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The scoop on recycling

Julie Coon, solid waste management specialist with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, sees the importance of recycling.

“I think people that have been resistant have misperceptions. They see workers throwing the contents of the recycling bins co-mingled into the back of what look like dump trucks, and they don’t trust that the material actually gets recycled.”

JULIE COON, 31

Solid waste management specialist

Julie Coon of Kansas City knows a lot about recycling. After earning a degree in environmental science from UMKC, Coon took a job with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, where she’s been for six years.

The avid runner and backyard gardener also stays busy with Peas on Earth, an urban farm at 18th and Summit that she runs with Natasha Karsk. They sell vegetables to area restaurants, including Fud and Blue Bird Bistro.

Now, your recycling questions answered.

The Kansas City Star

Going curbside: “I think people that have been resistant have misperceptions. They see workers throwing the contents of the recycling bins co-mingled into the back of what look like dump trucks, and they don’t trust that the material actually gets recycled.”

Recycling conundrums: “Plastic is the most confusing. The way the plastics industry codes products is with a triangle with a number in it. That triangle does not necessarily mean an item is recyclable. It has to do with what materials can be processed by the plant and which ones have a market value. Styrofoam has a triangle with the number 6 so people assume they can recycle Styrofoam, but the majority of Styrofoam is air, and it doesn’t make sense to be shipping air around. That doesn’t mean it isn’t recyclable, but the facilities aren’t set up to take it.”

Paper or plastic: “In theory they (plastic bags) are recyclable, but the recovery facility is all conveyor belt-driven, and those plastic bags blow around and become airborne litter, and they get caught in the machinery. So your newspaper sacks, your bread sacks, your plastic grocery sacks are not accepted curbside, but they can be taken back to the grocery store. There are collection programs at almost every single grocery store.”

The Starbucks controversy: “There’s a lot of debate about coffee cups. Most companies don’t want materials with embedded food residue. So if your coffee was sitting in the cup long enough that it is stained, companies don’t want it. And a lot of coffee cups are lined with wax or have a Styrofoam bubble on the outside. Anything that is mixed materials there is no market for. If it’s a pure, unstained paper cup it can be recycled.”

A little overboard: “One thing I used to do was cut out the plastic windows of junk mail and pull off the fake plastic credit cards and pull out the staples and so on. You can just toss the whole thing into the bin. During the pulping process, it goes through filters that catch the non-paper materials.

The greater good: “When you put out items to be recycled they don’t have to be immaculate, but they should be rinsed out. Cleanliness is important because that material might sit in a warehouse a couple of months, and if it’s July or August it is going to smell unpleasant and grow bacteria. The amount of energy that goes into making new products is so much more than the amount of water you use rinsing.”

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