By Analiese Paik
There is a huge, many headed beast wreaking havoc on our municipalities struggling to efficiently and economically recycle our waste.
It’s the Recycling Hydra. It is our beast because we created it.
Therefore, we are all responsible for helping slay it.
You remember the Greek myth about this beast? Lop off one head and another grows back in its place.
It took Hercules to figure out how to kill its immortal head. And he couldn’t do it alone.
The Recycling Hydra is a monstrous beast so formidable that it is growing new heads and we can’t get it under control.
Consider Connecticut’s move to single stream recycling. That was supposed to remove a head.
It grew a new one instead.
At the Connecticut Recycling Conference last week, organized by the Connecticut Recycler’s Coalition, I learned that glass compacted with plastic and paper gets contaminated and can’t be recycled. Instead of selling it for reuse, we pay $48/ton to haul it to Pennsylvania for recycling.
That’s a big, ugly and expensive head. Think of the trucks and drivers on the road and the municipal waste manager responsible for justifying recycling becoming a cost center. Ouch. That head inflicts a nasty bite.
The Recycling Hydra makes people scared and angry.
At the conference I saw lots of ideas proposed and forcefully debated, with very little agreement, especially as it relates to slaying the consumer packaging head of the beast.
Who will pay for the damage inflicted by the beast? The consumer? The retailer? The producer? The town?
There are no easy answers, but we need them soon. China announced it no longer wants foreign trash.
That move has disrupted the entire global recycling industry. The ability of US recyclers to operate economically is now compromised.
Consider that a multi-head management strategy that just got incinerated. Those heads are now out of control. How much garbage is piling up and what are we going to do with it?
This awful news was underscored at the Connecticut Recycling Conference, along with a wake up call that we may see “pay as you throw” schemes being implement as a possible solution. Or EPR, Extended Producer Responsibility, laws that make the industry responsible for the waste they produce.
Many ideas were presented and debated that involve state legislation, so expect a lot of action around this issue in Hartford. Senator Ted Kenney’s cause celebre is nips. Oh do we have a surprise for him around that. I can’t wait to invite him to that event (don’t worry; you’ll be invited too).
At the well-organized and run conference, I learned several extremely valuable actions we can all take to start managing the Recycling Hydra’s many heads, most of which are free.
I particularly enjoyed hearing from these 5 Food Waste Infrastructure panelists. Why? They’re all problem solvers. More on them below.
Here’s what you can do TODAY to be a recycling heroine/hero. Go ahead and call yourself Hercules.
1) Never throw recyclable plastic and glass bottles or metal cans with 5 cent deposit labels in the garbage. These are very high value recyclables and you will be a heroine/hero if you take them to the store and redeem them in the machine – with caps on – so they can be made into something else. Glass is a HUGE problem according to Tom Gaffey, Director of Recycling and Enforcement at MIRA (CT’s Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority), because it’s being contaminated in the single waste stream. He said “Paper adheres to glass like glue when it’s wet. It tears up conveyor belts and damages screens.” Now our state PAYS $48 a ton to haul unrecyclable glass 480 miles to Pittsburg to dump it. If it’s glass and it can be redeemed, do not throw it in the blue bin.
b) Aluminum is the highest value recyclable according to an expert at the Conference, so wash your aluminum foil (just let it soak in the sink and give it a good scrub) and trays and put them in the bin. Every bit that’s recycled avoids the environmental cost of extracting and processing more aluminum from the earth.
2) Stop buying bottled water in plastic bottles. Too many of them wind up in the solid waste stream or waterways. Carry and use a thermos instead. Use the money you save to sign up for #4.
3) Never throw textiles in the garbage. Old sneakers, clothing, bedding and linens, stuffed animals and more are high value recyclables. Collect your textiles in a bag in the garage or basement, then take them to your town’s facility for recycling. Click here for a full list of acceptable textiles. Bay State Textiles, one of the exhibitors at the Connecticut Recycling Conference, lists towns they work with on their website. Here’s a link. Bay State will place bins at schools, so advocate with your town to extend the program so more people can easily participate. Click here to learn more about the School Box Program.
