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A history of Litter:
Since the 1950s we have produced around 9 billion tons of disposable plastics, and it was in the mid-1950’s that people began to notice the litter start to increase. We had begun to notice the bits of trash accumulating on streets, road ways, and business areas slowly over time.. In fact The Times newspaper complained about ‘litter by the tonne’ as early as 1957. So where did this begin? It is believed that due to the boom of the domestic manufacturing industry and the mass manufacturing of plastics is when we started to develop more and more disposable goods, and as the word “disposable” implies we do not need to hold onto these trivial things. After all, because they are disposable we don’t need them, Right?
Today it is estimated that there are approximately 23.7 billion pieces of litter in the U.S. alone. Most of this litter consists of:
- Glass at 7.2%
- Metal at 7.9%
- Plastic at 12.7%
- Paper at 15.2%
- Candy and gum at 18.5%
- Tobacco litter represents 31.5%
( These statistics come from Keep America Beautiful and www.publicworks.cityofomaha.org)
So where does all of it go?
And according to the Time: There are 24 billion pieces of litter alongside highways, and 26 billion pieces of litter along waterways in 2020. We have even accumulated 5.25 trillion pieces in the oceans! There is even a giant island of garbage floating around in the pacific ocean the size of Texas.
This doesn’t just affect marine life and junk up our highways/roads. Many farmers have begun to complain that the accumulation of litter has started to affect their harvest and has even damaged their Machinery. But how?
Litter can easily get caught in plows, and other heavy machinery that helps them produce the crops, these repairs can become costly and time consuming. This can be very frustrating when you consider how time sensitive it can be to run a farm or ranch, and also how little funds farmers/ ranchers have. Many of them rely on a good harvest to support themselves, especially in small farming communities. Litter has also begun to get mixed into the soil of farm lands, this can also contaminate the yield of the harvest. Again, making farmers lose money. This even affects ranchers, as their cattle can mistakenly eat litter that is mixed into their feed, this can cause illnesses, injury, or even death.
The accumulation of garbage on streets and sidewalks have begun to wash down storm drains during heavy storms, this can cause blockages that can cause streets to overflow in small areas, or it can also be washed away into local lakes, rivers, and oceans and can pollute the water making the water unsuitable for drinking or recreation. This also poses an issue for wildlife, the contaminated water can make the wild life sick, or if they see a piece of litter they may mistake it for a piece of food and choke or get sick. The 6-pack plastic rings you see on soda cans have even been known to get caught around animals necks and mouths choking them.
I have even recently discovered that there is a new rule when you climb up to Mount Everest, one of the most popular destinations in the world, that people who visit will have to pay a $4,000 deposit! This will be refunded to the person only after they bring back eight kilograms (18 pounds) of garbage! That’s right, even Mount Everest isn’t even safe! National Geographic says that that is the amount of garbage one person can produce on a climb, and that ever since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953, over 4,000 people have followed in their footsteps, and hundreds more attempt the climb each season.
It’s hard to deny that our impact on the environment has been devastating, and while many of us don’t mean harm when we toss a receipt on the ground or toss a cigarette butt, it does build up. In fact, according to Keep America Beautiful most of the litter that builds up across America is 4 inches or longer.
So, what can be done?
We can start by reducing our litter. Use reusable bags and water bottles, and what disposable trash you do have to be sure to recycle at the proper places. Many stores such as Walmart have plastic bag recycling bins near the entrances and exits, we have recycling at Legion park and at the Safeway parking lot. Reuse what you have, find a use for those glass jam containers or give them to your local thrift store. We even have glass recycling in Kimball and Ogallala. And most importantly DON’T THROW YOUR GARBAGE OUT THE WINDOW! And as it can be harmful to the animals, be sure to cut 6-pack rings so no animals can get tangled in them. Be continuous with the litter you are producing, and keep an eye out for local cleanups or start one yourself. If you see garbage lying around pick it up yourself. But remember to stay safe. If something is toxic or flammable don’t put yourself in danger! Notify local authorities if you notice hazardous materials lying around or illegal dumping.
Lastly, to the reader, don’t feel guilty if you have thrown away something carelessly. We all make mistakes but we can all learn from our mistakes. I believe none of us mean to do harm but it is knowing the impact that we have, and acknowledging it’s not just one person but a collective.
Even with that brutal hailstorm, we got a couple beautiful yards to pick from this month! Vote for your favorite below!
