The Town of Marion invited Patti Howard, community outreach coordinator, from Covanta Energy, to pierce the veil of recycling and answer the questions that every recycler wants to know.
During a time when it seems the recycling rules keep changing and nobody seems to be on the same recyclable page when it comes to what can and cannot go into the recycling bin, most of us find ourselves asking the same questions daily: is this recyclable?
Howard made it clear on November 15 that what she was presenting to the Marion residents assembled at the Marion Music Hall was not a timeshare sales pitch. Given that the fees associated with processing and disposing of contaminated recycling – from $100 to $150 per ton depending on the level of contamination – this was a lesson on the cost of continuing to recycle the wrong way.
Howard gave a presentation based on the most common recycling questions and conundrums, and whatever other questions residents still had by the end of the hour, she answered the best she could. Perhaps you, Marion readers, have found yourself asking these same questions at some point. Or, perhaps, you might find the answers to those questions and more right here.
Can I put plastic shopping bags and plastic wrapping into the recycling bin?
No. “If there’s one thing that you put in there that we could get out from there it would be the single-use plastic bag,” said Howard.
And why can’t you recycle them in your bin? They bind up the processing machinery and the process is slowed considerably. If too many plastic bags are discovered in the town’s loads, they get whacked with fees, she explained.
In a perfect world we would all remember our reusable cloth bags every time we go shopping, but the next best option is still available; reuse them. Please.
“But if you can’t reduce, then you really need to reuse it,” said Howard.
There are a lot of “wish-cycling” still happening – When people toss items they think should be recycled but simply cannot at this time.
“Folks say, ‘I put my shampoo bottles in the recycle bin because they ought to be recyclable,’” said Howard. “Well, I ought to be a size six and a natural blonde, but some things just aren’t so.”
The problem, she said, is that, by putting non-recyclable things in your recycling bin, “It does not turn it magically into a recycled item. It now turns that whole recycle bin into a trashcan.
“You’ve got to understand the impact that your behavior has down the line,” said Howard.
Can I put pizza boxes into the recycle bin?
No. Put the entire pizza box in the trash.
“When you put pizza boxes – one of the biggest contamination pieces (other than plastic bags) into the recycling bin,” Howard said, the grease from the pizza contaminates entire loads of paper.
“The grease is a challenge to the pulp mills when they get that cardboard,” said Howard. The fibers, as they break down, release the grease and contaminate the whole load of cardboard pulp. And, if the recycling sorters see pizza boxes, they will reject the whole load, adding fees to your town’s recycling bill.
“At this point the state is suggesting … just don’t recycle pizza boxes,” Howard said. “Until something changes in the market, just don’t put your pizza boxes in the recycling.”
I’m too lazy to wash out my recyclable glass, metal, and plastic containers. Can I just throw them in the trash?
No. There exists such a thing called a waste ban.
“You’re not allowed to throw newspaper, glass, metal, wood (or soda bottles, milk jugs, etc.) … in the trash,” said Howard. And if the hauler sees a lot of that stuff coming in, they will reject the load or add fees.
One time Middleboro sent a trash load from a little league field full of water bottles and sports drink bottles, Howard recalled. “We were at the 98th percentile for contamination at this point,” she said. The load was returned to Middleboro where the town had to sort through and remove the recyclable bottles.
Wasn’t single-stream recycling supposed to make recycling easy?
Yes. And it did! But things have changed since the days when China would accept all of the contaminated recycling we had to offer.
“Years ago,” said Howard, the contamination rate “wasn’t so important to the market
because China was so hungry for our feedstock. They really didn’t care how much trash was in it.”
But now, they don’t need our trash anymore because they produce enough of their own.
China will only receive recycling at a 0.05% contamination level. And with the technology we have now to process recycling, that level of cleanliness is simply impossible, Howard said.
“The best way to get that contamination rate to perfection, frankly, is education – education and compliance,” she said.
What is placed in the bin must be recyclable, clean, and dry.
For plastic, you must look for the triangular Mobius. If it has a number from 1-7, it is recyclable. Wash it out, dry it, and toss it in. If there is no triangular Mobius, it goes into the trash, period.
Clean steel cans with their lids inside, brown paper bags, glass bottles and jars of all sizes and colors, magazines and catalogs, milk cartons and juice boxes, newspaper and inserts, office paper, phone books, and junk mail is all acceptable in the recycling bin. Even papers that are stapled and envelopes with cellophane windows is okay.
Am I supposed to be throwing the bottle caps into the trash?
“I believe the cap can go in,” said Howard. “I don’t think that size metal is a problem at all.” The rule of thumb: “If it’s under 2 inches, throw it in the trash.”
What about shampoo bottles?
Yes. Same goes for laundry detergent and fabric softener bottles. However, they must be rinsed out and dry.
“It’s important that it’s clean,” said Howard. “Those suds become a safety issue … for a lot of folks at the facility.”
Can I recycle Styrofoam?
Are we supposed to read every label from every bottle?
Yes, please. “Every best effort should be made,” said Howard.
Should I remove the paper label before I recycle bottles and metal cans?
Yes, please. “I don’t believe it seriously denigrates the quality of a soda bottle,” said Howard, but it does with tin cans. “It’s ideal if you can take the paper label off the metal can or the glass jar, otherwise don’t worry about it.” The label should be thrown in the trash.
Can I recycle aluminum foil in Marion?
Can I recycle paint cans or containers for other hazardous materials?
No. “Nothing containing paint, aerosol, or hazardous materials,” said Howard. “Empty aerosol cans can be brought to Rochester Convenience Center.”
Can I recycle all forms of glass?
No. “No window glass, dishes, Pyrex, ceramics, no aluminum foil, no plastic bags,” said Howard. “Reuse them.”
Things like window glass and Pyrex, Howard explained, “It’s really a completely different kind of glass.” It cannot be smelted and reused.
According to Howard, proper recycling is achievable, but the education must continue.
“It’s really about the education,” said Howard. “I don’t think anyone is doing it with malice.”
Here are some more tips to remember:
Do not put anything smaller than 2 inches into the recycling bin, and crush cardboard boxes down to a 2 by 2-foot size. Do not flatten plastic bottles, leave them in their original shape.
“Spread the word,” said Howard. “The better we can do as a team, the better.”
Town Administrator Paul Dawson summed up the presentation’s message: “We all need to do a better job at recycling, understanding that it’s complex.
“Markets change,” he continued. “Things will change over time. … If we can all pay attention to it, we’ll all be doing a better job over time with recycling.”
The best, most effective action that residents can do to mitigate the crash of the recyclables market is simple: reduce, reuse, and recycle – the right way.
Covanta is the parent company of SEMASS, the waste-to-energy facility in Rochester. SEMASS processes1.1 million tons of solid waste annually, producing 600,000 megawatts of renewable energy – a quarter of the electricity consumed in Massachusetts.
For more information about Marion recycling, visit www.marion.gov.
By Jean Perry