Why Curbside Recycling is Changing

By Ron Sarrick, Retired Sustainability Coordinator

Just when you think you’ve finally got it all figured out, the plastics number system is about to be disrupted! You’ve learned that you should recycle #1 through #7, but not #6. The Township has been keeping track of your efforts for many years. Sorry to say this, but beginning in 2019, it’s time to start over!

Here’s why. America has been shipping tons of recycling to overseas markets. In particular, China is one of U.S.’s largest purchasers of recycled goods. However, the rate of material contamination in the recyclable lot has become too large and certain recyclable materials have become less desirable. As a result, China has placed a ban on imported recycled materials with more than 0.5% contamination.

“To put this in perspective, most of our recycling contamination has an average rate of 25%,” said Brent Bell, Waste Management vice president of recycling operations. “This means that roughly one in four items placed in a recycling container is actually not recyclable….” (NY Times article by Livia Albeck- Ripka, May 29, 2018.)

There is an excessive amount of non-recyclable items placed in recycling bins for curbside pickup. Among the easiest to keep out, yet the most dominate, are plastic bags. These range in variety from the thin film bags that you get at the grocery store (many blue in color) to others that come with packages from shipments of a wide range of products. Many of the bags have a recycling symbol placed on them, which gives the impression that they are recyclable. They are, but not at curbside! Take them back to your grocery store. Most retail grocery stores provide a bin to place this film (or bags) for recyclable collection.

Even more offensive, other items found at curbside recycling are plastic and glass containers that are unemptied, hazardous waste, garden hoses, containers with needles, Christmas lights, Styrofoam, diapers, parts of storm doors, wire shelving… and the list goes on and on. We all need to be more diligent in recycling only those items that are specified for curbside recycling, which can change from year to year.

For example, in 2019 glass is no longer eligible for curbside recycling. Glass will now go in the trash. Why? As you might imagine, glass breakage can be dangerous for workers’ safety on the sorting line and the cost for equipment handling is expensive. Also, shards of broken glass can become embedded in surrounding paper and cardboard recyclables, rendering them contaminated and, therefore, useless in the marketplace.

During a tour at the recycling plant in Pittsburgh’s Neville Island a few years ago, I was surprised to find a horrible visual in the glass containment area. It was so littered with paper and bottle caps, I initially thought it was a reject pile. But, I was told, in fact, it was clean glass. At that time, the glass was actually reduced into very tiny pieces (or shards) for market.

The recent marketplace has not been prosperous for recycling some of the above mentioned materials. The graph shows the declining market value over the past seven years. As you can easily see, a higher grade of recyclables is key for market success.

Therefore, and starting with your household recyclable bin, there is greater need for contamination control. Public education will go a long way to introduce and help reinforce creating avenues toward better consumer recycling habits. Please take a moment to learn what is and what is not recyclable and then put your knowledge into action. USC can have a successful recycling program, and it starts with you! n

How Can I Recycle Other Items?

Upper St. Clair Township Library accepts the following items for recycling (the list is subject to change at any time):

• Cell Phones

• Ink Cartridges

• Rechargeable Batteries

• Eye Glasses

Retire Old Glory

The C&RC accepts tattered, faded, and torn American flags in the “Retire Old Glory” bin located in the lobby of the C&RC. Retire Old Glory ceremonies are conducted by Boy Scouts of America to burn the flags with honor.

E-cycling Program Date

The last 2018 date is December 8, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. (monthly, except February) Location: C&RC parking lot (Anything with an electrical cord, including large appliances. $15 charge for Freon removal. One TV per drop-off per vehicle.)

Look for full information regarding curbside trash and recycling and other forms of recycling available to USC Township residents in the 2019 Trash & Recycling brochure.

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