Jefferson County will soon take a major step forward in official recycling efforts with the establishment of a new recycling drop-off facility in Hillsboro.

The new center will be staffed and open to all county residents, funded through a $100,000 grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District.

Located on Elm Street, a stone’s throw north of the historic Gov. Thomas Fletcher House and within blocks of the county government offices, the center will stand on a concrete foundation left over from a former county automotive fleet facility.

On Dec. 23, the Jefferson County Council voted 6-0 to approve an expenditure of up to $13,541 for a recycling center garage to be supplied by Tuff Shed of St. Louis, the lowest of six bidders on the project.

“Hopefully, we’ll have that (facility) up and running in the spring,” said Robert Bradshaw, who became the county’s official recycling coordinator in July 2018. “What we envisioned to do with this grant is to create the first of what we want to call ‘green spots’ in Jefferson County. We’re working with different municipalities to do this in different places.

“But we’re lucky enough to have a (first) place in Hillsboro – a drop-off spot where people can come in and we’re going to have somebody man that spot and help people to start (recycling).”

The center will do “single-stream” recycling, the most convenient for the public because it doesn’t require separating materials prior to drop-off.

The county’s primary recycling vendor is Republic Services, which operates a single-stream processing center in south St. Louis.

Eligible recyclables

Single-stream, Bradshaw noted, relies on consumers to bring items only within six categories:

■ Food and beverage cartons

■ Flattened cardboard

■ Glass bottles and jars

■ Metal food and beverage cans

■ Paper

■ Plastic bottles and containers

Bradshaw said the two main things to remember, besides recognizing the six categories, are to clean out the items before drop-off, and don’t bundle items in plastic bags.

“Those six (types of) things go in; if it’s not on the list, don’t put it in the bin,” he said. “It’s the same message – recycle responsibly.

“And this is the main thing: Keep (plastic) bags out of the bins. Oh, they’re the worst – plastic bags, trash bags; they get wrapped up in their (processing) machines and it shuts them down.”

Plastic bags, he added, are recyclable through the stores that use them to bag customers’ goods.

The green apostle

Bradshaw, 54, of Herculaneum retired in June 2018 from a long career in public education as a teacher, coach and administrator in Festus, De Soto and more recently Herculaneum.

In his new role, he’s a traveling apostle preaching the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) and holding collection events all over the county, targeting the unincorporated areas that have no curbside or drop-off recycling services.

Just last week, Bradshaw organized holiday recycling events (taking in Christmas lights, giftwrap paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and metal) at Danby-Rush Tower Middle School in the Jefferson R-7 School District and at Windsor and Grandview high schools.

“It’s outreach and education as much as collection,” Bradshaw said. “In reality, we (locally) are so far behind everybody else in recycling. Jefferson County is light years behind St. Louis County and St. Louis (city) in what they do and how long they’ve been doing it.

“We’ve had a recycling coordinator here, but it’s only been part-time. It’s been more about getting out to schools and doing education and teaching some things, not about necessarily collecting some materials. We’ve tried to do both and now it’s full time. We have 14 bins out throughout Jefferson County that collect materials.”

Bradshaw said he works with “green teams” or informal recycling groups in a number of county school districts, such as the one at Jefferson R-7 that hosted a recycling event back in October.

Shawn Saylor, an algebra and geometry teacher at Jefferson High School, helped Bradshaw organize the event, which filled Bradshaw’s large traveling trailer-bin with plastic and paper and also brought in a sizable haul of electronics (old TVs and computer equipment) picked up by the Midwest Recycling Center, a Missouri-based e-waste processing company with an office in Imperial.

“I’ve always been interested in recycling, wanting to do better for our planet,” Saylor said. “I think as a society we need to do a better job. Other countries across the world do a much better job than we do here in the states.”

She added that with the R-7 area having no curbside recycling and the district schools not doing much, she helped set up plastic and aluminum collection with collection bins at the high school. She’s also recruited about 30 students to support ongoing recycling and special events at the school, although getting them truly involved is a work in progress.

“I had a ton of kids sign up, but I found out they were more interested in the field trip (to a St. Louis recycling processor) than in the actual recycling,” Saylor said. “I told the kids that they have to be interested in wanting to come help on (our events), and just learn what’s going to work and what’s not.”

Other school districts that have worked with Bradshaw so far include Grandview R-2 (with the high school Student Council), Windsor C-1’s Green Alliance, the Dunklin R-5 Green Team, Sunrise R-9 and the ecology and science clubs at Hillsboro and De Soto high schools.

A way of life

“There’s just a lot of people who don’t know what they’re supposed to do or how they’re supposed to do it,” Bradshaw said. “To me, recycling comes down to two things: Is it convenient? Is it inexpensive?

“We’re all for it if it’s inexpensive and it’s convenient. You start getting into (people’s) pockets, they don’t like it. You start making it where they can’t just take it somewhere easy, where it becomes a problem, people stop doing it.

“What we need to do is get over that hump where people will understand that it’s not really that inconvenient to wash out your soda (bottles). Wash out that barbecue sauce bottle. That’s the goal. It’s going to have to become a way of life for people.”

He also wants people to reject certain public misperceptions about recycling, such as the belief that it all ends up in a landfill eventually. He cites the example of a De Soto company, Proud Veteran Resources & Recycling, which turns recycled plastics into permanent plastic fence posts, landscape timbers and other products.

“So we actually have a place in Jefferson County that will take our plastic, use it and make it into an end-product, right there in De Soto,” Bradshaw said. “And it’s good stuff. It lasts longer than wood.”

County residents who can “Think Six,” as he put it, can have confidence in a system that still works, from the informed consumer to the collector, processor and end-use manufacturer.

“I can tell you, that stuff (for recycling) is not going to sit on some dock somewhere and get turned down by the Chinese or the Koreans. It’s going to be used, and I think that’s a big deal,” Bradshaw said.