Before You Throw Those Old VHS Tapes in Your Recycling Bin, Read This
Donning hard hats, safety goggles, and even a few face masks, 20 Wyoming residents recently toured the Rumpke recycling center in St. Bernard, the largest recycling center of its kind in North America. The tour guide used a remote mic and visitors wore headsets in order to hear her over the constant thud and crunch of machinery sweeping recyclable material through the plant.
The group was able to watch as trucks backed into the facility and poured out their contents. Then, they followed the loads as they entered conveyer belts and began moving through the sorting process. A legion of Rumpke staff work on various lines, each responsible for clearing the many pieces of “trash” that people wrongfully mix with recyclables.
“Seeing how much effort goes into narrowing down the haul into what can actually be recycled really demonstrated how vital it is that residents follow Rumpke’s guidelines,” she said after the tour.
Wyoming Gets a Top Grade for Recycling, But There’s Room for Improvement
“Wyoming does a great job recycling. We are consistently one of the top recycling communities in Hamilton County,” says Chris Babb, the Environmental Stewardship Commission chair who helped organize the visit. “Our citizens recycle nearly one-third of our solid waste, but we can and should do better.
The City is part of Hamilton County’s incentive program that offers reimbursements for recycling. If we can increase our recycling rate, we can increase dollars coming back to Wyoming,” he added.
The group watched as an optical scanner sorted paper fiber materials from containers. They learned how a magnetic eddy current pulls and flings aluminum cans away from other types of cans. All the while, Rumpke staff busily kept yanking nonrecyclable material from the line.
“The group walked past piles of discarded shoes—certainly not recyclable, mucking up the line and now ending up in the trash,” said Stankorb Taylor. She offers a reminder that in Wyoming, shoes and other textiles can now be recycled in Simple Recycling’s orange bags.
The group’s tour guide also explained that the line is frequently shut down due to a vexing nonrecyclable—VHS tapes. She told the story of some twenty-odd VHS tapes that someone recently tossed into their recycling. The tapes unspooled and created a tape monster that gummed up the line and required expensive repairs. Plastic bags pose the same threat to machinery and should NEVER be placed in recycling bins.
“If there was a big takeaway from the day, it was, please, please, please, do not throw VHS tapes or plastic bags into the recycling,” said Stankorb Taylor, who also helped organize the visit. “In ESC we’ve been talking a lot about wish-cycling or aspirational recycling, that is tossing something in, hoping it’s recyclable. When it isn’t, it isn’t. And seeing the effort that goes into plucking out nonrecycables really demonstrates how momentarily feeling good by tossing a nonrecycable item in the wrong place only complicates the recycling process.”
This year’s PSA Green Team Chairs, Lauren Albarella and Elizabeth O’Keefe, were also in attendance. Albarella and O’Keefe said the trip answered some nagging questions they’d each held.
“The visit answered some questions I’ve had for a long time concerning why Rumpke only takes bottle- and jar-shaped plastic for recycling,” said Albarella.
O’Keefe continued: “We learned that the plastic containers such as beverage bottles and laundry detergent bottles are more easily recycled than the others. The plastic bottle-shaped containers are produced using a method called blow molding, whereas plastic containers such as yogurt tubs or produce boxes, and other non-bottle-shaped containers are manufactured using a method called injection molding. Because the plastic recovered from bottle-shaped plastic containers is the most easily recyclable, there is a greater demand and aftermarket for these containers; therefore, these bottle-shaped containers are the only recyclable materials that Rumpke currently recovers and processes.”
Rumpke explained the challenge it faces to find buyers for the material.
“It was interesting hearing how Rumpke can find markets for the one type of plastic but not others,” added Albarella. “It makes you think hard about the things you buy and makes me want to support companies that do use recycled and recyclable materials.”
“This is definitely worth a tour if you can manage it,” said Wyoming resident Lee Ann Hamilton, whose photos are included with this story. “The sheer volume of stuff—paper, plastic, cans and more—being sorted while moving through seemingly endless conveyor belts is mind-boggling. I also love that it’s a local-grown family operation that’s become one of the most sophisticated recycling centers in the country. Bravo!”
The Environmental Stewardship Commission would like to organize another visit after the holidays. Rumpke gives tours on Wednesdays at 9 am or 1 pm, and they must be prearranged. If you’d like to be part of a future tour, email Sarah Stankorb Taylor at email@example.com and note whether you’d be more likely to be free on a Wednesday morning or early afternoon.
NOTE: For clear instructions on what can go into your recycling bin each week, go to Rumpke.com. At the bottom of the home page, you’ll see a list of tabs under “For Your Home.” Click on the “recycling” tab and you will be taken to a page of detailed instructions about how to properly recycle your household waste.
If you want to recycle items not on Rumpke’s list, visit Hamilton County Recycles’ search tool to find alternative drop-off sites for everything from car batteries to light bulbs.