Orcas Islanders are not doing a very good job recycling. That’s what Laura Tidwell’s 8th grade science class found out when they looked into the recycling at the Orcas Transfer Station in early October.
“It was disgusting,” said 13-year-old Millie Kauenry Henry. “We couldn’t believe how dirty the recycling was.”
Exchange/ORS staff pulled eight random bags of recycling out of the blue 40-yard steel bins at the transfer station. The students, working in teams, dissected each bag, separating the clean recyclables from contaminated material and plain-old garbage.
Everyone (including The Exchange/ORS staff) were surprised at what they discovered.
“The kids found that only about 40 percent of the material in the bags was actually clean recyclable material,” said Tidwell. “The rest was badly contaminated or non-recyclable.”
The biggest problem was food contamination, according to the kids. Bottles, cans and plastic containers with significant amounts of food and mold were found. Also paper products with food residue were common. These contaminated materials are not recyclable.
While a few bags were very clean, most were not, and some were terrible—filled with mostly garbage.
“I am actually kind of horrified,” said Exchange/ORS Director Pete Moe. “We’ve had complaints from the facility on the mainland that processes our recycling, but I didn’t think it was this bad. We have some education to do.”
Moe pointed to contaminated recycling as one of the reasons The Exchange/ORS board is convinced that Orcas needs to move back to the source-separation model of recycling that existed on Orcas more than a decade ago.
“Dirty recycling just becomes garbage,” Moe said. “It’s more expensive to process. In the end we will all just end up paying more.”
“People have to do a better job of washing out their recycling,” said 8th grader Luke Peistch.
The staff also pointed out that it’s easy to find out how to recycle correctly at www.exchangeorcas.org, where anyone can download a comprehensive recycling guide.
The visit from the 8th graders to the transfer station is part of a larger cooperative program between The Exchange/ORS and the Orcas Island School District. “I really enjoyed working with my hands and sorting garbage,” said 8th grader Joe Reigel. “It was a blast!”
Tidwell’s class will be helping with an education program both in the school and for the general public. Specifically they will work on a marketing campaign that will inform everyone about recycling clean, uncontaminated materials.
Julie Pinardi’s 8th grade “Circle Of Leaders” is looking at collecting aluminum containers on campus, and with Brett McFarland’s High School Environmental Club, getting involved in the “Washington Green Schools” program.
You can learn more about at www.wagreenschools.org.