CANASTOTA — Madison County residents are on notice: No plastic clamshell-style berry containers in the recycling bin, and no paper egg cartons or lined frozen-food boxes, either.
The plastic encasing strawberries and blueberries isn’t compatible with many other plastics that can go into recyclable container bins because it’s melted down at a different temperature. The paper fibers in the egg cartons are so short the paper can’t be easily recycled. And the liner that helps keep frozen- and refrigerated food packages from disintegrating contaminates the material for recycling.
And when these items get into the recycling collection, they have to come out before the batch can be shipped into the market for recyclable materials, creating more costs for the county Department of Solid Waste’s recycling operation.
“Ours is mostly hand sorted, so it just takes a lot of time and effort to remove those items from the recyclables that we do have,” recycling coordinator Kristin Welch said. “We’re just trying to keep our costs low, and that includes the time spent sorting the materials.”
Madison County is dealing with a phenomenon seen elsewhere in the past couple of years: Recycling companies won’t accept contaminated shipments of recyclable materials, or will pay less for them, contributing to a worldwide oversupply of certain recyclable materials. Some communities have cut back on recycling, and some formerly recycled items ended up being landfilled with garbage.
The Department of Solid Waste launched its new recycling campaign, “Rethink Waste in Madison County,” during a celebration of Earth Day at the Buyea Road Residential Station on Saturday.
The campaign includes new user friendly materials such as guides, magnets and a new website that highlight the current recycling program and help residents ‘Rethink Waste in Madison County.’
Updated recycling guides and magnets were given to residents as a reminder of what can and cannot go in their recycling bin. “The recycling markets have changed and we are working with our partners to ensure that we are collecting material that can be recycled,” said Amy Miller, director of the Department of Solid Waste.
To help clarify what items can be recycled, the Madison County Department of Solid Waste launched a reorganized website with a new search tool feature. Residents can visit madisoncountyrecycles.ny.gov and then type an item into the search bar to find out how to properly dispose or recycle it. In addition, residents can use the search tool to look up facility hours, upcoming collection events and request a tour or presentation.
“Today, recycling, it’s not the most straightforward thing, and it can be confusing, so we just want to make it easy for our residents to recycle and rethink waste in Madison County,” Welsh said.
Certain types of materials still have a strong market. For example, plastic milk jugs and similar containers are sent to a company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that turns it into the Breezesta brand of outdoor furniture.
As the new recycling brochure and website point out, such plastic bottles and jugs can go into the Madison County container recycling bin, along with plastic dairy tubs, metal containers, aluminum foil, empty aerosol can and glass bottles and jars.
“We’re trying to make the process more efficient, and Madison County is very fortunate in that we have strong partnerships locally or in North America where we’re trying to get the materials that they are actually looking for to be recycled,” Welch said.
Residents who attended the Earth Day event were able to tour the recycling center where they saw firsthand how the recyclables are sorted, then baled, and sent to their partners. They also witnessed the impacts of “wishcycling,” the action of placing non-recyclable materials in the recycling bin in the hopes of it getting recycled. Welch said she’s seen old garden hoses, for example, in recycling bins.
Plastic bags are particularly troublesome because they can tangle machines used in some communities to sort recyclables, and they can contaminates shipments of otherwise-usable materials. Madison County’s new brochure has a warning in red: DO NOT PUT RECYCLABLES IN PLASTIC BAGS!
“Educating our residents about the proper way to recycle once again shows that Madison County is on the forefront and leading the charge for our future,” said Madison County Chairman John M. Becker. “The Board of Supervisors applauds the Solid Waste Department for their hard work to ‘Rethink Waste in Madison County.’”
In Oneida County, the same contamination issues are in play but the rules haven’t changed. Doing so could confuse residents, said William Rabbia, executive director of the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority.
“It’s in our best interest, we believe, to ride out some of these slow market times and keep things convenient and consistent for residents,” Rabbia said.
OHSWA and Madison County are better off than some communities because, with their own recycling-separation facilities, they’re less at the mercy of the fluctuating recyclables market, Rabbia said. The recycling facility in Utica has machinery that can sort many types of recyclables and crews that pick out unwanted or mixed materials along conveyor belts, resulting in less contamination. Some materials are more in demand than others. The mixed-paper market has stabilized somewhat, and plastics generally track the per-barrel price of petroleum, Rabbia said. Cardboard, driven by the demand for online-retailing shipping containers, has gone down but still has a market, he added. “We’re still able to sell it. It still moves. It’s just the demand domestically is down.”
It also helps that OHSWA’s recycling and garbage operations are integrated into one. It has other revenue if less comes in from selling recyclable material.
“We’re somewhat insulated from that because we do our operate our own facility and we’re able to high-grade and sell things accordingly. But other than that, that if we need to subsidize at all we actually take it from our solid waste tipping fees.” For more information, visit madisoncountyrecycles.ny.gov or visit their Facebook page at Madison County Solid Waste & Recycling.