Use the sliders on the images to the left (to the left..) to learn more about what can be recycled here in Sidney now that we are able to expand the recycling options! In order to make this program successful, we need citizens using the recycling bins, to help as much as possible by only depositing accepted materials, rinsing and crushing containers, and by keeping film plastics, such as plastic, plastic wrap, food storage bags, protective wrap plastics out of the bins. These types of plastics jam up our machinery and can bring the whole process to a halt! We are working on a program to deal with these types of plastics. You can find out more information about that by visiting: https://www.hefty.com/products/hefty-energybag
We also ask that you double check your recyclables to make sure they are STAMPED with the recycling emblem. Just because it’s made out of plastic, it doesn’t mean it can be recycled! Plastic has a wide range of textures, dyes, and densities within each category and this can affect it’s ability to be recycled. Construction materials are not accepted in the recycling bins. Materials such as PVC pipes may be recyclable, but it’s too strong for the machinery to handle and can damage or even disable the landfill equipment.
Some items that are never accepted:
Foam to-go containers
Nylon ropes, and other plastic fibers
Anything that doesn’t fit into the bins!
What about the lids?
Many plastic manufacturers have reformulated the lids on containers so they are recyclable too! In fact, it’s better to put the lid back on the container after rinsing to prevent the lid from getting lost or falling out of the bale of plastics!
OF COURSE, there’s exceptions to EVERY rule! So if you’re unsure, look for the stamp on the lid. Some products will have the recycling emblems printed somewhere on the label, so check there too!
Steps you can take to ensure success of the program:
1) Be sure to sort out non-recyclables. All the film plastics, bags, and anything that is not labeled for recycling.
2) Rinse and Crush! Food and product waste reduces the quality of our recyclable materials and increases weight and shipping costs. Help keep our recycling system clean and free of contamination! Then crush your plastics down so the bins don’t fill up as quick!
3) When in doubt, reach out! Contact KSB or the Sidney Landfill if you’re unsure!
Reducing your dependence on plastic is the best step!
I know it’s hard to avoid plastic when it seems like everything we buy is made out of or wrapped in plastic and many ‘eco-friendly’ products are less financially accessible to many. But, every small step helps, and anyway you can avoid single use plastics is far more important than recycling the plastics you buy. Even choosing a brand that uses less plastic, or a more easily recyclable material such as plastic #1 or #2 makes a difference!
What Else? What’s Next?
KSB is well aware of the many issues facing our recycling system, from bins filling up, to accessibility, the need for more locations, and many others. This is just one of many steps we are taking and constantly working on to improve recycling for everyone. One of the biggest road blocks right now is staffing. But we’re working on that too! One other immediate step we’re looking towards is replacing the cardboard bins at Safeway, and the introduction of the Hefty Energy Bag Program.
Feel free to reach out to KSB with any questions or comments!
Below you will find links to the sources, and an introduction to the data that Keep Sidney Beautiful relies on when it comes to supporting and planning for our recycling system. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been collecting data on material generation and disposal for over 35 years, and has records of waste management dating as far back as the 60s. This comprehensive ongoing study has measured the success of programs nationwide, and aims to help states, local governments, and local programs by directing them towards the resources they need for success. The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) formerly the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) oversees all waste management in the state, from landfills, to private waste management business, and the Keep Nebraska Beautiful Affiliates. The NDEE not only studies and reports on the waste management system, but works to create viable solutions for rural districts with limited options, and new systems to benefit municipalities statewide.
The information below is a great first look into what exactly is going into our landfills, and why Keep Sidney Beautiful has been focused on our corrugated cardboard and mixed paper recycling. Some of the reports linked are quite extensive (2,000 pages!!!!), so don’t feel like you have to jump all the way in. Keep Sidney Beautiful will be discussing more specific topics from these reports throughout the year. Follow this blog or subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date.
- EPA – National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Waste, and Recycling
- EPA Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2018 Tables and Figures
- NDEE State of Nebraska Waste Characterization Study
- NDEE LB1101 Solid Waste Management Programs Study
This chart, from the EPA, shows the distribution of municipal solid wastes (MSW) generated in the United States in 2018. Even though paper materials and cardboard have the highest rate of recycling, that material is still accounting for a large portion of landfilled solid waste. Other organic materials combined (food waste, wood, and yard trimmings) make up over 33% of landfill waste nationwide and other recyclable materials (glass, metals, and plastics) combined total around 25%.
For comparison, this chart was from a comprehensive NDEE study in 2009, showing the municipal solid waste collected in Sidney over a year long period. (According to the study, 38 samples were studied over 4 different periods in a year). Even though this data is a little bit dated, Sidney’s waste falls in line with the national average, with our plastics and paper coming in a little bit higher. A large component of recycling is to slow down the rate at which our landfill is being filled. Paper products have a recycling rate of 68%, and corrugated cardboard at nearly 98%, yet is still the largest material landfilled by both weight and volume. Food waste is also an issue.
