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Utah County cities handle trash, recycling while looking to future

By Rebecca Packard - Herald Correspondent | Jun 21, 2022

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Piles of recycling materials and trash are shown at the South Utah Valley Solid Waste District transfer station in Springville on Friday, June 3, 2022.

This spring, Utah County cities and towns are looking for better ways to deal with waste. For starters, the South Utah Valley Solid Waste District is building a new Environmental Recovery and Transfer Center in Spanish Fork and Provo is drafting a new sustainability plan for the town.

SUVSWD broke ground for its new transfer station at the end of April, after more than a decade of anticipation, according to Terry Ficklin, general manager at SUVSWD. The new station, like the current transfer station in Springville, serves Provo, Springville, Spanish Fork, Mapleton, Salem, Woodland Hills and Goshen.

The current station was designed to process 400 tons of waste per day — and is currently getting more than 1,000 tons a day, Ficklin said. The new transfer station is expected to be ready in 2024.

Along with state-of-the art equipment for safe disposal, the station will have a designated space to educate the public about solid waste. Education is key to reducing waste, according to Brigham Daniels, an environmental lawyer and professor at Brigham Young University.

“[Recycling] is the right thing to do, but of all the right things it’s not the most right thing to do,” Daniels said. The most important thing, he added, is “finding ways to reduce the garbage we’re producing — to be cognizant of that thing.”

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Trucks back up to piles of recycling materials and trash at the South Utah Valley Solid Waste District transfer station in Springville on Friday, June 3, 2022.

Recycling is part of the effort, though, according to local studies. The SUVSWD station has received about 200,000 tons of waste for landfill and 6,000 tons of recycling a year, according to Ficklin. Due to contamination issues, donating plastics with no market value and other factors, about 30% of the recycling taken to Salt Lake City for processing gets sent back to SUVSWD for landfill disposal.

Provo’s Conservation and Resiliency Plan includes a goal to increase the city’s estimated recycling rate from 9% to 18%, by 2030, and 25% by 2050. According to Provo’s plan, the current national average is 23.6%. Other measures include addressing carbon emissions, air quality, low-carbon energy, environment, water, mobility and fire risk.

The Conservation and Resiliency Plan came to be after several public surveys for the general plan ranked “sustainability” as the word “most important to the Provo community.”

The document notes that there was consensus about the word’s value, but “when asked what the word ‘sustainability’ means to the community the responses were vague and varied.” The plan adopts the definition of sustainability as the “Triple Bottom Line” of environmental, economic and social elements.

Recycling costs more than landfill disposal, according to Ficklin. But he says it is still “the right thing to do.” The Provo Plan says garbage “negatively impacts the environment.”

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Seagulls approach loose trash and recycling at the South Utah Valley Solid Waste District transfer station in Springville on Friday, June 3, 2022.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency writes on their website that “Environmental benefits include reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills and combustion facilities; conserving natural resources, such as timber, water and minerals; and preventing pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials. Economic and community benefits include increasing economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials, supporting American manufacturing and creating jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries.”

Ways to reuse/repurpose

Save boxes received in the mail to use the next time you need to ship. Don’t ship often? Donate your cardboard boxes to an Amazon hub, like UPS.

Reuse plastic or glass packaging. “Number 5 items,” products with a numeral 5 within a triangle of arrows stamped on them, can usually be reused to store leftovers. Homemade drinks, like lemonade, or other liquids can be stored in glass or plastic containers.

Buy items with packaging that you think you will reuse. Besides reusing glass or plastic to store food, Glass containers can also be used to make candles. Flexible cardboard can be used for crafts.

Ways to make sure your recycling counts

Donate all of the items you can through recycling bins. There is a market for plastics one, two and three. Dry cardboard can be recycled, and there are special glass depositories in Provo and the transfer station in Springville.

If you live in an apartment complex where you can’t get a recycling bin, create your own container for recycling, like a box or a paper grocery bag, and take recyclable items with you the next time you go to Provo or Lehi. Both have public places to recycle. In Provo, all recycling but glass can be dropped off in the recycling dumpsters at Kiwanis Park, located at 1019 North 1100 East.

Glass can be dropped off in the designated bin in the Smith’s parking lot at 350 North Freedom Blvd. or at the transfer station in Springville.

Rinse out plastic and metal containers before submitting them to recycling. Items with food on them will not only be rejected, but could possibly contaminate other people’s clean contributions. Items can be cleaned individually or by adding recyclable items to a dishwasher load.

Tips beyond recycling

“Use less of what you are using. Use what you have. Share what you have. Just make sure it doesn’t go to waste,” Daniels said. He also suggests producing less waste by:

  • Choosing paper when offered the decision between paper and plastic. “When you are at the grocery store and are asked if you want something double-bagged, ask yourself, ‘Do I need to bag it at all?'”
  • Try to find a way to repurpose things if you can.
  • Grow your own food.
  • Eat the food you grow.
  • Finish the food you cook. “If you realize the probability of eating it [all] is low, invite over a neighbor.”
  • Be thoughtful about what you purchase at the store. “It is really easy to buy what you don’t need.”
  • Decide to combine trips to use less gas.
  • Drive a fuel-efficient car.
  • Eat local produce that is in season.

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