As Renee Parks peeked over the dump ledge at the Cortland County Recycling Center, she noticed plastic bags mixed in with recyclables and cans that were contaminated because they still had food left in them.
“None of these items can be recycled,” she said, yet they always end up at the recycling center.
Parks is the county’s new recycling coordinator. She along with county Highway Department Supervisor Charlie Sudbrink and Deputy Supervisor Trisha Jesset are working on ways to educate residents on what can be recycled and what has to be thrown in the trash.
The three of them will need to finalize a list of accepted items so residents and haulers will be prepared when the county takes over the recycling center from Casella Waste Management after their contract expires Dec. 31.
Jesset said when the county first decided to have a thirdparty company handle recyclables, it made sense.
“There was a market for them, they were worth money,” she said.
That isn’t the case anymore. Now, the county generally pays around $100 a ton for recyclables to be removed from the recycling center.
Before the county takes back over the center it will need to figure out several things:
• How the facility will operate.
• How to process the recyclables.
• The machinery needed for processing.
• What items they’ll accept.
• Where the recyclables will end up after leaving the county.
“The wheels are in motion on all of it,” Jesset said Wednesday.
Jesset said the legislature will establish the county’s policy on recyclable material. However, after a Solid Waste Committee meeting Tuesday, it was clear the biggest debate is around what to accept.
“The county needs to decide what we want to do for the residents and the taxpayers of this county,” Sudbrink said during the meeting Tuesday. “We want a conscious decision moving forward on how we’re going to educate the public, so that we have a successful recycling program.”
Sudbrink said county legislators should not keep changing their minds on what to items to take.
But Committee Vice Chairmen Ron VanDee (D-Cortland) said things will need to change if the market changes and various recyclable materials becomes a commodity to make money on again.
“It’s like buying or selling stock,” he said.
“But the lesson we keep learning is that it will take that two or three years to get the public up to speed,” Jesset said.
Legislator Paul Heider (RCuyler, Solon, Truxton) said the county should “back off a little bit” and let Sudbrink run the center how he sees fit.
Jesset said she walked away from the meeting with the understanding that “they’re (the legislators) leaning on us as a department to tell them what’s going to be best.”
The one thing Jesset said they know for sure is that separating glass is going to be mandatory eventually; right now it is voluntary.
However, Jesset said the response to separating glass out has been phenomenal. It really helps the county too, she noted, considering glass is one of the heaviest recyclable materials and adds to the tonnage the county must pay for.
The other big goal is to educate people on putting less contaminated material in with other recyclables that aren’t contaminated.
Contaminated material should be put in the trash, Parks said.
One example she gave was pizza boxes. If there’s grease or food on the bottom of the box then toss it in the trash but take the lid off and recycle it if it’s clean.
“Currently 25% of the items dropped off are not recyclable,” according to a flyer from Parks.
“The community members may have really good intentions of wanting to recycle more but in turn some of those items that they’re trying to recycle are contaminating the recyclables that we have,” Jesset said.
Contamination increases the cost to recycle materials and decreases the value of the commodity, according to Waste Management, a company that handles waste services including recycling.
Even with everything to figure out for next year Jesset said they’re excited to take over the operations.
“The county taking over it really does open up a lot of doors for what’s best for our community,” she said.
Recycling coordinator works on educating public
Renee Parks stood at the Cortland County recycling center Wednesday handing out fliers and talking to residents about reducing contamination and glass recycling.
Parks, of Solon, was hired by the county in April to be the county recycling coordinator, after the Legislature created the full-time position in January. The position carries a salary range of $49,546 to $60,282. The county received a $44,961 state Department of Environmental Conservation grant to help create the position, which requires a 50 percent match from the county — $22,500.
One of the biggest jobs Parks has is educating the community on which recyclables are accepted.
It will play a huge role in making sure less contaminated recyclables — like ketchup bottles that aren’t fully cleaned — stay out of the center, so only clean items are processed.
“Education is key,” she said.
Parks will also oversee the operations of the recycling center when the county takes it back over in January, said Charlie Sudbrink, the county highway superintendent.
The Legislature voted in December to sever its contract with facility operator Casella Waste Management on Dec. 31, a one-year notice the contract required.
Not being in charge of operations has been hard for Parks.
“I like to dive right in,” she said.
Parks previously worked at the landfill for 1 1/2 years as a scale operator and before that doing construction with Suit- Kote Corp.
“Renee’s been involved with the community for years and has known a lot of the haulers and has been in the industry for a long time,” said Trisha Jesset, deputy highway superintendent.
Parks said there’s a lot of work to be done with the recycling center, but she’s ready for it all.
“I like the challenge,” she said.