Lycoming County Resource Recovery Manager Jason Yorks spent a recent morning standing on the slope of a county landfill waste field, performing an informal inventory in his head.
Yorks, who oversees the county's recycling services, was looking for materials that could have been recycled, but for one reason or another, ended up in the landfill.
"Here's a soda bottle. There's another soda bottle," Yorks said, pointing randomly. "You don't have to look hard. It doesn't take long to find."
To Yorks, the plastic bottles and jugs, newsprint, magazines, cardboard, glass bottles, aluminum and steel cans and other materials scattered about the landfill are potential entries in either column of an accounting ledger.
Recycled, those items are a source of revenue for county coffers.
Tossed out with the rest of a household's or business's refuse, they take up valuable landfill space that can cost taxpayers a bundle to replace.
Last year, the approximately 10,700 tons of recycled material processed at the county recycling center brought in almost $2 million, according to a spread sheet provided by Yorks.
Had it been thrown in the landfill, the space it would have taken is valued at more than $556,000.
Each cubic yard of landfill space is worth $52, which is the per ton disposal fee charged commercial trash haulers who deliver waste to the landfill, Michael Hnatin, county Resource Management Services engineer said.
The county recently completed a $7.4 million landfill expansion designed to extend the landfill's life.
The expansion included the construction of a new waste field for which the county began accepting waste in early March.
Without the expansion, the landfill's useful life would end soon, according to Hnatin.
"We would be close to capacity," Hnatin said. "We would have had a year or two left and we would have been done."
Work on another waste field is expected to begin this year and be completed in 2015. The cost of that field is yet to be determined, Hnatin said.
According to Yorks, for every ton of material taken out of the landfill's waste stream and recycled, one cubic yard of landfill space is saved. While some recyclable material such as cardboard and newsprint will decompose over time, some will not, Yorks said.
"The more space we're able to save in the landfill, the more we're able to extend the life of the landfill so we're not always building new waste fields or adding on to them," he said. "All (plastic bottles and jugs) are going to do is sit here. It's never going to break down."
According to Yorks, the county is doing the best it can to capture as much recyclable material as it can.
It operates 27 drop off sites strategically located throughout Lycoming County and offers curbside pick-up for the City of Williamsport, the boroughs of Montoursville, South Williamsport, DuBoistown, Jersey Shore, including Porter Township, Muncy, Hughesville and Picture Rocks, Loyalsock Township, Old Lycoming Township and parts of Lycoming Township.
The amount of material taken in last year was the least amount since 2001, when 10,300 tons of material was collected, according to a spread sheet provided by Yorks. The most material collected over the past 10 years was in 2006, when more than 12,000 tons of material was collected.
That material is processed at a 60,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art recycling center at the landfill, which is along Route 15 in Brady Township.
The county collects glass bottles - clear, brown and green - aluminum and steel (or tin) cans, plastic soda and water bottles and water, milk and laundry detergent jugs, magazines, telephone books, cardboard, chip board and junk mail at its drop off sites. Wood waste and vehicle tires and batteries are accepted during business hours at the landfill.
Chip board includes cereal boxes, soda cases, dry food boxes and paper towel rolls. Junk mail includes envelopes , credit card applications, flyers, glossy ads, office paper and notebook paper. Chip board and junk mail should be deposited in the drop off container reserved for cardboard, Yorks said.
Glass and plastic containers should be rinsed. Plastic containers should be flattened.
Glass items not accepted for recycling includes plate, window or automobile glass, Pyrex, ceramics, mirrors, television picture tubes, Fiberglass, china, earthen ware or pottery, drinking glasses or light bulbs.
Oil or anti-freeze containers and plastic food containers such as butter or cottage cheese containers are not accepted. Wax-coated containers such as orange juice or milk cartons are not accepted.
There is a charge of $3 for each automobile tire and $5 for each heavy equipment tire because the county pays a fee to disposed of the tires, Yorks said.
According to Wayne Benson, assistant county recycling manager, many people have good intentions when it comes to recycling, but do not understand what the county can and cannot accept.
"We've gotten children's toys, flower pots, plastic duct work, swimming pools, plastic jungle gyms, dog kennels and riding toys," Benson said, adding that none of those items are accepted by the center.
The recycling center, which was created in 1983, employs 19 people, including Yorks and Benson. The county Prison also provides about 20 Pre-Release Center inmates each day who work two conveyor-fed sort lines.
"The staff at the Pre-Release Center shares our goals," Yorks said. "They want to keep the people busy and productive. They make sure we have a crew every day and they do a phenomenal job for us."
According to Yorks, recycling makes sense from an environmental standpoint.
"It's the right thing to do," he said.
However, the success of a recycling operation hinges on the marketplace, he said. The county needs consistent buyers for the material it collects, he said.
A strong demand for some materials translates into higher commodity prices and more revenue for the county.
"If there is a strong market and the price per ton is high, you make more money," Yorks said. "But the market fluctuates. In 2008 and 2009, the market tanked on everything. You still have to recycle the material regardless of the market value of the material. You still have to collect it and you still have to keep it out of the landfill."
It was only a few years ago that chipboard went to the landfill, Yorks said.
"Now it fetches anywhere from $70 to $120 a ton, depending on the demand," he said.