The low-down on recycling in Albuquerque
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, August 18, 2005
Looking at a glass mountain from a distance, it's nearly impossible to tell it's not the real thing. You almost swear you see piñon trees. But, upon further inspection, the tiny pulverized stones of blue, brown and green become apparent, and the way they glimmer in the sun is certainly not like any typical topography.
If you've ever wondered, that's what happens to your beer, wine and fancy water bottles, at least if you live in Albuquerque—they turn into miniature mountains. Of course, you may also notice them showing off in some of the medians around town, and a few random xeriscaped yards. Next time you see them, stop to pay attention; they're smooth, chromatic and they come from your own recycling bin.
Our glass is turned into this glittery amalgam at the Intermediate Processing Facility (IPF), the state's only recycling hub, which sits out on the far reaches of the Westside. It's a center that's been around for over a decade, and it's also where all your recyclables go for reincarnation.
There are usually only eight workers that man the station, sorting through more than 60 tons of material a day, which comes from Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Los Alamos. That may sound like a lot of refuse, but, according to the city's website (cabq.gov/solidwaste/recycle.html), Albuquerque generates a total of 1,500 tons of trash a day that could be recycled.
Mayor Martin Chavez recently announced that he intends to dramatically increase the number of Albuquerqueans who recycle. He has jumpstarted his goal by proposing nearly 20 new recycling drop-off sites around the city. It's an admirable ambition, but there may be a catch-22: IPF workers say the facility is already at capacity and, if they don't get funding for more employees and a larger facility, the mayor's goal may be an impossible feat.
Genaro Tafoya, IPF supervisor, has worked at the facility for more than 10 years. He speaks proudly of the increase in volume they've experienced over his time there. “When I first started, we were only generating 15 to 18 bales a day; now, we're doing 40 to 45 a day. It's great, but we're at capacity; it's more than we can handle.”
Luther Clayton, spokesperson for the Solid Waste Department, mimicked Tafoya's concerns. “Right now, it's getting to be too much, we can't keep up. We're the victims of hard work. If the mayor wants to increase the number of people who recycle, we're going to need more people and equipment.”
The mayor is, however, aware of the problem. “The mayor is going to address these issues now and see what needs to be done,” said Clarence Lithgow, director of the Solid Waste Department. “We will have to look at the whole picture.” Lithgow added that the city is currently seeking grant opportunities that may help fund renovations to IPF.
Finding funding for recycling can be difficult for the city, in that it doesn't get much money in return for its efforts. In fact, it barely breaks even. The annual operating costs for recycling services in Albuquerque (all of which come from the city) are $2,771,000. The city is able to make back most of that money through selling materials to private recycling businesses, but it hardly ever garners a profit.
“We're a poor state,” said Clayton. “We do what we can.”
In the meantime, IPF still manages to process over 10,000 tons of recyclables every year, more than 7,500 of which comes from newspaper. Despite their relatively maxed threshold, workers still encourage people to recycle.
“There are three faces to recycling: it saves landfill space, maintains natural resources and creates jobs,” said Tafoya. “It is a very good thing.”
Here are some answers to some of our most frequently asked recycling questions.
Does Albuquerque actually sort through everything they pick up? I mean, c'mon, do we really recycle?
Yes and no. Albuquerque does not have a recycling mill, and therefore does not physically recycle much of anything; it does, however, pickup, sort and sell materials to private businesses who do perform recycling. In short, the contents of your recycling bin do not end up in the landfill.
What material does IPF get the most of?
Paper! Paper! Paper! Twenty-five tons a day worth, to be exact.
Who are IPF's workers?
IPF employs homeless workers from St. Martin's Hospitality Center (1201 Third Street NW). Usually about eight workers are commuted from the shelter and work in the facility daily. (That means that only eight people sort through all the recyclables the city picks up.)
Does Albuquerque do commercial recycling?
No. To find a list of operations where businesses can recycle, as well as places where materials like computers and batteries can be recycled, please visit the city's website at cabq.gov/solidwaste/noresrcy.html.
Does New Mexico have any mandates that require businesses or institutions to recycle?
Does New Mexico have a bottle law?
No. But the New Mexico Recycling Coalition is currently lobbying the Legislature for one.
How much of what goes to IPF is actually recycled?
About 85 percent. The other 15 percent is tossed out because it is contaminated or non-recyclable.
Does IPF ship out everything?
No. IPF currently doesn't ship out glass or tires, as there's not a sufficient market for them. The city is currently trying to find a market for glass, and in the meantime is pulverizing it and selling some of it to landscaping businesses and stockpiling the rest. Tires are used as wind blockades and are also chipped down and used as cover for the landfill.
A Brief Pick-Me-Up
To further ease your burden, here's a list of instructions for curbside pickup, scheduled every week on the same day as your trash collection. For more details, please visit www.cabq.gov/solidwaste/curbrecy.html.
• Get your recyclables out on the curb, five feet away from your trash bin, by 7 a.m.
• Please put everything in clear plastic bags, and limit individual bag weights to 50 pounds.
• Actually, bags aren't necessary if you put everything in a bin, but the wind is likely to blow and the clouds (even in New Mexico) could possibly spurt rain, so please put everything in bags if at all possible.
• No need to sort (although it is appreciated), and it's really great if you can remove all lids.
That's all. Pretty simple. Please note that glass isn't picked up curbside, and that Styrofoam and chipboard (i.e. cereal boxes) aren't recycled here.
Down and Dirty
Good News! Eighty-five percent of everything we put in our recycling bins actually gets recycled. The other 15 percent is unusable, either because it's contaminated (e.g. has oil or paint on it) or because it's nonrecyclable. To maximize efficiency, here's a brief list of materials that can be recycled in Albuquerque:
• newspapers, magazines and shopping catalogues
• junk mail and home office paper (but not those plastic envelope windows)
• tin/steel (small pieces/containers), aluminum cans
• all plastic bottles and jugs, any number, with a neck or screw top.
• corrugated cardboard (flattened)
Note: Although the city is now picking up all plastics, they still only have a market for plastics No. 1 and No. 2. Until they find a market for the rest (which they're working on), other plastics still end up in the landfill. Go to www.cabq.gov/solidwaste/noresrcy.html to find a list of businesses that recycle other materials.