Monday, February 19, 2018

It's All in the Percentages

Quick, what material do you think has the high recycling rate in the United States? Aluminum cans? Newspaper? Cardboard? You’ll never guess. A report in Waste Advantage magazine says a study recently released finds that lead batteries, the type used to start our cars and myriad other vehicles, have a recycling rate of 99.3 percent, making them the top recycled consumer product. The report attributes this to industry investment in a state-of-the-art closed-loop collection and recycling system.
This report comes in the form of the National Recycling Rate Study released in conjunction with America Recycles Day in November by Essential Energy Everyday and Battery Council International. It goes on to say that on average, a new lead battery consists of more than 80 percent recycled material. Every part of the battery, from lead and plastic to sulfuric acid, gets used in manufacturing new batteries. This reduces the need for new lead mining, reduces waste, and helps keep lead out of landfills.
With the recycling rate for lead batteries so high, you have to wonder what the rates are for other recycled materials. EPA figures for 2014 have newspapers coming in at 63 percent, aluminum cans 55.1 percent, tires 40.5 percent, glass containers 32.5 percent, and PET bottles 32.2 percent.
Going a step further, the overall U.S. recycling rate has been stuck at around 34 percent for the past decade, and it has actually dropped slightly the last year or two. A good New Years resolution would be to get our recycling numbers up across the board, as we have ample room for improvement.
Immersed in the Christmas and New Year holidays, we have plenty of opportunities to recycle before the new year starts. You can also practice several of the other Rs, such as reducing and reusing. Consider reusing wrapping paper saved from last year and saving it for next year. I like to use newspaper for large packages, with a bow on top to add color. When wrapping paper has reached the end of its useful life, you can put it, along with Christmas cards, in the paper and cardboard container at one of our recycling drop-offs. With online shopping so prevalent, we see more cardboard boxes for shipping merchandise. These can be reused or recycled at a drop-off. We get occasional calls about how to recycle Christmas tree lights that don’t work anymore; scrap yards generally take them. As for your Christmas tree, consider composting it, as this would not only enrich the soil but also create habitat for critters (this works under water as well as on the ground). If that’s not an option, perhaps your municipality has a day for curbside pickup; they’ll grind them for mulch. And one of the most prodigious holiday materials to deal with may be leftover food. Consider donating it to a food bank or composting it.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Recent Events a Big Success

In October, we staged our two annual recycling events for collecting hard-to-recycle items such as electronic devices, refrigerators, books, and clothes. The first came at the Monroe Township shed and the other at the Rescue Hose Company in Beavertown. Both were well attended, as evidenced by the fact 544 cars came through the events, often waiting in line.

We took in two trailers worth of electronics at each event, and HandUp Foundation collected four truckloads of stuff. This amounted to 32.7 tons of electronics – that’s a lot of TVs and computers. HandUp counted 42 air conditioners, 51 microwave ovens, 25 boxes of books, 5 dishwashers, and 1 truck full of scrap metal they took in.

If you attended the Beavertown event, you noticed we held it in the parking lot behind the fire department instead of the grassy carnival grounds as in past years. This was because the ground was wet from recent rains, making it slippery. We could operate a forklift efficiently on the paved parking lot, and this helped tremendously in loading electronics into trailers (not to mention avoiding the aggravation of getting it stuck in wet grass).

At both events, you may have gotten a glimpse of what’s involved in loading electronics into trailers. In past years, Unicor provided its own prison labor and all the materials for doing this, so we didn’t have to worry about it. This year, we had to provide our own labor in addition to pallets, Gaylord boxes, and shrink wrap. At Beavertown especially, an army of experienced volunteers worked like beavers in loading big TVs onto pallets and then wrapping shrink wrap around them so we could stack them high and keep them in place. Smaller items such as computer towers, keyboards, and laptops went into Gaylord boxes on pallets. Then a forklift hoisted the pallet loads into the trailer, and a person in the trailer moved them around with a floor jack. Keeping everything on pallets helps to automate the operation and makes it more manageable and faster to load and then unload materials.

Many partners throughout the county helped us with the events, and we want to give them a big thanks:
Monroe Township – Provided one of the sites and helped load electronics into trailers with their forklift
Rescue Hose Company – Provided the site in Beavertown
HandUp Foundation in Milton – Collected refrigerators, scrap metal, clothes, and books
Unicor in Minersville – Processed the electronics collected
Weis Markets – Loaned pallets for loading electronics into trailers
Coles Hardware - Loaned pallets and a floor jack for loading electronics into trailers
Wood-Mode in Kreamer - Loaned pallets and shrink wrap for loading electronics into trailers
Conestoga Wood Specialties in Beavertown - Loaned pallets, shrink wrap, and a floor jack for loading electronics into trailers
Beavertown Public Library – Collected books they sell for their fundraiser
Superservice Garage in Beavertown – Loaned a forklift for loading electronics into trailers at Beavertown
TTC Rentals in Middleburg – Rented tents for both events
Watsontown Trucking in Milton – Rented trucks for hauling electronics to Unicor in Minersville
Snyder County Community Services – Provided laborers

And we want to thanks all the residents who brought in items to recycle. By doing this, you’re doing the right thing and keeping them out of illegal dumps.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Grass Roots Battery Recycling

Source for battery recycling
In recent columns, we’ve discussed the challenges of recycling hard-to-recycle items such as electronic devices and alkaline batteries. In doing this, we typically speak in terms of the major players involved. But often in the recycling world, things happen at more of a grassroots level.