For comparison, this is the statewide results from the same NDEE study.
Other interesting finds include:
• The yard waste ban appears to be very successful in reducing the amount of yard waste disposed in Nebraska’s solid waste facilities.
• More than 50% of the paper fibers component of Nebraska’s municipal waste stream is easily recyclable.
• The plastics component comprises 19.13% of Nebraska’s municipal waste stream and approximately 27% of the component is easily recyclable.
The NDEE Solid Waste Management Programs Study follows up the Waste Characterization Study, and addresses the needs and successes of waste management programs across the state. This study heavily emphasizes the rural districts limited resources when it comes to solid and effective recycling programs. In the Review of Existing State Program, the lack of outlets for waste tires is almost immediately mentioned, and further in the study, the lack of infrastructure is discussed.
We can’t ignore the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills either. Composting is an effective way to handle this issue, but large scale composting does present it’s own problems and requires regular maintenance to be successful. Backyard composting is a strong way to combat residential food waste, but is not an option for businesses. One viable solution for Sidney would be integrating composting into the already existing yard waste program. Roadblocks regarding this, is that yard waste and food waste have to be transported separately, so curbside pickup is unlikely. Since absorbent materials are required for handling the moisture content of compost, chipped/shredded yard waste could address that.
Below is a comparison between residential and commercial solid waste collected in Sidney. The commercial waste sample totaled 3683.05lbs, and the residential sample was 3583.21lbs. A couple obvious observations are that businesses are less likely to use our current recycling system; most food waste comes from households; when compared to the Mixed Waste Data chart above, residential and commercial waste are each accounting for roughly 50% of landfill usage. That is, neither the residents, nor business community are putting more strain than the other on our system. It should be noted that Construction & Demolition (C&D) are excluded from all the reports links in this post.
In an effort to be completely transparent with how we are working to improve recycling, here is a quick summary as well as the full text of the grant.
TLDR; This NDEE funded grant will create a new, part-time position within the Solid Waste Management Department solely for handling recyclable materials. This position is being created because current staffing limitations prohibit an efficient recycling system. Once this position is hired, trained, and working on the backlog of recyclables, the City will be able to start accepting #1-#7 plastics. (We’re hoping by the end of the first quarter). This will free up other employees and drivers, allowing us to look towards additional collection locations. While this happens, the Solid Waste Department will work with state-wide MRFS and recycling plants to increase revenue and total amount of material moved. In addition we will begin the Hefty Energy Bag Program with approximately 200 households to assess the feasibility of that program.
|Full Grant Text:|
This project will build on the City of Sidney’s current recycling program by utilizing local resources and grants to increase the amount of recycled material collected and moved out of the city, offer more options to city and county residents, and dramatically decrease the amount of these materials going into the landfill. This will be accomplished by better utilizing local Keep America Beautiful affiliates and working with Firstar Fibers and Western Resources Group.
Currently, the city is collecting 1&2 plastics, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, aluminum and tin. These items are all being sent to a single stream system, primarily due to lack of personnel. The single stream system, while less cost effective, is the city’s only reasonable option at this point in time, despite better available options. With the addition of a dedicated materials handler, the City of Sidney will be able to more shrewdly move materials, increase the plastics collection to include all plastics 1 – 7, recover greater costs, and utilize the Hefty Energy Bag program for unrecyclable plastics that end up in our landfill. As the city has dedicated collection bins for each type of material, the Materials Handler would be primarily responsible for separating improperly mixed items, baling materials, and stacking/sorting bales for shipping.
The City of Sidney will work with Keep Sidney Beautiful to distribute and provide education on the Hefty Energy Bag Program. The initial pilot program will break up rolls and give smaller packets of bags to participants to increase participation in the communities. The program will operate as a self-service drop off, much like our recycling, until participation and funds from bag sales allows the city to add an additional route.
During the first quarter, a new employee will be hired, trained and begin operating at the Recycling Center sorting and baling recyclables. The recycling will be expanded to include all types of plastics, and the city will have already started agreements with the necessary parties to move all plastics to Firstar Fibers in Omaha via Western Resources Group in Ogallala, and aluminum and tin to local KAB affiliate Spud Rowley in Kimball. The City of Sidney will work with Keep Sidney Beautiful during this quarter to boost the new recycling options and hefty energy bag program, as well as educational materials to re-learn the recycling process in our town. This quarter will largely focus on increasing the amount of recyclables being collected, and the Hefty Energy Bag Pilot Program to get as many households signed up as possible. The city will track and compare recycling collections to the previous year in order to get a baseline on the overall % increase in materials collected, as well as revenue.
