PITTSBURG — To encourage recycling all across the nation, recycling centers and communities celebrated America Recycles Day on Friday. 

Local nonprofit Southeast Kansas Recycling hosted a free shredding day for people and businesses who have old bank records, tax records and other documents to get rid of.

At the recycling center, material handling vehicles bustled back and forth through the warehouse and people sorted items into categorized containers. Boxes of paper were piled high waiting to be shredded and compacted into bales. SEKR Board Treasurer Gene Vogler said everyone stays “pretty busy” at the recycling center. 

“We will ship approximately 100 tons of material every month,” he said.  

What can be recycled and where it goes 

Paper is sorted into different “grades” of paper such as premium and mixed. After the paper is collected, sorted and compacted, it is purchased and sent off to people who use recycled paper in their paper products, Vogler said. Newsprint goes back into newsprint and mixed paper is often made into things like paper cartons. 

This all goes the same for the other items the SEKR collects. 

“The plastic, people will take it, grind it up and remelt and reuse it,” Vogler said. “Aluminum cans can be remade into cans.” 

Even clothes can be recycled, Vogler said. The SEKR works area nonprofits who have stores with excess clothes they can’t sell. The nonprofit stores receive a “small amount” money and then the recycling center compacts the clothes which are sent off to either be used as clothing or turned into rags. The recycling center ships approximately 8 to 9 truckloads of clothes a year. 

Electronics are also dropped off at the recycling center. There is a charge for people who drop off television monitors because there is lead glass in them and the recycling center must pay to have the television sent off to Illinois to be disposed of properly. Other items, such as computer towers are sorted out by the recycling center’s staff and then are sent off to be stripped of copper and other valuable elements before being shredded. 

Household hazardous waste such as paint, insecticides, oils and cleaning supplies are also dropped off at recycling centers. At SEKR there’s an entire building dedicated to handling hazardous waste. According to Vogler, the center operates a Household Hazardous Waste program with Crawford County. 

 A list of other recyclable items people can drop off at the Southeast Kansas Recycling is available on its website at www.sekr.org. 

Keeping it all going 

The Southeast Kansas Recycling is a nonprofit organization which originally planned to be supported by the sales of its collected items. Support from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, funding from the county and city of Pittsburg helped the organization secure the building it has today. 

However, times have changed, Vogler said. “There were a lot of printing operations in the area and we collected a lot of paper from those printing areas,” he said. “The money we would collect from those are significantly higher than it is now, so we were able to support it financially with mostly what was sold.”  

The volume has been very steady over the years but less has come from and industry and more from individual contributors, he said. 

According to Vogler, mixed paper that was sold two years ago used to sell at approximately $70 to $80 now goes for $20. Cardboard which was $170 is now $30. 

“We would go through areas when the price would go up and down but what happened last year was that China basically would no longer accept the material from the U.S. because it was contaminated, there was a lot of things involved in what they did but the bottom line is they are not taking the material anymore so there isn’t nearly much of a market,” he said. 

This is something that has affected recycling centers across the states, Vogler said. Recycling centers in bigger cities have changed what they take in to accommodate. For Pittsburg’s recycling center that may mean the organization would need to be subsidized in order to stay around, he said. 

“Most recycling operations today are supported through government subsidies,” he said. “We’re a pretty unusual organization in that we are a nonprofit and not directly connected to any government agency.”  

Currently, Vogler said the county supports the recycling center and the city has also supported the organization in the past. The organization recently received a $10,000 donation from the county. For another cause the county also provided a separate matching fund to go with a grant from KDHE so the recycling center could purchase a styrofoam melting machine. 

To help increase incoming revenue the recycling center also operates a New to You Reuse Shop on its property which has been open for approximately eight years and provides more than 10 percent of the operating revenue, Vogler said. 

Recycling centers like Southeast Kansas Recycling have help from volunteers from area schools and various organizations. They often help with sorting the dropped off items. 

At the end of the day, Vogler said, recycling is all about keeping recyclable and poisonous items out of the landfill.