I was in a meeting in Lewisburg talking about recycling recently when the issue of recycling non-rechargeable batteries came up. Sam Pearson, president of the Lewisburg Neighborhoods Corporation and a community activist, mentioned that Mondragon Books (, a used book store on Market Street in Lewisburg, has a box where you can deposit batteries for recycling. Turns out, they use Big Green Box, a company in Lancaster, Ohio that recycles several types of batteries and small electronic devices such as cell phones ( This is a win-win, as you can shop for a used book and reuse it after you recycle your batteries.

You go online to purchase a Big Green Box, and they ship it to your home, office, or business.
The box comes with a set of plastic bags. As batteries and other electronic devices are spent, you place them individually in a bag and set them inside the box (bags prevent unintentional discharges or short circuits). Once your Big Green Box is full, drop it off at your local FedEx location or call FedEx to have your box picked up from your home or business, free of charge.
According to their website, alkaline batteries returned in the Big Green Box are sent to Retriev Technologies in Lancaster, Ohio. Here they are shredded to separate the steel casing from the zinc and manganese active materials. The recovered steel is sent to a mill for reuse in new steel products. The recovered zinc and manganese is processed through Retriev's patented hydrometallurgical process, which produces high-grade zinc and manganese products that can be used in many new products. The manganese is also used to make new alkaline batteries.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Recycling events coming up and Weis recycling efforts

Recycling events coming up

Back in the March column, we talked about the recycling events we normally have in May where we take in hard-to-recycle items like refrigerators, electronic devices, clothes, and books. We told how we were going to have to postpone them this year because of the situation with electronics. Our usual vendor for that, Unicor, was moving from the Lewisburg Penitentiary to Minersville, and things were up in the air.

Well, I’m glad to report that Unicor has resumed operations in Minersville and has agreed to handle our electronic devices. With that in mind, we have scheduled our recycling events for October 6 and 7 at the Monroe Township shed and October 13 and 14 at the carnival grounds in Beavertown. We will charge $5 for every vehicle or person/group coming in to recycle electronic devices and, like last year, $10 for every electronic device with a cathode ray tube (CRT) in it. This includes old TVs and computer monitors with the bulbous tubes in them. The $5 charge is to cover transportation costs for shipping the electronics to Unicor in Minersville, and the $10 fee covers what Unicor charges us to process CRT devices. There will be no charge for bringing in refrigeration devices, clothes, or books.

Weis recycling efforts

The folks at Weis Markets recently invited us in for a presentation on their sustainability efforts. We started at their headquarters in Sunbury and then stepped out for a tour of their store on Route 522 in Selinsgrove. It was good to hear that a major component of their efforts come in the form of recycling. In 2015, they recycled more than 33,850 tons of materials, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2014. This included corrugated cardboard, mixed office paper, and plastic bags, among other things. They have recently added rigid plastics, batteries, and cooking oil to their list of recyclables, which now includes more than 20 commodities. Plastic bags are recycled into various items such as lumber, playground equipment, patio decking, and park benches. Weis sells spring water in bottles made of 100 percent recycled PET plastic. Waxed corrugated cardboard goes to Enviro-Log, which turns it into fireplace logs that Weis sells.

But perhaps the most interesting display of recycling came at the Selinsgrove store, where Weis has a tank for storing food waste such as leftovers from the salad bar. A company they contract with comes by and unloads the contents and ships them to an anaerobic digestion plant in Lancaster where they are turned into energy.

It’s good to see a local corporate citizen committing to reduce its carbon footprint…and using recycling extensively to do it.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

What to do with non-rechargeable batteries

People often ask us where they can recycle single-use, or non-rechargeable, household batteries. These are typically alkaline manganese batteries, the most common kind of rechargeable. This is a reasonable question and big issue in the recycling world because batteries have become so prevalent in this age of proliferating electronic devices, powering cell phones, computers, toys, and power tools. Unfortunately, we don’t have much to tell people other than to put their batteries in the trash.

Looking at other areas, California has designated all batteries as hazardous waste and requires that they be recycled or taken to a household hazardous waste (HHW) collection facility. Outside the Golden State, it is legal to throw single-use batteries in the trash. Many cities and counties collect single-use batteries during household hazardous waste collection events, and some have dedicated HHW locations that accept materials all year. In our area, several stores such as Walmart, Lowes, Best Buy, Staples, and Coles Hardware collect several types of batteries, but none take the non-rechargeable alkaline variety.

