June 12 2023 08:44 AM
Abby Bauer
A few days ago, an interesting segment on the late night news caught my attention. The reporter was stationed at John’s Disposal Facility, a Milwaukee-area recycling center that takes in about 500 tons of recycled items a day. When the collected items are unloaded, fast moving conveyer belts carry these materials past employees who must quickly pull out objects that are not recyclable and have the potential to damage the machines. Food waste, scrap metal, toys, shoes, and plastic bags were some items pulled off the conveyer belt during the interview.

Dan Jongetjes, the general manager of the facility, explained that nearly 20% of what is taken in as recycling ends up in the landfill. That means a lot of people are making mistakes when it comes to recycling.

He said some are just being careless, using their recycling bin as a trash can. More people are on the other end of the spectrum, though, individuals who are trying to do a good job. Jongetjes called these people “wishful cyclers.” They toss items into the bin they think are recyclable and hope for the best.

While Jongetjes said a lot of people mean well, these nonrecylable items can mess up the whole system and keep employees on their toes. Dozens of times a day, the conveyer belts must be stopped so employees can grab items that might ruin the machines.

The information in that segment will help me be a more careful recycler in my home. It also made me think of all the reducing, reusing, and recycling that happens in agriculture.

For generations, we have used crops that humans can’t eat and fed them to animals that convert these into meat, milk, and eggs. Those animals create manure, which has then been used to fertilize fields that produce more animal feed.

As time has gone on, farmers have also been able to incorporate systems that reuse water, reclaim bedding, reduce feed waste, and so much more. In the area of manure management, technology has emerged that can further process that by-product. Whether it is removing additional water or creating a more valuable, transportable end product, this technology is really exciting.

I think that some farmers could be considered wishful recyclers as well, but in a slightly different sense. Operators may look wishfully at these new systems, hoping to incorporate them onto their farm. This drive to do more with less benefits not only the farm business but also our reputation. In a world focused on environmental stewardship and sustainability, stories about how farms recycle fit that narrative well.

Another part of that sustainability piece, though, is viability. A process might sound cool, but it also must be good for the animals. It must be good for the land. And it must also be good for the checkbook. Some of these new technologies are extremely expensive.

When putting together this issue, a theme emerged among several of the articles. It is the idea that many factors must work in concert to achieve true sustainability. How we manage fields impacts nutrient management (page 18 and page 26). How we manage nutrients impacts the climate (page 22). And how we feed animals carries both financial and environmental risks and rewards (page 8).

What can’t be forgotten is that public-facing piece. Moving manure from the farm to the field to be used as a nutrient source is a prime example of on-farm recycling. However, one bad experience with a neighbor can ruin all the good publicity. Read more about that on page 6.

The goal of the news segment was to help turn “wishful cyclers” into better informed recyclers. Similarly, may our wish to do more with less be paired with careful decision making that helps us find new ways to make the most of what we have while incorporating changes that benefit the environment, the animals, and the business. That is where true sustainability lies.

Until next time,


This article appeared in the May 2023 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on page 4.
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