Recycling: ‘Are We Doing It Right?’

Surf City — “Does this get recycled?”

Recycling Regulations
Jon Cossman, Recycling Yard Attendant checks the container. Photo by Jack Reynolds.

In the wake of Ocean County instructing haulers to be stricter when collecting recyclables – passing over bins contaminated with trash, and leaving violation notice stickers, if necessary, to help avoid rejection of loads trucked in to the local recycling facility – residents may be asking this question more often. Angela Andersen, sustainability coordinator for Long Beach Township, recently spent a couple hours at the Surf City Branch of the Ocean County Library to bring those in attendance up to speed on recycling, and where to turn with questions.

“We all have such great intentions with recycling,” said Linda Feaster, of the Friends of the Island Library, which presented the talk, “but are we doing it right?” Well, not really, based on all the non-recyclable items that end up at the recycling center in Stafford Township.

“Recycling loads entering Ocean County’s two regional recycling facilities are being reviewed for potentially contaminating materials, including plastic bags, household trash and other non-recyclable items,” Donna E. Flynn, public information director for the county, said earlier this year. “This review, which could lead to the possible rejection of a load of materials, is all part of the educational process being implemented by the county and its municipalities in an effort to get residents to recycle properly.”

Some things that are recyclable in Ocean County: glass bottles and jars of all shapes, sizes and colors; aluminum, steel and tin cans, as well as empty aerosol cans; plastic bottles with a neck that is smaller than the base, including beverage containers, shampoo and conditioner bottles, laundry and dish detergents, milk jugs, condiments and salad dressing. All caps, lids and pumps should be removed and thrown in the trash, and all bottles and containers should be rinsed out.

Also recyclable: mixed paper, such as magazines, catalogs, paperback books, hardcover books with the cover removed, junk mail, office paper, computer paper, newspapers, brown paper bags, construction paper, wrapping paper and greeting cards. Not recyclable: shredded paper.

Recyclable: corrugated cardboard, including clean pizza boxes (flattened, please). Not recyclable: any other type of cardboard, like the chipboard used for for cereal and granola bars boxes, tissue boxes, and paper towel and toilet paper rolls.

Also not recyclable: plastic tubs for margarine, sour cream, cottage cheese or yogurt. Those plastic clamshell containers for berries. Plastic fast food containers. Aluminum throw-away pans, and plastic or metal deli trays. Aluminum foil. Plastic wrap. Styrofoam.

(The recycling symbol seemingly stamped on all products does not necessarily mean the product can be recycled, said Andersen. “This is one of the most recognized symbols, but also one of the most misunderstood. Everyone is seduced by the recycling symbol. That symbol is stamped on for manufacturers and processors, not the consumer.”)

Very much not recyclable: plastic bags.

Freeholder Gary Quinn, who serves as liaison to the county’s recycling program, explained, “We are asking everyone to be more mindful of the materials they recycle and to especially not use plastic bags, which have created extensive problems at our processing facility. Recyclables should not be placed in plastic bags, nor should the plastic bags be tossed into recycling bins. In terms of contamination, plastic bags getting into the recycling stream is certainly the biggest problem area where help from our residents can make an immediate difference.”

The above list of items is not complete. Visit co.ocean.nj.us/recycle, call 1-800-55-RECYCLE or download the Recycle Coach app – information for which is also on the county website – to learn more about what items are acceptable and unacceptable to recycle, and where to take certain items such as rigid plastics, like lawn furniture and coolers; brush; textiles; and shrink wrap. Long Beach Township, for example, accepts these items and more at its Recycling Drop-Off Center, at 7910 Long Beach Blvd. in Beach Haven Crest.

The county website also offers dates and locations for upcoming Residential Document Shredding Program days, Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Program days and more.

As Andersen noted during her presentation, New Jersey was the first state in the nation to pass a mandatory recycling law – on April 20, 1987. The New Jersey Statewide Mandatory Source Separation and Recycling Act required the state’s 21 counties to mandate recycling of bottles, cans and newspapers, in addition to leaves.

“We are pioneers as a state,” said Andersen, whose father, Paul Contillo, authored the act.

And, despite some harrowing data – globally, 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, and 79 percent of plastics end up in landfills, while 8 million tons find their way into oceans and other waterways; China and other foreign countries are now refusing to take U.S. recyclables, as they did in the past; the area landfill, the privately-owned Ocean County Landfill, in Manchester, receives 80,000 tons of material annually – Andersen said, “There’s absolutely still hope. I have to believe that the pendulum will swing back the other way.”

Part of the solution, she noted, is that “we need to demand more from the companies producing this stuff.”

Consumers can also make the choice to bring reusable bags to the grocery store, avoid purchasing lots of items in non-recyclable plastic or chipboard, and be mindful of what goes in the trash and what goes in the recycling bin. Reducing consumption, said Andersen, is the priority. Reuse what you have. Recycle what you can. Recycling, though, Andersen noted, “is the last resort.”

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

Reposted from The Sandpaper