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Sierra Conservation Project keeping recyclable material out of local landfills

June 19, 2012

Brian Robinette, owner of Sierra Conservation Project, stands before his recyclable-materials sorting facility within the Bishop Sunland Landfill. SCP subscribers enjoy the convenience of not having to sort their paper, plastic, glass and aluminum themselves, Robinette said. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

When Brian Robinette moved to the Eastern Sierra 10 years ago looking for a new business venture, he noticed that recycling opportunities were scarce in Inyo and Mono counties.
And when the urban refugee launched Sierra Conservation Project in response to that need, “It was just me and a pickup truck,” said Robinette.
Since then, the residential and commercial recycling subscription service has grown from a one-pickup-truck enterprise to a small recycling truck capable of a 20-house haul to a large truck that services 100 homes at a time.
Today, Robinette said, SCP services an estimated 300 homes and 100 businesses in Inyo County, and about 200 homes and 200 businesses in Mono County.
According to Robinette, SCP’s growth is yet another indicator that recycling is becoming more popular, aided by the fact that it’s more convenient and more accessible than ever.
Along those lines, the SCP offers residential and business service plans for weekly and bi-weekly pickup of convenient, single-bin, commingled recyclables.
Recycling is also rapidly becoming a mandated way of life. On July 1, the Mandatory Commercial Recycling Law goes into effect with the goal of diverting 75 percent of California’s solid waste by reducing consumption and recycling and/or composting waste.
Robinette is also finding that, in an area that loves its pristine mountains, waterways and public lands, limiting landfill heaps is a welcome effort.
“In some cities they are getting close to the 80 or 90 percent goal. We won’t get to 100 percent but we can get pretty close. Even hazardous waste, like batteries, can be recycled or safely disposed of,” said Robinette.
Countries such as Japan, Germany and Australia have been mandating the practice of home and business recycling for years. “We’re taking steps toward that. San Francisco, last year; L.A., last week; East Coast cities are outlawing plastic shopping bags. People and municipalities are moving in that direction,” Robinette said.
In an effort to get in line with those goals, SCP, headquartered within Bishop Sunland Landfill, is collaborating with Bishop Waste Disposal. “In the heart of Bishop, we contract a big truck with Bishop Waste,” explained Robinette, which has resulted in SCP’s Black and Blue Makes Green program, named after the black Bishop Waste trucks and the blue SCP trucks.
When SCP trucks return to the sorting facility, the hauls result in sprawling, eight-foot-high piles of recyclable waste, said Robinette.
The piles diminish as a conveyor belt pulls the commingled, or unsorted, waste up to the sorting area where it’s sorted into four massive bags. Plastic, paper and metal recyclables are then compacted and strapped in huge bales – the straps are made from recycled plastic bottles, by the way. Broken bits of multi-colored glass end up in 3,000- to 4,000-pound, bale-sized plastic bags.
Finally, all of those bales and bags are trucked to Southern California recyclable materials centers, which in turn sell the raw material to new product manufacturers. “Recycling is a huge industry (that) creates a lot of jobs,” Robinette said. For example, “when you start doing the research on what’s involved in creating a new beer can versus (making one from) recycled cans, it looks pretty black and white” that recycling is cost-effective and environmentally beneficial. And plastic bottles are 100 percent recyclable, according to SCP’s
SCP does not turn in recyclables for CRV monies, because all the different types of cans or bottles “are mixed up together,” Robinette said.
What SCP can recycle is dictated by fluctuating fuel prices and recyclable materials market prices. For example, plastics designated as #1 or #2 PETE or PET (polyethylene terephthalate) always have stable market prices – unlike the wildly inconsistent market for #5 plastics. Paper, which makes up 40 percent of landfill waste, is probably easiest to recycle, followed by plastic, said Robinette. SCP also offers e-waste pickups in response to regulations mandating the proper disposal of electronic devices, states
Education about the recycling process and how cost-effectively and extensively recycled materials can be used is key to garnering public participation, said Robinette. “I’m a proponent of reducing and reusing and then recycling … We’re the deciders as the consumer.” Consumers can also decide to buy products made from recycled materials such as clothing, rugs, carpeting, furniture and paper products. Remember to look for the highest post-consumer content of recycled materials.
SCP accepts newspapers, magazines, mail, catalogs, phone books and other paper; brown paper bags; cardboard and paperboard (like cereal boxes); milk and drink boxes; #1 and #2 PETE/HDPE plastic bottles and jugs; aluminum, steel and tin cans; and glass jars and bottles. See its website for additional items, such as e-waste.
SCP also processes recyclable materials, free of charge, that citizens bring to the SCP sorting facility at Bishop Sunland Landfill, 110 Sunland Indian Reservation Rd., Bishop. Admission for recycling purposes is free, 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. “It’s a good (service) that we provide for the county and for the residents,” said Robinette.
Current pickup rates are posted on SCP’s website. Call (760) 914-0115 for business rates. All plans include recycling guidelines and e-mail pickup reminders.
“Whether they start up with my program or any program, (recycling is) a win for all of us in the area,” said Robinette.

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