But the situation is changing and becoming more favorable to recycling single-use batteries.
Call2Recycle ( has expanded its battery recycling program to include a new single-use battery recycling option. The company has drop-offs around the country and sells boxes that you can purchase online to fill with batteries and then ship back to them for recycling. Call2Recycle has reported record volumes as it transitions several rechargeable battery collection centers into so-called “all-battery” locations, funded by collection fees paid by consumers.
If you have a large quantity of batteries, you can use one of the many mail-in programs such as Call2Recycle. Also, you can find places to recycle alkaline single-use batteries at websites such as
Debate about recycling single-use batteries has focused on whether it’s actually cost effective. They contain small amounts of reusable material, including zinc, manganese, and steel. They don’t contain heavy metals, and this limits their recycling market. On the other hand, rechargeable batteries do contain heavy metals. Because of this, they are considered hazardous waste and are therefore prohibited from landfills and must be recycled. And the heavy metals make them more lucrative for recycling. For these reasons, U.S. battery manufacturers have typically funded collections for rechargeable batteries but not single-use ones. But technology has advanced to the point that single-use batteries can be recycled cost effectively.
As an alternative to using single-use alkaline batteries and landfilling them, other forms of batteries are available. Made of nickel and cadmium, Ni-Cd batteries are an inexpensive rechargeable form of alkaline batteries. They can be recharged hundreds of times and are generally interchangeable with alkalines. Due to the presence of the toxic metal cadmium, these batteries are considered hazardous waste and not allowed in landfills. A cadmium-free alternative to these batteries is Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH), which are taking their place alongside name brands of rechargeable batteries.
With developments like these, we should have more to tell residents who call about recycling single-use batteries. At the same, we’ll keep more of them out of the landfill.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

It’s All in the Numbers, Part 2

Last month, we presented numbers for the materials recycled in Snyder County in 2016, first for the entire county and then broken down by municipality. But we love numbers so much, we couldn’t stop there. Here, we give you figures for our recycling drop-offs and individual businesses.

2016 Numbers for our Recycling Drop-Offs (tons):
Penn Township – 342.20
Freeburg Borough – 167.23
Selinsgrove Borough – 103.05
Franklin Township – 86.52
Monroe Township – 66.31
Spring Township – 46.28

2016 Numbers for Businesses (tons):
Conestoga Wood Specialties – 14,255.23
Bingaman & Son Lumber – 11,044.10
Shaffer Landscapes – 4460
National Beef – 853.07
Cherry Hill Hardwoods – 801
Walmart – 572.47
Lozier Corp. – 441.07
Lowes – 290.3
Target – 212.95
Giant Foods – 211.7
Midd-West School District – 106.65
Dollar General – 101.38
Wood-Mode – 81.60
Iron Mountain – 74.4
Weis Markets – 66.9
Kohls – 65.77
Best Buy – 59.03
Auto Zone – 55.5
Verizon – 51.17
Ollies – 47.15 tons
Northway Industries – 30.64
Beavertown Block – 29.01
Staples – 22.10
Irvin’s Country Tinware – 9.11
Tractor Supply – 7.07

In looking at the numbers for businesses, we should point out a few things. The numbers for wood-related businesses such as Conestoga, Bingaman, and Cherry Hill come mainly from wood waste, and those for Shaffer Landscapes come mostly from yard waste. These generate inherently higher numbers than other recyclable materials. On the other hand, numbers for most of the other businesses, including National Beef and the big-box stores along the strip, come from recycling corrugated cardboard boxes.

Kudos to the municipalities for making our drop-offs a success and the businesses for their recycling efforts.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

It’s All in the Numbers, Part 1

Trash Talk Column

April 2017

This is the time of year when Pennsylvania recycling people collect numbers from businesses, organizations, and haulers so they can calculate how many tons of materials they recycled the previous year, as required by Act 101. This allows us to monitor our progress and serves as a basis for grant money we receive.

Below is a chart of the numbers for 2016 for the entire county, along with 2014 and 2015 for comparison. Metals include aluminum and bimetal cans, while organics includes leaves and yard waste as well as food waste. All numbers are in tons.

Countywide Recycling Numbers

Single stream
803 tons

Materials Recycled by Municipality in 2016 (tons)

Beavertown Borough
Franklin Borough
Freeburg Borough
Jackson Township
McClure Borough
Middleburg Borough
Middlecreek Township
Monroe Township
Penn Township
Perry Township
Selinsgrove Borough
Shamokin Dam Borough
Spring Township
Union Township
West Perry Township

You’ll notice that the overall number for 2016 (36,425 tons) in the first chart, along with those for Beavertown Borough, Franklin Township, and Middlecreek Township are inordinately high. This is because they include organics generated by various businesses, and these create much higher numbers than other recyclables.

With this disclaimer out of the way, what trends do we see? Single-stream recycling is up, indicating more residents are subscribing to the service through haulers. Tonnages for glass, paper, and plastics are down slightly, probably because of the increase in single-stream. Penn Township wins the prize for the most residential recycling, while Monroe Township is tops in commercial recycling if you discount the organics. This makes sense because Monroe includes the Route 11/15 strip and most of the big-box businesses there.

Thanks again to all county residents, organizations, municipalities, and businesses who recycled in 2016 and those who reported your numbers to us. By measuring our recycling tonnages, we can continue to make progress in recycling and sustaining our planet.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115