OLD LYME — After 30 years with Old Lyme Sanitation, Old Lyme is switching contracts to CWPM Waste Removal and Recycling Services saving $40,000 and providing weekly recycling pickup for the town beginning July 1. In short, the green bin can go out to the street each week. But what goes in the blue bin is not changing.
In Connecticut, there is one universal list for items that can be recycled curbside. It can basically be summed up in three categories: containers, cardboard and paper.
“Before single stream we had bins for containers, newspapers and cardboard, but now it gets confusing because people hear single stream and want to put everything in. When different communities started collecting single stream there was an increase in contamination,” said Sherrill Baldwin, a source reduction and recycling analyst at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “The challenge is there are so many new products on our store shelves it gets very complicated for people.”
The most confusing items for people, are the ones like plastic bags and clothing, which are recyclable, but are not acceptable in the curbside bins. Baldwin works with Recycle CT, a nonprofit that was created through state legislation in 2014 to increase rates of recycling across the state through public outreach, research and education.
“Our goal is to reduce contamination and increase the quality of materials sent to facilities,” Baldwin said. “Plastic bags are the number one contaminant. They are harmful to staff, get tangled in machines and devalue the product facilities are trying to sell.”
When items arrive to a recycling facility in a plastic bag, employees do not know if it is trash or clean recyclables inside and do not have the time to find out. Instead, the entire bag is thrown into the trash resulting in more waste going to an incinerator.
In 2015, when Recycle CT did a study on what was being sent to recycling facilities it was found that 14 to 19 percent of materials received were contaminants.
“People are still not realizing that putting something in a plastic bag prevents recycling,” said Brenda Moriarity, a member of the Recycling and Solid Waste Committee in Old Lyme. “People think they are doing the right thing, but they should just throw the recyclables directly into the bin. If you’ve rinsed your recyclables it doesn’t get smelly, so I don’t think it’s hard at all.”
Even town hall doesn’t always get it right though, on the day of the most recent Recycling and Solid Waste Committee meetings the blue bin at town hall was overflowing with recycling held in a large black plastic trash bag.
Plastic bags, however, do not need to be put in the trash. They can be recycled at pretty much any store that uses them – Walmart, Big Y and Stop and Shop included. Besides plastic bags and clothing, batteries, lightbulbs, toothbrushes and any other items smaller than a prescription bottle are not allowed in curbside recycling but can be recycled at specific locations.
Although individual town residents may not see the cost of improper recycling – or not recycling at all – the town certainly does.
“Everything you put in the trash we pay $83 per ton to get rid of,” said Bonnie Reemsnyder, the First Selectwoman of Old Lyme. “And for recycling we pay nothing.”
The more residents are able to appropriately recycle the less the town budget needs to be for trash removal.
“It is very important and the better we get at recycling the better we will be able to sell it, if we clean up our act we can get back to the recycling materials being of better value,” Reemsnyder said.
All recycled containers should be cleaned and rinsed. Pizza boxes, yogurt cups and peanut butter jars – three items people are often not sure about – are acceptable in the curbside bin but they do need to be free of any food scraps.
“It is up to us what we want to do,” Reemsnyder said. “We can continue to pay by the ton and the impact on our environment or we can start thinking about what we are recycling.”
CWPM will continue to tag curbside recycling bins that have improper materials in them as Old Lyme Sanitation has done for the last several years. As of yet, there is no fine or fee for incorrectly recycled items, but Reemsnyder said the potential is there for the company to implement fines or even stop picking up the towns recycling if the quality continues to be poor.