Lately, some of the items being left in the recycling trailer provided to California by Boonslick Industries Recycling Center are not what Recycling Manager Geoff Shackelford would actually classify as "recyclable."
"When you open up the trailer and it's got half a container full of styrofoam packing peanuts, or large 5-gallon buckets, or satellite dishes, or kiddie pools or whatever the case may be, that is taking up volume of collection that people that want to recycle are not having the opportunity to recycle," Shackelford said.
Boonslick has multiple community recycling drop-off sites throughout Mid-Missouri, with California's location being the most utilized location outside of the center's home campus in Boonville. California's 16-cubic-yard trailer is picked up twice per week, once every Tuesday and Friday, and is intended for mixed household, food and beverage, glass, metal and plastic containers.
"The problems that we're seeing is in the trailer we are getting a lot of stuff that is not that, and we're getting stuff that would just generally be considered garbage by anybody that looked at it," Shackelford said. "And I think some of the justification people are using is 'Well, it has plastic on it,' or 'Well, it has metal on it.' That is true that those things might be recyclable, but that is not what we're asking for. We have a very specific list of commodity grades that we send out."
This is all to say that just because items may have plastic content in them, it doesn't mean they are universally recyclable, Shackelford said, which may lead to the issues Boonslick is encountering now.
Shackelford said the center wants items that will fit in its baler, which have to be a specific kind of material that the center is getting reimbursed for and getting commodity value out of. As it stands, anything that doesn't fit those specifications is losing the center time and money — the time it takes to sort through higher volumes of trash content and more than $47 per ton to get rid of it themselves.
"That has become a very big problem because now we're getting stuff that is taking up valuable space in the recycling trailer that could be used for other valuable commodities, but we're having to throw it out as trash so it hits us twice," Shackelford said. "We have to pay for it to get rid of that trash, and when the trailer is overflowing at the end of its run down there, if there had not been all that trash in it, maybe we wouldn't have to pick up stuff that's laying on the ground because people leave it next to the trailer because it's full."
Volumetric estimates are made every day when Boonslick finishes sorting what has been gathered in its trailers, which are placed in California, Prairie Home, Gladstone, Pilot Grove, Smithville and Salisbury. These estimates are based on how much trash has been removed from the materials Boonslick recycles.
"California is the winner all the time as far as having the most trash in (the trailer)," Shackelford said. "Now, one would think that since they are the one that gets picked up the most that they should have the most trash behind what we get donated here (in Boonville), but the rate of trash we get is far higher than the rate we get from other communities."
For reference, in the month of August across eight pick-ups, trash made up about 12 cubic yards of the 128 yards of material gathered from California's location, a rate of about 10 percent. In Pilot Grove on the contrary, where recycling is picked up once per week, only 1.5 cubic yards of trash was included in the 48 cubic yards of total container space picked up in the same month — a rate of just 3 percent.
"I could go through and do the math on all of those, but the percentage of trash in California is far higher than it is anyplace else," Shackelford said.
Since California pulls from a fairly large area, Shackelford said it's hard to say it's just one person or group of people in California that is contributing to the problem at hand. But it's a frustration from Boonslick's end when the non-recyclable materials being dropped in California are among items that can be picked up by the residential trash service California citizens, at least, are already paying a flat rate for.
Shackelford said Boonslick is a nonprofit business and tries really hard to live up to that, so it's crucial the surrounding community helps the center out with that mission. Posts on social media taking a "what's in the trash this week?" approach quickly indicated that the people seeing that outreach were the ones doing the right thing, Shackelford said, so it will take some help to reach the right people to bring an end to the current woes.
From a community perspective, he said California citizens can help by taking part in "neighborly outreach" — if you see or hear of someone ignoring what can and can't be recycled, help to explain to them why the materials they are trying to get rid of aren't recyclable, or have them contact Boonslick for help with their questions. Shackelford said recycling comes to communities like California via grassroots movements of citizens indicating their desire for such resources to their aldermen, so asking the city government what it can do, in conjunction with Boonslick, may also be a viable strategy.
In line with his latter point, Shackelford said he has been working with California Street Supervisor Victor Maurer to see about the viability of including an insert with utility bill mailers helping to educate the public about recyclables starting later this month; education, he said, is likely another key strategy that could help the issue.
Shackelford said he, along with other representatives knowledgeable about waste management, hosted a coffee Q&A in California on National Recycle Day last year in November to answer community questions about recycling, and likely plans to do so again this year.
The trash issue, at the end of the day, does not seem to come from a place of malice or ill-intent, but from a lack of education.
"A lot of people are just ignorant of what they're supposed to do, and I use 'ignorant' in the most congenial tone possible," Shackelford said. "They just don't know. So (members of the community can help) to be that education touchstone for those folks and be a great resource for us and an opportunity for recycling to continue. We have no desire to stop recycling in California. However, we can't continue at an over 10 percent trash rate and continue to make it viable."
He said the alternatives to a change at the ground level are raising the fee charged to the city of California or suspending service until things get figured out, neither of which Boonslick wants.
In the meantime, Shackelford said he tries to respond to every comment and direct message on the Boonslick Industries Recycling Center Facebook page and encourages the public to reach out with questions.