Question: Is it true that only plastics # 1 and # 2 are recycled through roadside pickup and that all other plastics are dumped? When that is the case, we spend a lot of time and money washing out our trash.
Reply: The Tri-County Recycling Facility in Little Chute receives, sorts, balances, markets, and sells recyclables collected by households and businesses in Outagamie, Winnebago, and Brown counties.
Plastics no. 1-7 are accepted for recycling. This includes household bottles, glasses, and jugs; Milk container and lid; and produce, bakery and deli containers and lids. However, the facility does not want plastic cups and lids (more on that later).
The plant has reliable markets for # 1 and # 2 plastics, but this is not always the case with the other types of plastics. Some end up in the landfill.
“Depending on the markets and the quantities we receive, it will determine whether the 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 Series will actually be recycled,” said Alex Nett, Outagamie County’s recycling and resource reclamation administrator.
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Nett said U.S. markets had been impacted by China’s 2018 National Sword policy, which banned the import of many recyclable materials unless they met strict contamination standards.
“Many of the recyclers, especially along the coast, sent their materials there, and when they could no longer send them to China, our domestic markets were flooded,” said Nett. “It’s created all sorts of chaos with prices, supply and demand and things like that. We’ve been recovering from that for the past three years.”
The amount of a particular type of plastic can also affect its marketability. For example, if it takes the recycling facility six months to accumulate a load of yogurt containers, and those containers aren’t well rinsed, the bales “won’t smell the best,” Nett said.
The Tri-County recycling plant processes more than 100,000 tons of recyclable materials annually. Nett said that roughly 8% of the incoming tonnage is non-recyclable and ends up in the landfill. The most common contaminants are plastic bags, foil, straws, spoons and hangers.
An online search tool (www.recyclemoretricounty.org/what-do-i-do-with) can help consumers determine which waste products can be recycled. For example, the tool says that plastic detergent bottles should be recycled, but that plastic cups and lids should be thrown away.
According to Nett, no paper cups, wax-coated paper cups or soy-based plastic cups, which have a different composition than petroleum-based plastic cups, are used in the recycling plant.
“It is generally difficult for residents to tell the difference between these, so we just don’t say plastic cups to avoid this confusion,” she said.
Questions and answers about watchdogs
Post-Crescent reporter Duke Behnke answers your questions about local government. Send questions to [email protected] or call him at 920-993-7176.