Recycling is working for Danville

Published 3:08 pm Friday, December 28, 2018


Guest columnist

A recent commentary criticizing Danville’s curbside recycling program skipped over some important facts, starting with what happens to the cans, bottles, and other materials that Danville’s program keeps out of landfills.

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After items are picked up in Danville, they go to a Lexington facility that sorts materials from several central Kentucky cities and counties. That facility, managed by the Lexington-Fayette County government, has worked to find manufacturers in Kentucky or neighboring states to buy the materials. For example, aluminum cans left in bins in front yards across Danville are sorted in Lexington and sold to a company in Berea, cardboard to a business in Tennessee, and plastic to a northern Kentucky company.

Because the Lexington sorting facility finds and supplies area manufacturers, our recycling has always had a place to go.

The commentary stated that recycling is not profitable. I’ve learned that the markets for recycled materials are closely connected to oil prices. When oil prices go down, as in recent years, companies find it cheaper to make new plastics or cans, weakening the market for recycled materials.

At the same time, recycled materials keep changing. Maybe you noticed that water bottles are thinner than ever. In 2000, it took 48,000 empty plastic water bottles to make a ton. Now, it takes 92,000. Changes in packaging mean that individual recyclable items get lighter.

Selling recycled materials isn’t a way to get rich. However, the system in central Kentucky is managing, even in tight times. To me, a big part of the “profit” from recycling comes from being responsible — not making more waste or sending so much to the landfill.

I became interested in recycling a few years ago after visiting family in another part of the state over the holidays. I was shocked to see cardboard, newspaper, milk jugs and more going in the trash! I am now a junior at Danville High School. To me, it seemed recycling had been around forever.

Because I want to make recycling work better, I started learning more. I’ve met with the county solid waste director, scientists in the state division of waste management, and recycling coordinators in other Kentucky towns. I’ve talked to Republic Services, the company that handles Danville’s recycling, and learned a lot from a Lexington forum by Bluegrass Greensource, a group focused on positive steps for the environment.

When Donna Fechter, Boyle County’s former solid waste coordinator, first shared recycling data, I was amazed to see that Danville’s pickups added up to 57 tons! Then, I noticed that amount was only for January! In both 2016 and 2017, Danville’s curbside recycling totaled more than 800 tons of materials from about 7,200 possible stops. I’m told that the 2018 total is already over 800 tons.

I agree with the commentary that the city should make sure no streets get skipped on pick-up days. But people here are recycling, and city leaders should see that as an asset. We are not alone. Harrodsburg has curbside recycling. So does Versailles. Nearby, curbside programs run countywide in Anderson, Franklin, and Jessamine counties. To be a community that stands out, we can’t send hundreds of tons of recyclables straight to the landfill each year!

Yes, China stopped buying American trash and recycling early in 2018, creating big challenges for many U.S. programs, especially in the West. But our Danville materials have never been headed to China or any other country. Our cans and boxes and bottles are getting recycled by the ton.

I am proud that Danville is part of finding solutions that seriously reduce the amount of trash headed to the dump.

Virginia Harp is a junior at Danville High School who is on the forensics team and a co-captain of the varsity cheerleading team. She lives in Danville.