ENVIRONMENT

Utah recycling is improving, according to Waste Management

Feb 29, 2024, 2:00 PM

Workers hand-sort items from conveyors at the Waste Management sorting center in slc Utah, which de...

Workers hand-sort items from conveyors at the Waste Management sorting center in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023.(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has made progress on how much gets recycled, according to Waste Management of Utah.

Mark Snedecor, the state’s Waste Management’s director of recycling operations oversees recycling for the states in the four corners area; Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

“[Waste Management] operate[s] the largest [plant] in Utah and Salt Lake City and we run in the mid-teens in terms of a residue rate,” Snedecor said.

He explained that residue rates refer to the materials that don’t get recycled. However, he did not say what Utah’s residue rate is. 

“So if you say the residue rate is 16%, that means 84% of what people put in their cans is actually going back to mills and other recycling partners to get made into new goods,” said Snedecor. 

What gets recycled?

Snedecor said that the recycling process begins when items are placed into single-stream bins.

In Utah, Waste Management recycles cardboard, paper, aluminum, and plastic. When recycling arrives at Waste Management’s facility, it is sorted by material.

Snedecor said anything that can not be recycled, like Christmas lights or dirty diapers, is sent to the landfill. 

“There is no magic wand. We can’t go ahead and… turn it into that,” said Snedecor.

Additionally, things that are not clean can not be recycled, so ensure that you’ve cleaned out single-material food containers before placing them in your bin. 

Waste Management’s Recycling 101 tips say that caps can be placed back on bottles before they are placed in bins. 

“If you’re going to be buying a new box or something. You don’t want food particles in your new material,” said Snedecor. 

After recyclables go through machinery at Waste Management’s facilities, they are sold to manufacturers. The materials can become all sorts of things. 

“[It] just depends on who’s actually buying the material that day,” said Snedecor. 

Recycling glass in Utah

Glass is also recyclable. In Utah, however, it needs to be placed in special collection bins. Snedecor said that Utah-based Momentum Recycling handles the processing of glass. The company’s website includes a bin locator

“Glass has never been included in the single stream program. We do include it in other states, but Utah has just never had it in their program,” Snedecor said. 

Sending less to landfill

“It’s about making smarter decisions and understanding of what’s acceptable in your local recycling stream,” said Snedecor.

Unrecyclable items that are placed in the blue bins will not be recycled. Instead, Snedecor said “It’s just a much more expensive trip,” to the landfill.  

According to Snedecor, smart consumer decisions can help cut back on waste. For example, purchasing juice in a plastic or glass container instead of small, mixed-waste cartons. 

“You can make that small change, you can greatly drive up… the amount that’s being diverted away from landfills,” said Snedecor. “Sometimes you’ve got to give up a little bit of the convenience.” 

Mixed-material containers, such as coffee cups, can not be recycled. Because they contain layers of different materials, such as paper and plastic, they are too difficult to reduce to raw materials.

To avoid sending them to landfills, Snedecor said to take a reusable cup with you. 

On the topic of mixed materials, recyclables that have been sealed in a bag are not so recyclable, per Waste Management’s website. Processing machinery can not separate it. 

Snedecor said you should always check with your municipality for what can be placed in recycling bins.  

“Recycle right [and] recycle often,” said Snedecor. 

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Utah recycling is improving, according to Waste Management