In the dumps: Indiana struggling to recycle

Local News

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – Indiana is well short of their lofty recycling targets, according to a recent state report.

In July, Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management released a study which reviewed the state’s recycling infrastructure. According to the study, Indiana collected about 8.8 million tons of waste, with only 19% being recycled. That figure is well below the national average of 32% and does not meet the state’s goal to recycle 50% of its waste.

“As a state, we’re not really anywhere close to that,” said Jodi Leamon, the sustainability coordinator for the Allen County Department of Environmental Management. “In Allen County, unfortunately the same is probably true.”

However, there are ways to address this gap in recycling.

The same state report offers recommendations on how to improve recycling rates without spending a significant investment in infrastructure. Leamon believes messaging should be tweaked to convince people that recycling can benefit the economy.

“You’re supporting manufacturing, you’re supporting jobs, you’re supporting the circular economy in our state when you recycle,” Leamon said. “And especially when you recycle right, that material has a higher value and is able to be used for more and better things.”

Another issue that Leamon has noticed are the types of items tossed in recycling bins. Too often, consumers “wish-cycle,” or throw away non-recyclable items in the hope that they can be recycled. These non-recyclable items could contaminate other materials, which means they will be heading to a landfill instead of a recycling plant.

Leamon also shares the following tips for consumers who wish to do their part and recycle.

  • Only drop off items during staffed hours: Items that are dropped off during unstaffed or non-operating hours could be considered illegal dumping.
  • Double check the number on your container before recycling plastics: Allen County accepts plastics number one, two and five. If a plastic does not have a number, that needs to go in the trash.
  • Know what can and what cannot be recycled: Visit the county’s waste watcher website for a full list. Fort Wayne residents should refer to the yellow cart program for a list of recyclable items
  • Make sure items are clean and dry before tossing in the recycling bin: Items that are soiled could potentially contaminate other recycled items

Inside look at a recycling plant

Most items tossed in the recycling bin around Fort Wayne and Allen County wind up at the Republic Services center off East Pontiac Street.

Operations Manager Jake Stevens estimates about 120 tons of recycled items are dumped at the plant daily, which averages out to over 40,000 tons a year. Stevens adds that between 30-40% of that waste does not get converted into recycled material due to a variety of reasons – it cannot be recycled, the items are contaminated, etc. – and are transferred to a landfill.

What happens after your recycled items get picked up? Watch above to see how Republic Services processes recycled items on a daily basis.

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