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Average Montanans Produced 10 Lbs. Of Trash A Day

Plastic recycling in the Flathead Valley ended on February 15, 2018. As a result, recyclers now toss plastics and steel cans in the trash.
Flathead County Solid Waste
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Plastic recycling in the Flathead Valley ended on February 15, 2018. As a result, recyclers now toss plastics and steel cans in the trash.

A new state report estimates that the average Montanan produced almost 10 pounds of trash each day in 2016.

The proposed five-year Integrated Waste Management Plan released by the State Department of Environmental Quality earlier this week outlines a snapshot of what’s happening with recycling, composting, landfills and other forms of waste management in Montana. 

Dusti Johnson is a materials management specialist with the DEQ. She says reducing waste has benefits beyond hitting goals set by the state legislature.

"We need to take a look at recycling because of the money value, if anything. Those are resources that have a value and they have money and there are markets out there for that material."

Johnson says there’s growing interest among Montanans to pay for recycling. She says small business owners and volunteers are organizing local curbside pickups for food waste and that some cities are expanding the materials they accept, many of which are reused locally.

Johnson says Montana also faces unique challenges when it comes to recycling - in some areas, not enough people live year-round to make it profitable.

"Commodities in recycling are just like any other commodity. If you're trying to produce hay, it's pretty darn hard to sell one little bale of hay versus having two or three or four tons of hay. It's no different."

Another challenge is educating people about the types of materials they can recycle locally. Dianna Robinson is also with DEQ.

"We call it 'aspirational recycling.' People think, oh, this should be recycled, so they put it in the recycling bin. All then all you've done is made it so everything that might have been recyclable in your community is just not. Because there's not enough manpower for someone to go through and sort through all of your recycling just to pull out the stuff they can use."

The report estimates that Montanans generated between 1.5 and 1.8 million tons of trash in a year, which is what the city of Las Vegas produces in a day. About 17 percent of Montana’s waste was recycled in 2016.*  

The report is available for public comment through December 20. Comments may be submitted to DEQ via U.S. mail to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality Solid Waste Program; PO Box 200901; Helena, MT 59620, or via email to: wutbcomments@mt.gov. Please call (406) 444-5300 for information or help.

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported the amount of solid waste generated by Montanans. We regret the error.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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