Empty. Clean. Dry.

Those three criteria need to be applied to all items placed in any of the recycling containers located in Page County communities.

The condition of the material is especially important at present because of a new reality in the recycling industry.

“The mills are being very tough on grading materials in today’s market,” said Brian Ward, manager of Page County’s landfill and recycling services. “There have been a lot of changes in the last three years, with the overseas markets pretty much stopped.”

Before taking items to specific collection points, people need to make sure that no residue remains in glass jars, tin cans or plastic jugs and bottles, and that they are free of moisture after they have been rinsed out.

“Plastics are probably the biggest thing that doesn’t come in here cleaned out,” Ward said. “That’s what the mills are complaining about.”

Regarding paper products, Ward said recycling companies “don’t want anything that’s wet at all.” That includes such items as pizza boxes into which grease has seeped.

The changes required in the condition of items intended for recycling have been noticed. “I’ve had people say, ‘They used to take it,’” Ward said, referring to what was acceptable previously. “Well, they did.”

But that situation has ended. “So if people can remember to bring in things empty, clean and dry, that will help to move recycling along,” he said.

Due to the fact that the involvement of overseas markets in the recycling industry has been curtailed, “the U.S. markets have become flooded with material,” Ward said. “And now they’re just being very picky on what they want. They only want the ‘best of the best’ right now, because they can.”

He said that currently the recycling markets are “the lowest I’ve ever seen them. A lot of companies are charging pretty large rates to bring the recycling to them.” Two firms in Omaha have imposed fees for collecting items.

“But we’re not doing that,” he said, noting that the county is striving to improve local recycling operations.

As an example, he said the county was working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on a grant “to modernize and make it more efficient for us to sort glass.”

The collection containers into which glass can be deposited have been relabeled. “We’re trying to educate people on what they should be putting in, and what they should not be putting in,” Ward said.

Also, he said, all items taken to collection containers should be put in the receptacles loose -- not bagged.

He said the restrictions companies have implemented on items they will accept likely reflect a long-term trend. “I don’t foresee any uptake in the markets,” he said. “I think U.S. markets are going to keep being tough on the grading. They want the good stuff.”

Despite the challenges that exist, Ward said that “recycling is still the right thing, the ‘green’ thing, to do. It’s just gotten more difficult since these mills are very picky on what they want.”

But, he added, if people can be informed and educated about the changes, the recycling effort can continue. “Page County, the landfill here, is still supporting it,” he said. “We’re not subsidized. We’re still putting money into it. It’s a great thing to do.”

Two new containers for items to recycle have been placed in Clarinda -- one in the parking lot at Fareway and another at the NSK plant. Containers are also at the parking lot by McDonald’s and Hy-Vee.

In addition, containers are located at sites in Blanchard, Braddyville, Coin, College Springs, Essex, Northboro, Shambaugh and Shenandoah, and at the landfill west of Clarinda.

Acceptable recycling items include Number 1 through Number 5 plastics, such as butter tubs, laundry detergent bottles, milk jugs, pop and water bottles, and yogurt containers (rinsed, smashed, with lids removed); aluminum and metal, such as food and beverage containers, foil and pie tins (rinsed with contents removed); cardboard, including cereal and packing boxes (broken down and flattened), chipboard and paper bags; clear glass food and beverage containers (rinsed with lids removed); and mixed paper, such as books, computer sheets, envelopes, magazines, newspapers, office paper and “junk mail.”

Unacceptable items include absorbent paper; diapers; dog food bags; ceramic dishes; colored glass; compact fluorescent and fluorescent bulbs; glass dishes or drinking glasses; light bulbs; paper cups and plates; plastic bags; plastic with no recycling triangle and Number 6-7 plastic; Styrofoam; syringes; vinyl siding and window glass.

The plastic number is usually stamped somewhere on the container.

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