The More You Know
Hendricks County Solid Waste Management District Teaches Proper Recycling Techniques & Getting Rid of Household Hazardous Waste
When you think of the Solid Waste Management District, trash likely springs to mind. One of their top priorities, however, is to educate the general public about recycling — what it is, what it involves and why it’s important.
“Our mission is to divert waste from landfills and incinerators,” says Lenn Detwiler, Executive Director of Hendricks County Solid Waste Management District. “We do that by encouraging waste reduction, reuse and recycling.”
Though many people have the best of intentions when it comes to recycling, sadly they don’t always do it properly.
“People want to do the right thing. They just don’t have the right information. Plus, things change over time,” Detwiler says.
For years, the focus on recycling revolved around quantity. Single-stream recycling means that everything goes into the same bin — paper, glass, cardboard — in an effort to make it more convenient for the public. Now, however, the focus has switched to quality because when people recycle the wrong materials, it causes a plethora of problems.
“Someone would think, ‘If it’s plastic, it must go in the bin,’ so those sorting the recycling are finding toys, plastic lawn furniture, hoses, Christmas lights, bowling balls — crazy stuff!” Detwiler says. “It’s amazing what people put in a recycling bin because they think it must still have some value to it.”
The problem is that by chucking an improper item into the recycling bin, it only serves to bog down the system, thereby compromising the integrity of the other items that really do have recycling value. So, it’s crucial for the public to educate themselves on the specific rules for their area.
“What you can recycle in Muncie is likely going to be different than what you can recycle in Greenfield versus what you can recycle in Brownsburg,” Detwiler adds.
He says that if you’ve got something in your hand and are standing over the recycling bin, unsure of whether it’s recyclable, it’s better to throw it in that trash than to do what he calls “wish cycling.”
“Some of the most ardent recyclers really struggle with this, but just because you want it to be recycled doesn’t necessarily make it recyclable in that particular program,” he says.
It doesn’t help that some of the packaging on things causes confusion. For instance, even though grocery sacks say, “recycle me,” Detwiler says they should not go in a curbside recycling program because once they get to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), everything gets dumped onto a conveyer belt where the grocery sacks get tangled, creating a terrible mess.
“Now, if you take those sacks back to Kroger, Walmart or Kohls and put them in the recycling boxes, that’s helpful,” says Detwiler, noting that the top three contaminants MRF operators see are grocery sacks and other plastic film (e.g., the wraparound kind that envelops a case of Gatorade or package of paper towels), tanglers (e.g., hoses, cords, and chains), and food waste (e.g., not properly rinsing out a ketchup bottle).
In general terms, when it comes to plastics, curbside and recycling programs will take bottles, cans and jugs that held food, beverages, detergents or shampoos. Plastics are perhaps the most confusing material because it’s ubiquitous.
Hendricks County Solid Waste Management District fields calls daily to help the public figure out next steps. For instance, Goodwill, Staples or Best Buy may take an old computer. For other items, the best bet may be donating to the Habitat ReStore or the Salvation Army.
Besides educating the public, the Hendricks County Solid Waste Management District also offers Tox-Away Day to help folks rid their homes of hazardous waste such as chemicals, bulbs, batteries, medicines, oil-based paints, pesticides and herbicides.
“It’s basically all those jugs, bottles and cans in your garage or workshop that you can’t dump down the drain or set out with your regular trash,” Detwiler says.
Tox-Away Day is generally held five times a year in April, May, July, September and October for residents of Hendricks County. Detwiler notes that not everything they collect on Tox-Away Day has a recycling component to it. They do, however, make sure to properly dispose of the items such as prescription and over-the-counter medication.
“If you have four Vicodin left over from back surgery, you can drop it off at a Tox-Away Day. [These addictive medications] are causing a big issue in our country. Look at the opioid crisis,” Detwiler says. “The partnerships that allow us to collect unwanted medicines are a cool intersection of law enforcement, public health and environmental health that we get to be a part of.”
At one point, the public thought that flushing old meds down the toilet was the safest way to get rid of them so they wouldn’t get into the wrong hands.
“Researchers started finding trace amounts of antibiotics in our ground water,” Detwiler says. “They also noticed that fish were growing with weird stuff going on and it may be due to people flushing meds.”
There are also six drop boxes around Hendricks County where people can drop medications — Avon, Plainfield, Brownsburg and Danville Police Stations, Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office and IU Health West Hospital.
In addition, Hendricks County has a Safe Sharps Disposal Program for those who need to dispose of their medical syringes.
“People can go to the Health Department with their full syringe box and get an empty one,” Detwiler says. “It’s all designed to keep medical sharps out of the normal trash so that waste haulers won’t get stuck with a needle sticking out of a trash bag.”
Electronics are one of the most popular items to recycle. Most electronics, like laptops and cell phones, have some intrinsic value. Televisions, however, are a different story as the leaded glass is expensive to recycle. According to Detwiler, there are only two leaded glass smelters on the globe. Therefore, recycling a TV costs $20-25.
“Sometimes people are reluctant to pay money to recycle something so they let their television sit in their basement,” Detwiler says. “The thing is, regular garbage collection is not going to pick it up, nor are you going to be able to take it to the landfill. It’s never going to get cheaper to recycle than it is now.”
Some fees are required for appliances and tires as well.
Tox-Away Day cannot take heavy items like couches, entertainment centers, mattresses or rolls of carpet. Nor are they set up to shred documents. If you are unsure about what’s allowed, call the Solid Waste Management District for guidance.
Though the Yard Waste Recycling Centers in Brownsburg and Plainfield are generally open from April-November, they allow Christmas trees to be dropped at either location during the holiday season. Plainfield’s is located at 7020 S. CR 875 East and Brownsburg’s is at 90 Mardale Drive.
“We think of ourselves as a clearinghouse for environmental information for Hendricks County,” Detwiler says. “If you have a question about anything you can or should do, call us.”
For more information or to subscribe to the email newsletter, the ReSource, call 317-858-6070 or visit hendrickssolidwaste.com.