4) Stop throwing food in the garbage. If you haven’t already done so, sign up to have Sustainne member Curbside Compost pick up your food waste curbside and take it to a farm where it’s composted. This is a significant step because 27% of our solid waste stream is organic matter. If you’re a business owner or manage an institution or food service operation, they’ll be delighted to help you. Unrecycled food waste is being incinerated. If you live in the Hartford area, Blue Earth Compost has been in the same food waste diversion business since 2013, also serving homes, businesses and institutions. Sam King of Blue Earth shared at the Conference that each 35 pounds of food waste diverted equates to 20 fewer pounds of C02 being released into the atmosphere.
5) If you own or manage a restaurant, food service business or institutional cafeteria, check out:
a) Phood, a food waste prevention company whose founder Luc Dang presented at the Connecticut Recycling Conference. Phood’s powerful and affordable food waste tracking software helps companies track, review and reduce their food waste, sometimes up to 50%. This saves companies money on raw materials and waste management services. Additionally, they work with food recovery partners to arrange food waste pick up for recycling.
b) Quantum Biopower in Southington operates an anaerobic digester that converts 40,000 tons of food waste a year to clean, renewable energy. Their facility works with large volumes of expired and spoiled food, packaged food, cooking fats and oils, meat, produce and dairy. Contact Brian Paganini to discuss this sustainable alternative to food waste disposal for any business producing large-scale food waste including grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, colleges and universities, hotels, large commercial buildings and more.
c) The Center for EcoTechnology (CET) is an environmental non-profit that is working with CT DEEP to provide wasted food solutions. They offer a free hotline, and free hands-on technical and training assistance to any business looking to maximize food recovery and composting opportunities. Call 888.813.8552 if you have any wasted food, composting, or recycling questions.
6) We must create a culture of recycling to get this problem under control. Include your children in your efforts.
” The more continuing education on recycling, the higher the participation rates. The wider the education message, the better” said Fred Hurley, Director of Newtown’s Department of Public Works.
Heather Priest, a middle school teacher at Wilton Public Schools, is doing just that with a Zero Waste program that includes 4,000 students and waste stations in the cafeteria. During the Food Waste Infrastructure panel discussion, she communicated their challenges around changing habits, educating staff and avoiding contamination in the compost bin. Successes include diverting 15,000 pounds of food waste and 15,000 pounds of recycling from the waste stream. Heather’s eager to roll the program out to the high school and share their Zero Waste program with other schools. Can’t you just imagine those kids going home and telling their parents not to throw food and recycling in the garbage? Priceless!
7) Never throw plastic bags and food film in the garbage or blue bin. The CT Food Association, a Sustainne Community Partner, and their member retailers are leaders in the CT WRAP (Wrap Recycling Action Program) which recovers high value plastics that cannot be recycled in the blue bin. Please take your clean plastic shopping bags, food storage bags, bread bags, produce bags, dry cleaning bags, air pillows (used in shipping boxes) and overwrap (paper towel, etc.) back to the retailer and place them in their WRAP recycling bins.
8) Don’t dump mattresses. We have a fully funded recycling program that you pay for. Connecticut enacted Public Act 13-42 in 2013, which required the mattress industry to create a recycling program for mattresses and box springs used and discarded in the state. Retailers and other businesses selling mattresses began collecting a $9 recycling fee on each mattress and box spring sold to a CT consumer. The fees are remitted to MRC (Mattress Recycling Council) and used to transport and recycle mattresses. In Connecticut, the program is called Bye Bye Mattress. Visit their website to find a mattress recycling center near you. Questions? Kate Caddy is the Northeast Program Coordinator for the Mattress Recycling Council (MRC) who can be reached at 571-279-7366 or [email protected].
Fun Learning Tools
Connecticut’s recycling rules are now standardized across the state. Test your knowledge of what goes in the blue bin, and what gets recycled elsewhere with our flip quiz inspired by our newest Community Partner, the Connecticut Food Association (CFA).
Click here to take the quiz. We encourage you to take it with your family.