Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wyoming plays catch-up with recycling

As I bring my cans and bottles to Cheyenne's blue-bin recycling posts, I often wonder what becomes of my cast-offs. How far does my fruit cocktail can or Budweiser bottle have to go to be transformed into something else? With rising fuel prices, what's the cost of hauling aluminum cans to Los Angeles or New York or maybe even China?

I've talked to some of my fellow recyclers about this and they don't know the answers. They're a diverse bunch. An airman from Warren AFB with two kids in his SUV said he was from upstate New York where they'd had curbside recycling for 20 years. He wondered why we didn't have something similar. There is a pilot program in Cheyenne's Sun Valley neighborhood. No telling how long the pilot will last and whether it will prove economical enough to expand citywide. One good sign: cranky letters promoting and bemoaning the curbside plan have begun to show up on our local op-ed pages. Once it reaches the op-ed stage, you know that implementation can't be far behind.

I see many families hauling their stuff to our three blue-bin locations. Kids instructing their parents on the wonders of recycling. Retirees, too, whom I see when I use part of my lunch hour for recycling. Lots of women, too, of all ages. More women than men, if my unscientific observations are any gauge. It's possible there here in the rugged West it's the duty of the womenfolk to recycle, the menfolk being too busy wrangling cattle or shooting varmints. It's also possible that women are more attuned to the benefits of recycling and saving the planet.

Wyoming's Sam Western provides some answers to recycling's true costs in a column he wrote for As befitting someone who's been a correspondent for London's Economist magazine since 1985, Sam did his homework. He estimates that only three to five percent of the state's trash is recycled, compared to a national average of 27 percent.

Aluminum cans typically go east to Anheuser-Busch's Metal Container Corporation; cardboard and paper travel to plants in Montana, Oregon, and Washington, sometimes China; steel cans and small scrap end up at the Nucor Steel plant in Plymouth, Utah.

That's a pretty long haul, paper going to China. But maybe my paper only has to travel next door to Montana. As a writer and reader, I recycle a lot of paper, both at home and at work. All those gin bottles, too, can't forget those. The good part about glass is that there's a company in Wyoming that recycles it.

Contractors in Campbell County, which imports most of its gravel from South Dakota or Johnson County, use crushed glass (called cullet) as filler around landscaping, septic drain fields, retaining wall backfill, and drain pipe bedding.

Other Wyoming companies are getting into the act, recycling plastic bottles and old tires. There's a company in Cheyenne, Tatooine, that collects computers and other electronic devices, breaks them down, and sells the parts. It's the old junkyard concept where you discard your old jalopy and gearheads use it for parts for their old jalopies, which they call classic cars.

Read Sam's entire column under the "Guest" link at He's done an impressive amount of research about trash, landfills and recycling, lassoing all those facts and figures into easily digestible bites. Sam's always been good at the details, as readers saw in his book, "Pushed off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming's Search for its Soul." I ran into Sam last Thursday in Cheyenne during a presentation by photographer Adam Jahiel of Story. Sam accompanied Adam to Kyrgyzstan during a trip organized by Jackson's Vista 360. Sam interviewed and wrote while Adam shot the photos of the country's horse culture. The photos were beautiful. The landscape was reminiscent of certain parts of Wyoming. Adam made a brief mention of an upcoming book about the project, but wouldn't reveal any details.

1 comment:

mpage225 said...

We have a long way to go. Here in Independence, MO we have two recycling centers, no curbside. Recently the recycling centers stopped taking glass as it is no longer financially feasible. Closest glass recycler is in Oklahoma.