The trash business is busy in Southern Indiana. In fact, officials say it may be too busy, even though there has been an uptick in recycling at the city’s recycling operation at the Street Department.

“We have taken on a little more lately because the landfill doesn’t have recycling anymore, so we are getting more from the county residents,” said Washington Street Commissioner Brian Sergesketter. “More recycling would ease up the trash routes. They are pretty heavy right now, the heaviest they have ever been. We are probably putting the most tonnage in the landfill in the six years I have run the department. You can drive down any alley on garbage day and you can see stuff that should be recycled in the trash.”

For more than a quarter century, Martin County has also been involved in recycling. The Martin County Recycling Center opened in 1996 and has been moving materials out of multiple counties as part of its operation, impacting the trash flow of more than 100,000 people.

“We run a 5-day a week business and serve four counties that includes Martin, Daviess, Dubois and Orange, so we stay busy, and to a very limited extent we get clothes from Knox County and Lawrence and Monroe counties,” said Janell Freeman, director for the Martin County Recycling Center.

The Martin County Recycling Center takes traditional items like paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, clothing, and aluminum at its facility along Highway 50 outside of Loogootee. People do have to go there.

“We do not have curbside, household services, but we do pick up with a compactor truck. We reach out to businesses and pick up plastic, office paper. The compactor brings in a lot of cardboard,” said Martin County Recycling Center controller June Eckerle.

Washington has discussed the possibility of adding curb-side recycling, but talk has not turned to action.

“We have loosely looked at that, but with the way we operate within the street department it fits our model better to have a drive-in recycling self-service center,” said Sergesketter. “The street department could not operate curbside recycling with our current staffing and equipment.”

Beyond the standard items like aluminum, plastic and paper. Recycling operations in Washington and Martin County have also taken on hazardous materials.

“We also recycle hazardous waste materials and that includes computers, televisions, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and tires,” said Eckerle.

In Washington the city’s storm sewer operation has taken on gathering hazardous materials to try and keep them out of the sewer and waterways.

“Here in Washington, we have two recycling centers. We have the general recycling at the street department that takes care of plastics, aluminum, newspapers, paper, magazines, cardboard, glass. They collect all of that there. That is considered non-hazardous recyclable materials,” said John Jansen with the Washington Storm Sewer Department.

“The other is the household hazardous waste center on Oak Street. We take the stuff that is considered hazardous like pesticides, herbicides, motor oil, gasoline, products containing mercury, electronics, scrap metal. We are open two days a week, Wednesday and Thursday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.”

Jansen says that they have been seeing an increase in public participation in recycling the hazardous materials.

“We have been at this for 7 years and this has been one of the busiest years we have seen,” he said. “The public seems to be pretty positive. I know we try and the street department tries to meet the recycling needs in the community. The public is pretty receptive. They recognize our limitations and accept them.”

Both the operations in Washington and in Martin County are collection points.

“We use a couple of different vendors to take what we have. There is a company out of Indianapolis we use to take our electronics. We have sent out around 20,000 pounds of electronics,” said Jansen. “Chemicals we send to another company and they incinerate about everything we send to them. Mercury lightbulbs go to another firm in Indianapolis.”

“We collect and then we reach out to a broker and they send the trucks in to us. We have pretty good success in moving this along. There are various companies and we check with different brokers to see who will provide the best price,” said Freeman.

The recycling business has gone through some challenges in recent years. One came when China stopped taking plastics.

“To the best of my knowledge, it did hurt us for a little bit, but we weren’t going to just lay back,” said Eckerle. “We have several new recycling plants in the United States. Rumpke has one in Bloomington. There are several in the Chicago area.”

There is also the ongoing challenge that the recycling collectors face in trying to make certain what people give them goes to someplace that reuses it.

“For recyclers the hard part is figuring out where the products wind up as they go downstream,” said Jansen. “We always try to deal with people who are transparent about what they are doing with what we take to them.”

One of the biggest challenges has been getting operations back to where they were before COVID disrupted them.

“COVID messed us up on a few things. We would go to the Loogootee High School for an ecology fair they would have,” said Eckerle. “We are trying to get into the pre-schools and educate those kids. Before COVID the third graders would come and tour the recycling center. We are trying to reach out to get more kids to tour the facilities and learn about recycling.”

Officials say that recycling is a key to keeping the planet livable.

“With global warming I don’t know how we can afford not to recycle. We have never had tornados and hurricanes and storms like we are having now,” said Eckerle.

“If people would pro-actively recycle more it would allow the city to keep their trash fee at $15 for as long as we can before we have to raise it,” said Sergesketter. “The less trash we pick up, the lower our overhead is, and the longer we can keep that bill the same.”

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