What happens to all that waste?

Do you ever find yourself standing by the recycling bin questioning whether or not the item in your hand is actually recyclable?  

I find myself in this situation often.  Wanting to do as much as I can to avoid sending more to the landfill but unsure just how much is really recyclable.  This is especially true as we declutter. 

Which led me to take a tour of the Rice County Landfill, Recycling, and Household Hazardous Waste Facilities.  It was something that I had on my to-do list for a long time & it was exciting to see first-hand what really happens after the trash & recycling leave our curbs.

The tour was led by Paul Pieper, who has 16 years of experience making sure the disposal of our stuff is done efficiently and with care.  We started at the Recycling Center which includes a huge collection shed where trucks pull in and dump the recycling from the county.  36 tons of recyclable material comes through the center a day.  It is dumped, collected & loaded onto trucks to be hauled away for sorting. 


Paul explained that in 2008, Rice County made a shift from sorting at their location to sending it out to be processed.  This coincided with the shift to the single-sort recycling method for households & businesses.  There was a 60% increase in amount recycled with the single-sort method.

As we looked at the huge pile waiting to be loaded, Paul pointed out some of the items that really didn’t belong and that would need to be sorted out at the MRF or Material Recovery Facility.  While there is a great urge to recycle as much as you can, the county advises that we stick to the items on their list.  This ensures that the process can be done more efficiently at the sorting site.  Here is the list of things we can recycle in our county.  

We moved on to the other areas of the facility where residents can drop off items for recycling and proper disposal.  This area collects a wide variety of items, including mattresses, tires, old appliances, and electronics.  There are processing fees for these materials, but it was reassuring to know that our large, unusable items can be broken down & salvaged.  Check out the recycling rates here and the rates for e-waste here


I was so impressed by how organized, efficient & helpful the facility & staff make the process.  Areas are labeled for quick, convenient drop-off and staff was willing to lend a helping hand when needed.

The Household Hazardous Waste area was next.  This is where items, such as paint, rechargeable batteries, and household cleaners, are collected.  The items are sorted and assessed.  If they are still in usable condition then they can be passed on to county residents in the Re-use shop.  The shop offers cans of paint, automotive products, and cleaning supplies for free.  Paul mentioned that their location is convenient for residents that are on their way to Menards for a project.  They can make a stop at the Re-use shop first and save some money on their supplies.



The last part of the tour was to the landfill.  On the way we saw the collection sites for steel, yard waste, and demolition materials.   And then there it was- a huge pile of trash being smashed & shaped as we looked on.  It was a big reminder that our garbage doesn’t just disappear after it leaves our door.


I left the center renewed in my mission- to do everything I can to ensure that we are letting go of the items that we no longer need in ways that are responsible and environmentally conscious, which means I want to pass on as much knowledge as I can about how to recycle, refurbish, or reuse those items.  And keep as much as possible from heading to the landfill.  It might take a little extra energy to make decisions & find homes for your unwanted items, but I know it is worth it.  Every little thing helps.

Your Turn…

I believe that knowledge is power.  Information offers us the power to make informed decisions and do what we can to make a difference. 

When you are ready to get rid of things that you no longer want or need.  Ask yourself these questions before placing it in the trash:

Can I donate it?

Could it be refurbished or repaired?

Is it recyclable? 

Refer to the resources offered by your local recycling center or enlist my support when you are unsure or want the decisions to come easier.

Next steps…

Don’t let the decisions around the what, where, & how stop you from letting go.  When in doubt, make a phone call to your county’s recycling center & get your question answered.  Or set up an appointment & together we can find homes for your unwanted items.

Did you know I can leave with your unwanted items?  For a small fee, I lift the burden and deliver your items to the location that best fits their next life.

Let’s take advantage of the resources that our communities have in place to help us responsibly care for our stuff & our world.