By Emily Banks Wooten
Jenn Thompson and Kari Miller recently presented a program on Polk County Recycling & Beautification, the Polk County Recycling Center and the Onalaska Loop Drop-Off Site.
“Polk County Recycling & Beautification (PCRB) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization formed by community members for the benefit of the community. Our goal is to clean up and beautify Polk County through recycling, education and community engagement in litter clean-up activities,” Thompson said.
“Our vision is to inspire East Texans to conserve our resources and keep our communities clean and beautiful for generations to come. Our mission is to benefit the residents of Polk County by providing recycling opportunities, promoting the benefits of conservation and sustainable living, and supporting beautification projects throughout the county. We strive to sustain and expand our recycling services to help reduce the cost of waste disposal, reduce our landfill footprint and improve the environment.
“Why is recycling so important? What’s the big deal? We only have one Earth, and our resources are limited. The more we consume and the more trash that we create that ends up in landfills, the closer we are to running out of resources, negatively impacting people all over the globe. In this country, the average person produces roughly 2,000 pounds of trash per year. Trash that ends up in our landfills creates pollution in our air and water supply. Trash that is thrown on the side of the road eventually breaks down and finds its way into our water supply, harming our marine life as well as ourselves,” Thompson said.
“I understand that clean water is one of Rotary’s causes along with protecting the environment. It takes considerably more water and energy to create products from raw materials that it does to create them out of recycled materials. Single-use plastics, like grocery bags and water bottles, can take hundreds of years to decompose. Styrofoam never decomposes, and the world produces 14 million tons of this material every year,” she said.
“Have any of you been to the beach or lake in the last year or two? Did you see any trash on the shore? Roadside litter, whether recyclables or trash, can degrade into very small bits of plastic, which are then washed from our streets into our creeks, rivers and lakes, to be eaten by fish and become part of the food chain. Two-thirds of all fish species have ingested plastic, and around 80% of marine debris is plastic. Proper disposal at the recycling center or the landfill will improve the health and well-being of our environment,” Thompson said.
Showing a slide of the inside of the local recycling center, she said the founders of PCRB reached out to Polk County in 2018.
“They believed that to be successful, any recycling program efforts needed to be citizen-driven. They agreed to support our efforts, since our goals align. Recycling materials for free can help lower trash bills for residents and businesses, and removing materials from the waste stream extends the life of the county landfill. The commissioners court determined that the unexpected revenues earned from their waste management services could be used to build a recycling center at one of their waste collection sites, and PCRB agreed to staff the facility and help educate the community about our program,” Thompson said, adding, “We now have a large building open three days a week – Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. We want to thank the commissioners court for its support and say that we are really looking forward to working with the two new commissioners, DuBose and Cassity.
“PCRB operates the Recycling Center at the Polk County Citizen Collection Station on Hwy. 146. It’s about nine miles south of town across from the intersection with FM 2665. Our center is different from the big cities, where everything gets thrown together and then sent to a materials recovery facility, or MRF, where expensive, fancy equipment sorts out the recyclable material, and everything else gets sent to a landfill. We don’t want to send materials to a facility like this. The trucks that pick up our materials take them directly to a mill, where they can be processed into new products. That means we have to do the sorting here, by hand, mostly with volunteers, and the materials we send have to be in good condition, so the mill does not reject them,” she said.
“So, what do we take? We take #1-#7 plastics, grocery bags and film packaging, and many plastic to-go containers. All recyclable plastic has a triangle somewhere on it, usually the bottom, with a number inside. We take aluminum cans and steel cans. We bag those and drop them off at a local metal recycler when we have enough to fill up a pickup truck. The cans, like the plastics, need to be clean and empty when we get them to prevent bad odors and pests from being attracted to the facility. We also accept clean, dry, corrugated cardboard,” Thompson said.
“Our cardboard baler and forklift were purchased by Polk County via a DETCOG grant with funds provided by TCEQ. The cardboard bales usually weigh more than a thousand pounds, and we have completed 37 bales so far. One ton of recycled cardboard, that’s about two of these bales, save 46 gallons of oil and nine cubic yards of landfill space.
“What about plastic? Our plastic baler was purchased by Keep Texas Recycling with funds from Coca-Cola. Plastic bales usually weigh between 500 and 650 pounds, and we have completed 18 bales. Each of these is equivalent to 25,000 half-liter water bottles. In America, approximately 60 million plastic bottles are thrown away every day. Every day, Americans throw away enough plastic bottles to fuel 600 two-person homes for one year. Unfortunately, less than a quarter of disposable water bottles are recycled. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom. There is hope. We just have to start rethinking when it comes to waste,” Thompson said.
“After many requests from the community, we recently opened a drop-off station in Onalaska at 416 Onalaska Loop. Please presort materials as much as possible. Aluminum cans can be dropped off in a bag. Plastic bags should be bagged together. All other plastics will be dumped into our bins for sorting and quality control.
“Cardboard should be clean, dry and flattened. If it has gotten wet, toss it out, and nothing smaller than a postcard, please. Steel and aluminum cans - labels are fine. Please rinse cans of food residue or give beverages a good shake to remove the excess. If you have a crusher at home, that is ideal. Plastic - we recently started accepting more varieties, so look for the recycling triangle, #1-#7. Remove and discard all caps. No styrofoam or motor oil containers. We accept grocery bags and film packaging together in their own bag.
“Our volunteers will tell you that working at the center is rewarding and fun. We want to make operations as pleasant as possible for our volunteers. When people bring us their materials, we ask them to make sure that they are bringing us only materials that we can recycle. If it looks or smells like trash, it is trash.
“We have a two-mile stretch of highway we adopted on 146. December 10 was our recent cleanup, and it went well, now that we are in maintenance mode. Gloves, bags, and grabbers are provided. Please contact PCRB if you are interested in participating next quarter. Brian McNinch is the operations manager and oversees the center’s operations. He is a wealth of knowledge and statistics. Kari Miller is the county liaison and is assistant to Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy. She has been instrumental in getting the recycling center off the ground and growing it to what it is today. We’ve collected over 51 tons in a little over a year. We truly are making a difference in our community,” Thompson said.
For additional information, go to pcrbtexas.org.