Le Tri, as the French say.

I have been a bit remiss in my undertaking to write a blog a day for twenty days. However, I have been a little occupied with buying property here in France, and hence the French term for recycling. It actually means sorting (as in triage) and here sorting is an important part of recycling. There is no such thing (at least not that I have seen) as zero sort. There is also no curbside pickup. But there are garbage and recycling bins every quarter mile or so (less in the country) and the cities have smart bins with underground storage, for paper, cardboard and plastic. Glass is separate. Transfer stations take just about anything.

It's a good system, and pretty much mirrors what Steuben County does. Studies have shown that we have many of the elements in place for a highly efficient system: pay-as-you-throw (blue bags), dual stream (rather than zero sort) and limited plastics. If we could add #5 plastic to the mix, I would be happy. It hurts to throw away yogurt pots, and containers from Weggies' Mediterranean bar or deli. The beauty of this system is that everything that is collected can be sold, and the Erwin transfer station is self-supporting.

Unfortunately, we also have private haulers who have upset the apple cart. (Not all of them. I use Keith's Trash Service which offers zero sort, but uses the county system.) This is the place to say that zero sort does not give one permission to throw anything into the recycling in the hopes that it is recyclable. The ONLY materials that can be put out for pick up are paper of all sorts, cardboard, glass, tin and aluminum cans, and #1, #2 and sometimes #5 plastic. Anything else is considered a contaminant, and it is possible that the entire batch will be discarded.

The large commercial haulers, one in our area in particular, take business away from the city, charge to pick up your recycling and then take it off to one of their MRFs, sort it and sell it, thus making money off us twice. They don't even pay the county a tipping fee for garbage as they have their own landfills (and that is another story!). MRF stands for Materials Recovery Facility, a huge warehouse filled with conveyor belts and electronic sorters and balers and other stuff. Anything that can't easily be separated is landfilled. Glass - an infinitely recyclable material - often ends up as daily cover for the landfill because, you know, glass breaks, and after it has been through the MRF processing much of it is little more than powder, contaminated by bits of all the other materials passing through the MRF.

I can't tell you how to handle your garbage and recycling, but I can strongly suggest that you use the city system (which could do with a couple of tweaks) rather than send potential revenue to Vermont.


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