County highlights need for better recycling

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Increases in future? > County could see fee increase

By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos County residents could see an increase in waste recycling fees if residents businesses don’t get a better handle on their recycling habits.

Though county waste officials commended residents and businesses for being very conscientious when it comes to recycling, more needs to be done.

“Although Los Alamos County residents make a real effort to recycle right, our recycle material has 17 percent contamination,” Environmental Services Manager Angelica Gurule said.

Los Alamos Environmental Services define contamination as unrecyclable material being mixed in with recyclables.

Unrecyclable materials include glass, food waste, including cardboard with grease stains, brush, plastic bags, bagged recyclables, hoses and diapers.

Officials pointed to two related factors for the need to do better. One of those factors included China’s recent ban on recyclable streams containing more than 0.5 percent contamination. China imports roughly 50 percent of the world’s recyclables. Gurule said this is putting pressure on Los Alamos County’s recycling contractor, Friedman Recycling.

Friedman has had to hire additional employees to do a better job of sorting recyclables and has also had to slow its sorting lines to half.

“Recycling programs are under a lot of strain”, a spokesman for Friedman Recycling said. “We all need to work together to keep recycling viable in our region.”

As a result of the China ban and the new contamination limits, Friedman has had to raise rates for many of the communities it serves, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Friedman has not raised rates for Los Alamos County yet.

However, Gurule said that could change.

“The mixed recycle market is volatile. At one point the County was generating revenue from the mixed recycle program.

Today the County is paying for the mixed recyclables to be processed,” Gurule said. “It is only a matter of time before we feel the financial implications of the China ban. Neighboring communities have already experienced significantly increased processing fees. The City of El Paso, also a Friedman customer, was asked to pay $115 per ton. Freidman has not yet increased fees for Los Alamos. We will continue our best effort to recycle right by reducing our contamination rate. Despite rising costs for mixed recyclables at this time it remains less expensive to recycle than to send the material to the landfill.”

Los Alamos County Zero Waste Team member Tiffany Pegoda said everyone can do a better job at recycling by knowing what those recycle symbols found on certain products really mean.

“Just because it has a triangle or a number does not mean it’s recyclable,” Pegoda said. “In Los Alamos, we see a lot of glass bottles and plastic bags in the carts, as well as bagged recycling. These are not acceptable in the blue recycle roll cart.”

Los Alamos County’s website has a section devoted to the Zero Waste Team, where residents can find out more about how to be more efficient with their recycling.

Visit losalamosnm.us and type Zero Waste Team into the search engine for more information.