Recycling center continues to evolve
There’s a certain artistry in recycling: the mountains of glittering broken glass, the bales of smashed but still shining cans and the spontaneous sculpture of 20-tons of twisted scrap metal. But, beauty aside, recycling has grown in volume, variety and efficiency in South Lake Tahoe.
“This is a really busy time of year,” said Jeanne Lear, human resource manager for South Tahoe Refuse & Recycling on a Thursday tour of their facility. “People always hook into the awareness of it.”
With Earth Day nearing, tours and recycling always pick up, Lear said. Not to mention, it’s spring cleaning week under the facility’s expansive roofs.
STR’s conveyor belt, where workers sort through hundreds of tons of garbage for recyclables, was empty Thursday. Employees welded on machinery, swept floors and separated one of the small remaining garbage piles on the 32,000-square-foot concrete floor.
John Marchini, part owner and operator of STR, strolled the campus, pointing out new additions to the plant and explaining the year’s work. Beginning with Serve You Garbage Company in 1962, his family has operated waste services in South Lake Tahoe for what will be 50 years in May.
“A couple of them have been here since before I was born,” Marchini laughed, motioning to some STR employees.
In that time, he’s watched the plant grow from a garbage pile in a dirt lot to a six-acre, multi-building facility that serves more than 20,000 homes and 600 businesses and recycles a range of materials from used eyeglasses to wood to refrigerators. When the current plant was built in 1994, STR started with a 9 percent recycling rate. Now they recycle 66 percent of all the waste that comes to the site.
“It’s always evolving,” Marchini said. “It has evolved in the different ways we pick the material and in the material that we pick.”
In 2011, STR handled more than 136 million pounds of municipal solid waste. Within that, they recycled 12 tons of aluminum cans, 85 tons of electronic and appliance waste, 363 tons of glass, 781 tons of steel, 73 tons of food waste and 536 tons of mixed paper, among other recyclable materials. They can do this because the technology and methods used to recycle have gotten so much better, and because people are now so much more willing to recycle, Marchini and Lear agreed.
In line with California’s goal, staff hope to reach at least 75 percent by 2020.
Tracy Ruger, a 22-year STR employee and current recycling center manager, remembers when it wasn’t as easy to recycle and when they only recycled a few materials.
“I used to have to take the lids off plastic bottles, so they wouldn’t contaminate the load,” Ruger said. “Now, we don’t even have to separate our glass clear, brown and green.”
Ruger believes it’s partially because of beauty that people recycle.
“I think people are more recycling conscious now,” she said. “We live in a beautiful place and everyone wants to keep it that way.”
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