Recycling efforts are going to change

Jeff Burbrink

In this weekly column, I normally write about crops, gardening, trees, insects or other things on the minds of local farmers and gardeners. But this week, I wanted to turn to a subject that I think should be important to all of us: waste disposal and recycling.

For a number of years, I have served on the county’s Solid Waste Management District Advisory Board, a group that advises local elected officials on efforts related to recycling, reusing and reducing wastes. I am there to give advice on agricultural and yard waste, but have found I have developed an interest in household waste because it makes up so much of what we landfill.

A fundamental change to the world’s recycling industry happened in January 2018 when China decided to stop being the dumping ground for the world’s “recycling” waste. Much of the world’s waste plastics and mixed paper was being shipped and stockpiled in China. It could not truly be recycled because it was too dirty or too difficult/expensive to sort. When the change of policy occurred, most of the recyclables in the US, Europe, Great Britain, and Australia began to be landfilled, because we are not set up to “recycle” the dirty waste either. Communities across the U.S. have shut down collection programs entirely as a result.

What do I mean by “dirty” waste? If you visit our county recycling bins, you will see containers that have not been rinsed. These are too expensive to sort out, clean and recycle. You will see grease-stained pizza boxes. The grease makes the cardboard unfit for recycling. If there is enough grease in the container, the entire load can end up in the landfill.

You will see many things in and around the recycling bins that cannot be recycled with the materials the Solid Waste District can accept. A few examples: jugs of used oil (which can be taken to places that change oil), window glass, old furniture, electronics, old tires (which can be recycled at tire retailers), playground equipment, car parts  and the list can go on.

These locations have become dumping grounds for unwanted items, and costing taxpayer’s money at the same time. In some locations, the trash left by citizens was so obnoxious, the owners of the property, who had generously donated the space for community recycling, asked the district to remove the bins.

It is very likely the recycling strategy in the community is going to change in the next few years, in part because of China’s policy change, and in part, because people are not doing a good job of providing materials worth recycling. I can see a day when there are no longer bins scattered across the community to take our recycling goods too. Those of us who think it is important to recycle will need to hire a contractor to pick up recycling just like we do with our weekly trash.

In the long run, some entrepreneurs will likely come along to find better ways to sort and clean our trash, but this may take years and leave us with much more waste in the landfills than we like to presume.

In the meantime, you can look at a funny video put together by the students at Notre Dame who want you to know what can be recycled and what cannot be:

Or visit the Elkhart County Solid Waste District site: to see what to do with your items. 

Jeff Burbrink is an educator with Purdue Extension Elkhart County. He can be reached at 574-533-0554 or

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