Earth Day recycling challenge is full of surprises

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – As part of an Earth Day challenge, this Daily Journal reporter accumulated two days’ worth of trash and hauled it around in a tote bag.
The purpose: Let a Waste Management professional sort through it and determine how much can be recycled and how much cannot.
The result: 85 percent of the trash produced by 48 hours of modern American life was recyclable, including items that normally would have been tossed in the trash bin.
Among the recyclables were an empty plastic bag that once contained frozen fruit, the foil around the mouth of a wine bottle and the flimsy plastic box strawberries come in.
Even plastic grocery bags, which I had been saving up and taking back to the stores of origin, now are accepted through Waste Management’s recycling program. Initially, WM accepted just two types of plastic but now takes every kind, 1 through 7.
The no-brainers were aluminum drink cans, cardboard boxes, junk mail, newspapers, empty peanut butter tubs and plastic yogurt cups. I had to wash them out first, though.
In the end, just three items in a bag full of household waste didn’t make the eco-friendly cut: a scratched CD, a Styrofoam tray and a glass wine bottle – minus its recyclable cork, paper label and foil wrapping.
Though they didn’t appear in my bag last week, other items banned from the recycling bin include aerosol cans, scrap metal, diapers, used tissues and the kind of metallic bags often used for potato chips.
“Just imagine, if everybody recycled everything they could, how little trash we’d have to take to the landfill,” said Kevin Shackleford, Waste Management’s district manager.
Waste Management collects all of Tupelo’s residential garbage through a contract with the city. When that contract was renewed in 2007, it included a curbside recycling program.
Today, Tupelo residents recycle an average of 15.5 tons of materials each week, Shackleford said. That’s a 2 percent increase from last year, which is consistent with the annual trend since the program started.
Shackleford expects the program to grow more in the coming years with the increasing awareness about recycling and its importance to the environment.
“Tupelo already is one of the most progressive cities in the district,” Shackleford said. “The culture is changing, and we want to keep up.”
Non-residents who want to recycle can take their materials to one of three recycling drop-off bins in Tupelo: at Fire Station No. 6 on the corner of West Main Street and Coley Road; behind Avonlea Assisted Living Community on Lawndale Street; and at the city compost site on Commerce Street.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com