Trash turning into treasure for area waste districts

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T00:24:06Z Trash turning into treasure for area waste districtsLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

Jeff Langbehn took a look back at 2013 figures for the Lake County Solid Waste Management District early this year and was pleased with what he saw.

"This time of year, we start looking at what's working and what isn't, and the good news is it's all working," Langbehn said.

Langbehn, who serves as executive director of the district, said solid waste management districts for years touted the environmental benefits of their recycling program but lamented the costs associated with running them.

Now, districts are finding ways to save and make money from the ventures.

Electronics recycling is up 40 percent. The state now requires electronics retailers to buy back a portion of electronics, which eliminates the cost of running the recycling program, Langbehn said.

The Solid Waste District in 2013 started its own leaf composting facility and collected 2,900 tons of leaves, saving $50,000 in disposal costs. Langbehn said discussions are underway with a company that may be interested in buying the compost which would turn it into a money-making venture.

Langbehn said the solid waste district has been in negotiations for more than a year with Eurofoil about taking plastics collected from recycling programs and turning them into shrink wrap for retail items. The former Serbian-based company recently purchased a former packaging plant in Griffith, he said.

"We have continued interest in people wanting to do something with the corpus that is left over," Langbehn said.

Paint recycling volume, Langbehn said, "is beyond our wildest imagination." The district is in negotiations with a Michigan-based company that is offering to buy the paint at $1 per gallon, he said.

Langbehn said household hazardous waste collections and recycling drop-off sites are both up 30 percent.

"Those are one of our more stable areas," Langbehn said.

With figures up in all areas and money-making ventures in the works, Langbehn said people are jumping on the green disposal bandwagon now more than ever.

"It used to be the kids would bring the message  home to the parents from school," he said. "Now, we have second and third generations. It's becoming habit.

"All things considered, everything is working in harmony. Even the biggest naysayers have come around."

Therese Davis, executive director of the Recycling and Waste Reduction District of Porter County, said household hazardous waste collections are up 35 percent and electronics recycling is up 16 percent.

"Participation is consistent, but the volumes continue to increase," Davis said.

Davis said her district embarking on a master recycler/composter class to increase outreach in the county. Twenty people signed up for the first course, which will teach not only how to compost and recycle, but what happens to to the items afterward.

"There is a moral compass, people want to do the right thing," she said. "It's a higher level of awareness, too, that their actions can impact the future."

Clay Turner, executive director of the Solid Waste District of LaPorte County, said his district has teamed up with with wastewater treatment facilities and law enforcement officials for collection of prescription drugs.

The LaPorte County Sheriff's Department, city of LaPorte Police Department and Michigan City Police Department all have 24-hour drop boxes to collect unwanted or expired prescription drugs.

The partnership keeps pharmaceuticals out of waterways and leads to a healthier environment, something Turner said LaPorte County residents treasure.

"I think the community is becoming even more aware of their environment, which is a big help for us," Turner said.

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