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Wednesday, August 5 News

Coronavirus brings people recycling challenges

As people clean out closets while at home during the coronavirus pandemic, they are often putting items in recycling that are contaminating the recyclable material.

“While some people think the environment is getting a break during the pandemic, that is not actually the case,” Micaela Porta, an employee at the New Canaan Library, President of the League of Women Voters of New Canaan, and the contact person for the group, Pesticide Free New Canaan, said as she moderated a recycling webinar called “Reducing and Recycling During the Pandemic,” sponsored by the library, the Town of New Canaan and the non-partisan organization Planet New Canaan.

People are disposing of personal protective equipment, such as gloves and face masks; plastic bags; Styrofoam; food scrapes, — all of which do not belong in recycling, according to the panelists on Monday, June 29.

The panel included the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the company, Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling, New Canaan’s new trash hauler, Mark O’Brien; New Canaan Public Works Director Tiger Mann, and Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority Executive Director Jennifer Heaton-Jones.

Each pleaded with the public to reduce contamination when recycling.

The panel often referred to the What’s In What’s Out (WIWO) chart, which can be found at the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority website, HRRA.org. It is also displayed at the New Canaan Transfer Station and handed out at the scale house, located at the transfer station.

“The cleaner we can keep our recycling the more material that can be recycled, so we ask that you understand what goes into the blue bins, understand what can be recycled, what can’t,” Mann said. “No contamination would equal lower recycling bills for us, lower landfill costs and less material going to a landfill.”

“Some trucks are filling faster than normal due to increased volume and residents, who are not mindful of recycling or understand the value of recycling, and who have used the recycling containers as a second trash container creating an increase in volume and contamination,” Heaton-Jones said.

In some areas, there is a 20 percent increase in contamination, according to Resource Recycling Magazine, Heaton-Jones added.

“Items that don’t belong in recycling get mixed with metal plastic, paper and glass, reducing the value of materials sold,” Heaton-Jones said.

As people are staying home, “It has had a big impact with us,“ O’Brien said. “The large number of tonnage that we are seeing on the residential basis, whether on the trash side or recycled material side, has slowed down our trucks.”

And to make things worse, in the residential material, “We are seeing a large amount of contamination,” O’Brien said.

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Other problems facing trash haulers include a reduced volume of recyclable product from businesses that are closed, grocery stores paused bottle redemption and some stores stopped allowing reusable bags.

A major contaminant “is really the plastic bags,”and the “large number of plastic bags put in recycling,” O’Brien said.

He also warned against crushing cans, because “a lot of times those cans don’t get recycled because the technology has a hard time recognizing them.”

Businesses closed, less recycling

Trash haulers make money by selling recyclables, and some of that revenue has dried up as businesses are closed.

Since commercial businesses, restaurants, retail shops and corporate office buildings were “shut down during COVID(-19), they stopped producing solid waste and recycling. This has had a significant impact on the private waste haulers who rely on the commercial volume,” Heaton-Jones said. “Waste energy plants also rely on waste to produce energy that is then sold into the utility grid.”

“Recycling is an essential feed stock for new materials, and boxes, tissues and paper towels rely on them,” Heaton said.

“We have lost a large sum of business commercially,” O’Brien said.

The global markets for recycled material “really were very tight, but obviously China closed their ports before but even more so with COVID. Then they opened back up recently and the markets increased for a brief period, and in May it’s gone skyrocketing down,” O’Brien said.

“It is a difficult market with recyclables so that is all the more reason to try to get as much material, but with that material being clean without contaimanents,” O”Brien added.

Looking forward

The 10 cent fee on plastic checkout bags is reinstated as of Wednesday, July 1, after a temporarily suspension since May 13, by Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order.

Composting will be accepted at the transfer station. “We should have something in place as a pilot program by late July or early August of this year,” Mann said. He also expects to organize a shred day, “probably before end of year.”

“We need folks to recycle more in general; 90 percent of our waste stream can either be reused, recycled or repurposed,” Heaton-Jones said.

Recycle Guide

Paper

What’s in

What’s out

Cardboard & boxboard

Gift wrap & gift bags

Food & beverage cartons

Ice cream containers

Junk mail

Paper cups (hot & cold)

Magazines & newspaper inserts

Shredded paper *

Newsprint

Take-out food containers

Office paper

Tissue paper

Pizza boxes

Glass

What’s in

What’s out

Beverage bottles & jars

Ceramic mugs & plates

Food bottles & jars

Drinking glasses

Metal

What’s in

What’s out

Aerosol containers

(food grade only)

Aerosol containers (deodorizers, cleaners, pesticides)

Aluminum foil

Foil tops from

yogurt containers

Cans & bottles

Paint cans

Foil containers

Pots & Pans

Metal lids from cans & bottles

Small pieces of scrap metal

Spiral wound containers

Plastic

What’s in

What’s out

Plastic bottles

(with or without caps attached)

Loose bottle caps

Plastic containers, tubs & lids

Plastic bags & wrap *

Plastic one-use cups

(no lids, no straws)

Plastic plates, bowls & utensils

Prescription bottles

Single-use coffee containers

Styrofoam cups, containers & packaging peanuts

Water filters

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