Santee Cooper: Practical Considerations of Recycling

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Berkeley County government has recently formed a group called “Keep Berkeley Beautiful.”

This group works to reduce litter, beautify the county, and increase recycling. I joined the group and our motto is “Fight Ugly with Us.” Click here to see their Facebook page. Education on how recycling really works is an important step to increasing recycling. Some places even have a “master recycler” program to train people to recycle in a smarter way.

Let’s start at the beginning with a few of the items that are commonly able to be recycled, and then we’ll discuss the current situation locally.

- Plastic containers of types 1 to 7 are numbered that way to help with recycling

- Paper, including newspaper and mixed office paper, including paperboard.

- Cardboard- in recycling, this category is for the special strong cardboard that is used in corrugated boxes and packaging.

- Textiles and clothing – check out an earlier blog on recycling these.

Large-scale recycling such as on a county level is all about finding a market for the items to be recycled. Finding a market is so important. The state has a group which helps find or develop new markets for recycled items. It is called the Recycling Market Development Advisory Council (RMDAC) and is part of the S.C. Department of Commerce.

In South Carolina, there are paper mills and packaging producers, for example, which can use recycled materials in their process. There are a few paper mills within about 60 miles of Berkeley County, so Berkeley County Water and Sanitation is able to accept paper and cardboard and ship it economically.

Cardboard is worth more than mixed paper, so separating the cardboard helps to get a better price. But if you have a cereal box or other thick paperboard, it is not really cardboard and just contaminates the material.

Contamination is the biggest problem that recyclers deal with. Mixing in the wrong material can cause a large amount of recycled material to get thrown away, because there is no good way to clean up that mess. If it takes too much effort and so raises the cost of separating, the recycler can’t afford to stop and remove the contamination.  So please pay a little attention to what you throw into the bin.

Problems happen when the market is disrupted for a recycled material. When oil prices dropped so low, plastics could be made cheaply from the pure raw materials that come from oil refining. Manufacturers didn’t need or want recycled plastic as part of their raw materials because it was more difficult to work with and didn’t save them money. Only a few recyclers could stay in business at those prices, and the market for recycled plastics disappeared.

Markets for recycled materials are constantly changing, and there will be more opportunities to recycle in the future.