With Earth Day dawning today, city and state recycling officials said Missouri is making strides to make the state a greener place.
Missouri cities and towns divert about half of municipal waste away from landfills. Jefferson City officials said the amount of material being recycled in the city did not decrease last year. Statewide groups said although people know many of the benefits of recycling, residents still can be educated about how to improve the recycling ecosystem.
Jefferson City offers residents several recycling options through its waste management contractor, Republic Services. The most popular is single-stream recycling, in which residents put all recyclable materials — cardboard, paper, glass, tin, aluminum and plastics — together in the same recycling system. Drop-off areas at McKay Park, Memorial Park, City Hall, and Fire Stations No. 1, 2 and 5 accept cardboard, newsprint and magazines.
Sheri Johnston, Jefferson City neighborhood services specialist, said 48.2 percent of all waste in Jefferson City did not end up in landfills between November 2016 and October 2017. About 24 percent of all waste in Jefferson City was recycled between November 2016 and October 2017, the same amount as during the previous year.
Statewide, about 48 percent of materials, including non-recyclables like yard clippings, was diverted from landfills, according to a 2017 Missouri Department of Natural Resources report.
Curbside recyclables made up 23.8 percent of municipal trash collections statewide, according to DNR. Non-curbside recyclables made up 15.1 percent of municipal trash collections, and non-recyclable material made up 35.4 percent of solid waste statewide.
Despite the apparent success of recycling programs statewide, state and city officials concede, more work needs to be done.
Through the 1990s and early 2000s, single-stream recycling popularized recycling programs around the country by making it easier for consumers. Without the hassle of sorting aluminum cans, tin cans, cardboard, paper, various plastics and glass, municipalities saw the use of municipal recycling systems rise. Eventually, all that material gets sorted.
"With our single-stream recycling, it encourages more people to recycle and make it as easy as possible," said Jennifer Mitchell Eldridge, a spokeswoman for Republic Services, Jefferson City's waste management contractor. "But there's the issue of contamination."
Broken glass in particular can contaminate other recyclables like bales of paper.
Based in Jefferson City, the Missouri Recycling Association works with groups around the state to divert waste from landfills. Missouri Recycling Association Executive Director Angie Gehlert said people commonly recycle things like shoes with good intentions, but those items just make it harder for recycling systems to work properly. Gehlert said more can be done to educate consumers about what materials and types of packaging can be recycled.
"Education has to be ongoing," Gehlert said. "It seems like the recycling industry has to catch up to that."
Johnston said the material collected by Republic Services in Jefferson City is then moved to a facility in St. Louis. Large amounts of energy are spent processing recycled products into new materials.
Recycled paper can be made into paper towels, and recycled plastic is commonly used in plastic decking, Gehlert said.
Johnston said she hopes the city can begin to educate students in locals schools about the benefits of recycling to introduce them to green technologies.
Despite the energy spent moving and repurposing recycled goods, Gehlert said the benefits to the environment outweigh the costs of letting materials slowly decompose in landfills.
"There is some environmental impact (from recycling)," Gehlert said. "There's a variety of things that can still be done."