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Pipes on the Shores of Donner; To Rinse or Not to Rinse Those Recyclables

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For the latest on recycling in Truckee, visit the Town’s Blue Bag Do’s and Don’ts page or use the comprehensive Recycling Guide for specific steps on how to recycle any item.

What was up with those pipes on the east end of Donner Lake?

During the gargantuan winter last year, the dam at Donner Lake wasn’t moving enough water through its gates, running a risk of flooding homes around the lake. The culprit? Clogging from years of accumulated dirt, trees, and debris.

Truckee Meadows Water Authority, which owns the Donner dam, needed to remove sediment from the bottom of the waterway, but in order to do so, it had to “dewater” the channel first. The agency dropped the lake level, then used a cofferdam to block water. Yet due to agreements with California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a minimum water flow of about 2 cubic feet per second is required below the dam to support the fishery. The pipes seen on the beach acted as a “bypass” for this water, pulling clean water from the lake, bringing it over the dam, and dropping it into the stream.

The project, which started in the beginning of December, wrapped up in late January. Overall, approximately 5,000 cubic feet of debris was removed from the channel. Most dammed lakes with an outlet channel need to be periodically maintained in this way, says Bill Hauck, TMWA senior hydrologist. Perhaps the hardest part of the project, he said, was around the holidays when the sun came out. Beach-goers flocked to Donner’s shores and project organizers were busy keeping people off the dam, pipes, and other equipment.

How do I make sure my recyclables are recycled?

We got two different answers from local jurisdictions, despite the fact that for both, residential waste is processed at the same facility: the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) on Cabin Creek Road.

Here in Truckee, residents are encouraged to use blue bags for accepted curb-side recyclables, which are plastics #1 to #2, glass, paper, cardboard, and metals. Coming soon, the Town is planning to replace the blue-bag system with big bins. Regardless, to ensure the materials are actually recycled, the Town recommends cleaning and keeping recyclables separate from the rest of your waste.

When trash comes to the MRF, blue bags are pulled out and processed separately. As they move down the conveyor belts where staff stand sorting, the whole system is slowed down to allow more time to pull recyclables.

In contrast, while Placer County accepts and doesn’t charge for pickup of blue bags, it promotes its “One Big Bin” program as making recycling easier and more effective than having the public separate out materials. Residents are encouraged to put all waste materials and recyclables in one collection bin, which is then sorted at the MRF. “You toss, we sort,” ensuring 100 percent participation in its recycling program, says the county. With fluctuating markets and regulations, the people on the sorting lines are kept abreast of what should be pulled for recycling.

As for washing that plastic bottle? Cleanliness of the recyclables doesn’t really have an impact, according to Kevin Bell, environmental engineering program manager at Placer County.

You might wonder which program shows greater efficacy. The answer: as of now, we don’t know. Overall the Cabin Creek MRF has a diversion rate of 51 percent (that’s how much trash is not going to the landfill), but numbers specific to certain towns or areas aren’t currently available.

The Town stressed that just because an item is recyclable somewhere does not mean it belongs in your blue bag and cautioned against tossing stuff in the blue bag hoping it’s recyclable, or “wish cycling.” Doing so can actually be bad for the system overall, the Town says, and here are some reasons why: 1) It takes longer to sort recycling, which costs more money. 2) Items that are recyclable, but not through your curbside pickup — such as electronics — never get recycled. Instead, they end up in landfills. 3) Other items that are recyclable, but not through your curbside pickup — such as plastic bags and extension cords — jam and damage sorting machinery.

To avoid wish cycling the Town says, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Don’t throw it in your recycling.

~ Mayumi Elegado/Moonshine Ink 

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February 14, 2019