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Recycling 411 in Madison County

By John Pumilio on October 27, 2011

On Friday, October 21, a small group students joined members of Colgate’s Sustainability Office on a field trip to the Madison County landfill and recycling center.Our goal was to become more familiar with where our waste goes and learn tips on how to better recycle. We learned that Madison County residents recycle approximately 6,000 tons worth of material each year. Additionally, the Madison County facility has implemented some really innovative projects pertaining to sustainable development and renewable energy.We wanted to share with you what we learned from our trip.

The Basics

Madison County has a two stream recycling center. Thus, as the name implies, we must separate our recyclables into two streams: 1) Paper and paper-based products must go in one container (to keep it dry and clean) and 2) aluminum, metal, glass, and plastic products must go in another container.

Paper and Cardboard

The golden rule of cardboard recycling: if it sits in your cupboard, it’s the perfect recyclable material! For example, cereal and granola bar boxes and even greasy pizza boxes can all be recycled.If you store it in the fridge or freezer, keep it out! This is because these cardboard products contain a plastic-like material that prevents them from falling apart when they become moist. Unfortunately, this material also contaminates paper recycling. For example, soda/beer boxes and cardboard milk containers must be thrown in the trash.

Large pile of paper products in a warehouse

Paper products collected for recycling.

Paper products bailed and ready for recycling.

Paper products bailed and ready for recycling.

The Madison County facility is able to recycle all 1-7 plastic products. But, before you throw your plastic in the recycle bin, make sure is “squeezable.”Another golden rule: if you squeeze it and it cracks, it’s trash; if you squeeze it and it’s pliable, it’s recyclable!

A few other tips: make sure to keep all Styrofoam products out of your recycling bin, clean your containers before discarding them and spend the extra second to drain your bottles and take the tops off (otherwise, someone else has to do it for you- think about unscrewing the caps off of hundreds of bottles a day).

Pile of glass and metal products in a warehouse setting

Glass/metal/plastic products collected for recycling.

Glass and metal products bailed and stacked

Glass/metal/plastic products bailed and ready for recycling.

Other Recycling Products

Yes, you can recycle your plastic bags from the grocery store. That is, if you aren’t already using a reusable one or reusing them yourself. Fill up one bag with others and put them in with your paper recycling bin. Also, you can recycle old clothing (shirts and shorts – yes; socks and underwear – no!). These products donated or used to make rags and other products. Once again, keep these in a dry bag and place them in your paper recycling bin. Lastly, if you have any old pots and pans, feel free to put them to good use! Throw them in a separate bag or put them in with the paper.

Recycling Solid Waste for Energy

The Madison County facility is at the forefront of utilizing renewable energy technologies. The facility has topped the landfill with thin and flexible solar panels.

Flexible solar PV array on capped landfill cell.

Flexible solar PV array on capped landfill cell.

This solar PV array is estimated to generate 40,000 kWh’s of power per year; that’s enough to provide electricity to approximately 30,000 homes. In addition to this new project, the landfill is capturing the methane that is produced from the breakdown of solid waste. The methane is piped and combusted to provide 1,000 kilowatts of electricity per hour; that is enough to heat 200 homes per year. Moreover, the by-product is heat that is used to heat all of the facilities buildings!

If any of your basic recycling questions have not been answered, be on the look out for the first-ever Colgate Recyclepedia! Also, be sure to keep others informed! Education and awareness are the first steps towards a more sustainable future.

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