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South Tahoe residents recycle whether they know it or not

Patrick McCartney

South Lake Tahoe residents who move here from communities that have curbside recycling may feel guilty tossing pop bottles and newspapers into their trash.

The good news is, they don’t have to feel guilty.

In May, the South Tahoe Material Recovery Facility will celebrate a second birthday, and during its first full calendar year, the center’s staff recycled more than 12,000 tons of bottles, aluminum cans, newspapers, plastics, wood, steel and tires.

“Although a lot of people like curbside recycling, we’ve been able to divert 16 percent of our waste and been able to do this without any rate increase,” said Jeanne Lear, a spokeswoman for South Tahoe Refuse. The company operates the sorting facility on behalf of a joint powers authority, which represents El Dorado and Douglas counties and the city of South Lake Tahoe.

Another advantage of a sorting facility is the level of participation compared to curbside recycling. Even in environmentally conscious areas, only half the residents typically will sort their own trash and participate, Lear said.

Rubbish that is hauled to the facility is first sorted on the floor to remove larger recyclables, such as wood, steel and tires. The remaining trash is then loaded on a conveyor belt, where a team of sorters picks through the rubbish to remove a dizzying array of material that can be diverted and sold on the growing market for recyclables.

In the sorting center’s two years of operations, South Tahoe Refuse has identified new markets for objects that were once considered worthless. Wine bottles, for instance, are not simply redeemed, but sold back to the wine industry, which finds it more economical to re-use the expensive bottles than manufacture new ones.

Some markets, such as those for recycled aluminum and steel, maintain a fairly stable price, while others fluctuate from month to month. Cardboard, which was worth $200 a ton in 1995, dropped to $55 in 1996.

While contributing recyclables is a no-brainer in South Lake Tahoe, residents can make the sorting process easier. South Tahoe Refuse requests trash customers to voluntarily sort their own glass, aluminum, tin and No. 1 and No. 2 plastic products before placing them in the garbage can. Customers can place the material in grocery bags, which are also recycled.

Rinsing recyclable makes the sorting and marketing of the products easier, and provides the sorting staff with a healthier environment. Bundled newspapers are more easily pulled from the wastestream as well.

But for those who insist on their own recycling, South Tahoe Refuse also maintains a buy-back operation a block away from the sorting center, where the public can turn in glass, aluminum and plastic, and be paid for their effort.

The buy-back center is located at 2192 Ruth Ave.


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