling bin so they don’t create a mess on the processing line.

“Remember to recycle properly,” he says. “Don’t put the trash in there. Remember to put it where it belongs.”


 

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