This is the second in a series about recycling issues in the Tri-state. These stories explore options, recycling obstacles, and how each person’s role can impact the future of this corner of the world.
BULLHEAD CITY — China’s recent decision to stop taking plastic waste from the United States prompted cities and towns across the country to take a hard look at their own recycling programs. China didn’t just stop with the U.S. Approximately 70% of the world’s plastic waste went to China – about 7 million tons a year.
As a result, many recycling centers around the country have closed completely, municipalities have stopped recycling programs and some programs that remain stopped taking plastics all together. They’ve discovered a big common denominator: It just wasn’t worth it.
Bullhead City has decisions of its own to make about the future of recycling.
“If people have been following what’s going on around the state and the country with regards to recycling, they know many communities have stopped their programs in total,” said Toby Cotter, Bullhead City city manager. “There are a lot of changes happening in the recycling world.”
Bullhead City has a contract with Republic Services, the waste company that offers a curb-side recycling program to both Bullhead City and Laughlin residents.
“We’ve had several city council workshops with Republic and in those sessions, changing the agreement, modifying it and possibly stopping the program here have been discussed a number of times,” he said. “It’s not that there isn’t a desire to keep plastics out of the landfill or cardboard out of the landfill, it just comes at a very steep cost.
“Because China is not a big marketplace for recycled materials any more, it’s created quite a challenge here locally — and I’m talking Bullhead City, Laughlin and Las Vegas,” he added. “Our biggest problem — there’s quite a bit of contamination going into the recycling bins.
“There are really two big issues we’re facing, recycling materials being contaminated and the market for recyclables has dried up extensively across the globe.”
Plastics aren’t entirely the root of recycling evil, but not knowing certain plastics can’t be reused is a big issue, and people still are confused about what items are not recyclable.
“Republic picks up nearly all of the trash in Bullhead City and Laughlin, including all the individual homes and multi-family complexes,” Cotter said. “It ends up they’re picking up trash because there are tires and dirty diapers in the recycling bins. Those things are not recyclable. It’s expensive to send those trucks around town when what they are really doing is picking up trash and contaminated recycling and transporting it to Vegas.”
Another issue is the vast amount of items people purchase online and the packaging nightmare they’ve become.
“It is quite a conversation about the changing role of the consumer, when people order items online,” he said. “When your item arrives, it’s usually in a box, within a box, surrounded with plastic. The one little item came in two boxes surrounded by material, instead of buying it in the local store where maybe there’s not even a bag involved. Those boxes are ending up in the recycle bin and the plastic ends up at the recycling center and it basically breaks the machines. Places like Amazon are killing the recycling plants.”
Cotter said city officials have toured the recycling plant to gain a better understanding.
“From everything we’ve learned — we’ve looked at the local facility and where the recycling goes. We’ve watched the facility in Las Vegas and we’ve seen what food contamination can do to otherwise perfectly recyclable materials,” he said. “To break it down financially, if it’s not worth much in a simple, clean form, it’s not worth anything dirty.
“People are doing it unknowingly. It’s not like everyone’s lazy,” he said. “It’s because it’s as simple as an ordered pizza. It’s in cardboard, so it should be recyclable, right? Except, half the pizza box is soaked in grease and sauce. Or people toss in catsup or peanut butter jars, but if they don’t clean them out, it’s not a clean recyclable item.
“Some folks are not quite on top of what’s recyclable. One guy might think, ‘I just broke a baseball bat, that should be recyclable, right?’ Wood isn’t recyclable. Clothing is another thing people think can be recycled, but it’s not. Clothes should be donated to places like Goodwill where they can be reused.”
Changes are inevitable in the near future, one way or the other.
“Part of that change is the education part, making people aware of what they’re putting in the recycle bins,” Cotter explained. “And someday here at the city we’re looking at various options concerning our franchise agreement with Republic to either continue with it and renew it, or do an amendment, modification or extension; or we could go out for bid and seek other solutions.
“What we’re looking at right now, most certainly the way we recycle is going to have to change,” he added. “Most people agree it’s not working if we’re sending garbage — and if what’s collected is put into transport vehicles and sent to Vegas, and it’s deemed contaminated because of food or liquids, it’s not recycling, it’s trash management.
“We’ve got to figure a way in our society, for a better society, how to handle this issue, and this might be the opportunity to re-examine all of that,” he said. “In 2020, we live in a different world where we care about the planet, and we may have to look at a different way to do that.
“It might be only cardboard or bottles for a while,” he added. “We’ve got to take some time to analyze the products we’re using. If no one recycles glass or brown glass bottles, should we as a society not use brown bottles? If brown glass is not recycled, maybe we should use white bottles instead and move society into that realm.
“I don’t have the answers, and these are fascinating times. All cities are making changes,” Cotter said. “There’s so much literature about recycling, so many articles and discussions, it’s fascinating. It’s not just Bullhead City, but Laughlin and Clark County — all our products are going to the same recycling center.”
In addition to once-a-week curb-side service provided by Republic Services, Bullhead City offers an extra drop-off point.
“We have a drop-off point here at City Hall if people have extra items,” Cotter said. “The recycling participation at City Hall works pretty well, and actually what’s being collected here has been pretty clean, so it works pretty well.
“Extra bulky items can be picked up curb-side six times a year. Just call Republic to pick up your oversized bulk items,” he said. “Twice a year we collect household hazardous materials like batteries, paint and oil cans. We also have an ‘e-cycling’ day where we take electronic devices, like large TVs, old computers, laptops and other gadgets people want to give away and that’s been a huge success.
“Last time, we gathered three truckloads of consumer electronics,” he added. “They went to a manufacturing facility where they pick everything apart and recycle all the little components. They find valuable components that are repurposed for the most part.”
The success of recycling all hinges on the effort residents put into their desire to make the world a better place.
“One of the items we’ve talked about is should we go back to not having mandatory recycling and have a few drop-off places instead? People who use drop-off are very responsible. We’d still have recycling, but not at your front door. However, people also like the convenience of having service at their homes. It makes it very easy, but it also makes it easy for people to toss in items that aren’t recyclable.”
The drop-off recycling area is open to all residents of Bullhead City and neighboring residents as well. There are four recycling containers at the site where recyclables can be deposited and one trash container. The center is located at 1255 Marina Blvd., at the north end of the City Complex, also known as the Administration Building.
Items accepted are:
Cardboard — Boxes, liners, jute, dry food boxes, beer/soda carriers, shoe/tissue boxes, toilet and paper towel rolls, etc.
Glass — Clear, green, brown bottles, food and beverage jars; jars and bottles should be cleaned and free of food or liquids.
Metal, aluminum and steel — Beverage containers, aluminum foil, pie plates, food cans, bi-metal containers, aerosol cans and lids.
Mixed paper — Junk mail, high-grade paper, white/colored ledger, copier paper, green bar paper, book paper, envelopes without plastic window, carbonless paper, tabulating cards, facsimile paper, paper bags, manila folders, magazines, paperback books, small catalogs and telephone books.
Newspaper — All loose newspaper including slick paper inserts.
Plastics — Any #1 through #7 plastic bottles, containers, jugs and jars.
If transporting items in a plastic trash bag, do not deposit the plastic bag containing the recyclables. Empty the contents into the container and throw away the plastic bag, or reuse it for the next load of materials.