In the second quarter the Hefty Energy Bag Pilot Program should move into the city purchased supply of bags. Both the city manager and director of Keep Sidney Beautiful agree this will be a tough sell to our community, so the two entities will work together to educate citizens on the value of the program. The city has agreed to continue funding the inventory as long as community engagement is high. During this quarter the recycling program should have ironed out any issues from the increase in materials collected. The city will continue to monitor costs and revenue from the improved recycling options and by the end of the second quarter should have a solid baseline for the overall success of the program.
In the third quarter the programs will continue to operate as they should with any necessary adjustments made to ensure optimal efficiency. The project managers, Keep Sidney Beautiful and Landfill Supervisor, will compile data and conduct community interviews to present to the city during the yearly budget meeting in order to increase city funding and support that will allow the program to grow. The project managers will also be assessing grant needs for potential expansion of the project, or whether to continue as is.
The whole of Cheyenne County has been desperate for more recycling options for years. By simply adding an employee to the ranks, the city will be able to expand options that benefit the county as a whole. While some outlying villages (Lodgepole, Potter) are able to utilize some recycling opportunities outside the county, they as well as the villages of Gurley and Dalton largely rely on services in Sidney. Boosting the recycling center in Sidney has been core to expanding options around the county. If this project is as successful as it should be, the increased efficiency, and ability to handle greater quantities, will allow the City to place collection bins in other areas in the future.
- When can I start dropping off all my plastics?
- We do not have an exact date. This will all depend on the hiring process. Hopefully by the end of the first quarter.
- How do I apply for the Materials Handler position?
- This job will be hired and managed through the City of Sidney. Job posting is expected to go up any day as we fine tune the job description, so keep an watch on their Facebook and website.
- What does ‘grant funded position’ mean?
- This position is being funded through grant reimbursements from the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy. This means, that the majority of payroll costs acquired by the city for this specific position will be paid back through this grant fund as long as the program is operating according to plan.
- So does that mean this job is gone if we don’t get a grant next year?
- Not necessarily! The purpose of this grant is to elevate our recycling program so that it can afford it’s own employee. Keep Sidney Beautiful will keep applying for grants to support this program as long as it is needed. It is important to note, that while a wonderful benefit, grants cannot always be 100% relied upon.
- How can I be a part of the Hefty Energy Bag program
- This program will roll out soon. The priority now is getting an employee hired, as both the recycling changes and HEB rely on having that employee in place! If you are interested now, send and email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put you on a ‘pre-waiting’ list.
- My question isn’t on this FAQ.
- That’s because I made all these up. Send your questions to email@example.com and they will be added!
Through our funding from the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE), Keep Sidney Beautiful is able to offer four micro grants to community organizations located within Sidney and Cheyenne County Nebraska. Grant awards are based on the calculated total of roads in each village and and range from $400 – $500. Basic clean up supplies (safety vests, bags, gloves, grabbers) and dump passes (2 per grant) will be provided by Keep Sidney Beautiful.
Rules & Guidelines
- These grants are open to all youth-, veteran-, and community-based organizations that are located and operate within Cheyenne County, Nebraska.
(eligible organizations include but not limited to: 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Local school teams/groups/organizations, veteran groups, local non-profits. email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are not sure)
- Grantee may only apply for one (1) grant for their group or organization. Multiple applications will result in disqualification.
- Grantee is responsible for the hauling and removal of litter and recyclables. Grantee agrees not to dispose of an unaccepted items in the landfill, or illegally dispose of items in any manner.
- Grantee will track attendees, litter totals, time, and assure all requirements of the grant are met. Grantee will submit a report to Keep Sidney Beautiful upon completion of the clean up to be reviewed by the organization’s board.
- Grant Awards are based on the total calculated mileage of roads in each village (not including alleyways). Maximum award amount for Lodgepole or Potter is $500 (5mi of road). Maximum award amount for Dalton or Gurley is $400 (4mi of road). Grantees are not guaranteed the village option of their choice, however, KSB will make every effort to place grantees in their preferred village depending on the total number of applications.
- Grantee is responsible for picking up and returning supplies to Keep Sidney Beautiful. Keep Sidney Beautiful will supply groups with safety vests, trash grabbers, gloves, and trash bags. All other supplies are at the responsibility of the grantee.
- Landfill dump fees will be covered by KSB.
- Clean up must be completed by December 31st, 2021