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Apr 24

From the Town Administrator's Desk - April 25, 2019

Posted on April 24, 2019 at 9:52 AM by Elizabeth Dukes


By Gregory T. Federspiel

Recycling has become a standard practice and is allowing the re-use of tons of materials. The move to single stream recycling, where all recyclable materials are co-mingled, has made it even easier.  But recent changes in the recycling industry means we need to increase awareness of recycling do’s and don’ts in order to avoid contaminating our recyclables with unacceptable materials. This is where each of us needs to do our part.

To bolster proper recycling, the Town has partnered with our hauler, Waste Management, in an “OOPS” Campaign.  This week, notices were left with a resident’s recycling container if contaminated products were mixed in with legitimate recyclable goods.  The material was taken away this week.  Next week, recycled materials that contain non-recyclable products will be left behind along with an explanation as to the offending material.  Residents are asked to remove the contaminants and set out the now clean materials the following week. 

A detailed listing of what is recyclable and what is not can be found at the trash and recycling page located within the DPW homepage on the Town’s web site.  Recent changes to what is no longer accepted include cardboard beverage cartons, take-out containers and paper cups for hot or cold beverages. Plastic prescription bottles, plastic flower pots and clear clamshell containers are also no longer being accepted.   

Plastic bags remain the largest contaminant of our recycled materials.  Our recent audit of our collected recyclables took its largest hit from recyclables being placed inside a plastic bag!  Please remember NOT to use plastic bags for your recycled materials nor place any plastic bags into your recycling bin.   

The recycling market has changed considerably in the last year. What use to be a money maker for the Town has, at least temporarily, become a cost. If efforts to eliminate contamination within our recycled materials are not successful, the cost of recycling could exceed that of regular trash disposal. One cause of the change is policy changes in China -- China used to be the biggest recipient of U.S. recyclable materials but, in part due to high levels of contamination, has stopped accepting most of our recyclables. 

Contamination levels are being tightened industry wide.  Facilities that sort recyclable materials have had to increase staff and slow down the processing as they strive to remove contaminants from the materials brought in.  This is driving up the cost of recycling at the same time there is a glut of materials driving down the price one can receive for clean recyclables. 

Recently the City of Lynn, which had a contamination rate well over 30%, was able to cut this by more than half --  and their education awareness campaign is still underway! In order to avoid penalties in the cost of processing our recyclables we need to see contamination levels in the single digits.  Our recent audit showed a contamination rate of about 20% which is typical. But as Lynn has demonstrated, we can do better!

So let’s become more aware of what we are putting out in our recycling bins. Town costs are at stake.  And remember, recycling done correctly remains the right thing to do economically and environmentally.  With time, markets will adjust, new players will re-energize the industry and the value for clean recyclable material will rebound.