Palm Beach County trash: Recycling numbers gauge local economy

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - With the discarded champagne bottles, holiday gift boxes and store mailers, Wednesday, January 2nd is one of the busiest days of the year for the Solid Waste Authority in Palm Beach County.  The volume of goods that will be processed is 40% higher than normal.

The trash and recycling can say a lot about our community.

Jim Greer is Manager of Recovered Materials and Processing for SWA.  He says the more recycling he sees, the better the health of the economy in the community.

"When the numbers go up, that usually means the economy is improving," he said.

Greer noticed some trends in 2012.  One, what people are throwing in the recycling bin that doesn't belong.

"I'd say on average at least two bowling balls a day.  Seriously," he said. 

It's unclear why bowling balls have found their way into recycling bins across the county, but Greer has his suspicions.

"Why?  I don't know.  I keep imagining wives taking their husbands' bowling ball out in the garage and it just happened to go in the recycling bin.  But we don't recycle bowling balls," he laughed.

Garden hoses, toy trucks, water noodles, golf balls and kitchen appliances have also made their way into the bins intended for bottles, cans and paper.  Most of it, however, is the right stuff.

A few years ago, the tons of recycling coming in to SWA went down.  Some of that as many newspapers went electronic.

"If there's not as much new products being made, then there's less demand for raw material," Greer said.

In 2012, the paper started piling up again.  One percent more paper and cardboard came out of Palm Beach County homes and into the facility.  That translates to about a thousand tons more than 2011.

That can be attributed to better recycling education, but also a better economy.  As the paper and cardboard is turned into fiber, it is resold. 

"Most of the exports go to China and China had been very, very aggressive in buying fiber for several years," Greer said.

A couple of years ago, the demand for fiber in China slowed as the economy in the United States worsened.  China uses the paper to create packaging for goods that are sold in the United States. 

As the cycle continues, China will use our paper to package next year's holiday gifts.

"It goes in cycles, same thing in the recycling industry," he said.

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