Saturday, July 13, 2019

Recycling Revisited

Recycling is supposed to be good for the planet – right? It would be, if we did it correctly. Sadly, most of us don’t, that is the portion of us who even bother to do it at all. In Westborough, participation in recycling is about 20%, which is pathetic.
If you are going to be serious about recycling, you have to be serious about doing it right. It’s not all that hard, you just have to know what to do.
The Westborough Environmental Collaborative sponsored a talk back on June 2nd with Doug Harvey from E.L. Harvey & Sons, which was very instructive, even for a veteran recycler like me. Harvey’s processes recycled materials collected from throughout the region, so they are the experts.
Harvey’s has a very sophisticated single stream recycling process to sort recyclable material which is put in one large container. It is sorted via a system using mechanical and electronic machines, as well as humans. The end products are bundles of plastic, paper or metal that can be sent to factories which use them as raw materials.
In order to makes this work, there are some rules.
Rule 1 – Single stream recycling does not mean that your trash is processed. If it’s in a bag – it’s considered trash and is burned at the Wheelabrator Waste to Energy power plant in Millbury, MA.
Rule 2 – Don’t put your recyclable bottles, cans and paper in a trash bag. See Rule 1.
Rule 3 – Make sure your recyclables are clean. Leftover food or liquids in the container can contaminate a half ton bale of potentially recyclable material, making it useless for anything other than landfill or incinerator feed stock.
If the container was used for chemicals such as oil, paints, solvents, herbicides or pesticides, cleaning it is not practical and can be downright dangerous, so my strong recommendation is to toss it into the trash.
Rule 4 – Don’t crush your plastic bottles. Rinse them and put the caps back on. This goes for milk jugs, juice bottles, water bottles – all plastic bottles. Key words to remember – “RINSE THEM”. See Rule 3.
Rule 5 – Just because it is plastic does not mean it’s recyclable. Plastic bags, wrap, hoses, pipe, toys, and rope are not recyclable. These things literally gum up the sorting system.
What plastics can be recycled?
Plastic containers with the recycling triangle containing a number. Harvey’s accepts 1 through 7, but the only types that are truly recyclable are numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5.  Styrofoam (#6), PVC (#3) and Other (#7) are not recyclable and will be sent to the incinerator. Also, see Rule 3.
Rule 6 – Just because an item has a little recycling triangle on it does not mean it’s recyclable. Companies stick that symbol on just about everything. When in doubt – throw it out.
What else can you recycle? Tin cans and aluminum cans. Paper. Cardboard. Again, see Rule 3.
Harvey’s accepts glass, but not all glass – just glass bottles and jars. Not light bulbs, fish tanks, glassware, windows, or ceramics. Also, see Rule 3.
China is no longer the world’s biggest consumer of recycled materials. They stopped accepting imported recycled plastic and paper a couple of years back. It is tougher to find domestic mills or factories that will accept our recycled paper and plastic, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. These facilities are now picky about what they will accept. Any bit of contamination can lead to the rejection of an entire bale of material. See Rule 3.
Last main point, it’s not just about recycling. If you have an item you no longer want but is still usable, it can be recycled by giving it to someone else, or donating it to a charitable organization such as Savers – which can resell it. When you’ve finished a magazine, drop it off at the Westborough library. Other people will read it.
The US generates more waste per capita than any other country in the world. We can make a difference by truly adopting the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
The three Rs have been around since the first Earth Day in 1970. They are as relevant now as they were then.
Recycling by itself is not going to save our environment. We need to do much more, but it’s important.  It also reminds us that we are part of a greater whole.
“I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale
Published in the Westborough News, June 14, 2019

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