Editorial: Ada Countians need to up their recycling game

In a sense, Ada County got its first report card for recycling earlier this month. From what we can tell looking at the results of a yearlong, $73,000 study of what is in the landfill, there is plenty of room to improve our grade.

A lot of waste piling up at the Ada County Landfill, and others around Idaho and the nation, didn’t need to end up there. And that could explain why some European countries recycle at nearly double the rate (63 percent of trash is recycled in Austria) of the United States (34.5 percent). But the European Union has a mandate to recycle 50 percent of its trash. We have our individual motivations in a recycling culture that can ebb and flow due to markets for recyclables and other circumstances.

After delving into the topic with the city of Boise, Republic Services and Western Recycling, and mining a report May 1 by the Idaho Statesman’s Cynthia Sewell, we feel most of us could improve our recycling game overnight. That’s because a lot of what got dumped at our landfill during the 2013-2014 study (in the samples) could have been redirected.

Continued recycling education programs, new composting programs such as the one Boise is planning, and maybe even some tweaks in regulations and prices could be incentives to improvement as well.

The cost for a resident to dump trash at a landfill across the country is wide-ranging — anywhere from $40 to over $100 per ton. Spokane is over $100. The Ada County Landfill charges residents only $33 a ton. Would raising the rates in Ada County be an incentive for residents to recycle more? Or would a higher price result in a spike in illegal dumping?

Area waste disposal industry experts we consulted believe that promoting stewardship and recycling education is a better long-term strategy than dispatching recycling police, and we agree.

We know and you know that recycling is just nonpartisan common sense. We also know that some of the restrictions and guidelines can get confusing. So, here are some small but effective adjustments we can all make to raise our recycling grade:

• Those plastic grocery bags? They are nothing but trouble. Yes, they can be reused again, but we all know where many of them end up: in the landfill, in the blue barrels, or worse yet, blowing around the countryside. Don’t place your recyclables in one of those plastic grocery bags and then stuff it in your blue recycle barrel; that just complicates the sorting process. Option: Take those plastic bags back to the store where you got them. Get yourself a reuseable tote or use highly recyclable paper bags.

• Some of us underuse or misuse those blue recycling barrels. Grass, glass and disposable foam products don’t belong in there. This time of year Republic says grass, in particular, contaminates what is supposed to be in those blue barrels and frustrates the sorting that needs to be done. Plus, the wrong items take up room for the recyclables that should be going in there.

• Recyling may take a little more time but it doesn’t cost you money — in fact, it saves you money. Sewell’s story pointed out that residential customers in Boise who ask for a blue recycling barrel pay only $14.08 per month for their curb service, versus the $18.16 paid by those who don’t recycle. Meridian residents pay $17.25 whether they recycle or not. Consult this


to determine what can go in that blue barrel.

Among the “missed opportunities” noted by our trash experts are these:

• Separate that junk mail and those plastic beverage bottles, and recycle these items instead of tossing them in the regular garbage.

• Learn how to reduce your food and other organic waste by


. Fruit and vegetable scraps, yard waste, grass clippings, straw, organic animal bedding, sawdust and wood shavings, shredded newspaper and even dryer lint are among the items that can go in the mix. Some of us have gone the composting route but feel we don’t have enough uses for compost. Our experts suggest topping off the lawn after the last fall mowing or top dressing our flower beds.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.