STONE HARBOR – Representatives from the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority (CMCMUA) discussed the future of recycling plastics and protecting the coastal environment at the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce meeting at The Reeds at Shelter Haven June 20.
John Conturo, solid waste program manager, CMCMUA, provided insight into the recycling market and its impact on Cape May County. Linda Crumbock, recycling coordinator, CMCMUA, spoke of the CMCMUA’s goals of educating Cape May County, on what is recyclable and future environment preservation.
Recycling has increased in the last 30 years, but issues with quality recycling persist. Quality recycling is material collected and reprocessed into the same or similar product.
“Contamination, in regards to the recycling program, is the wrong materials that are placed into the recycling stream, or the right materials but being prepared in the wrong way,” said Conturo.
“An issue we see is recyclables in a plastic bag, which is then disposed of into the recycling stream. Plastic bags are not part of our single-stream program. That whole bag of material, including the recyclables, now becomes contamination,” Conturo continued.
Another problem is “wishful recyclers,” Conturo said. “These are people who want to recycle, go to their bin, and they have whatever they’re trying to recycle and they are not sure if it can be recycled.
“Often they just put it in a recycling container thinking that it's the best thing to do. It’s rejected from the recycling process and ends up in a landfill,” he continued.
“One of the problems you have is with the packaging. Diaper packages have a recycling symbol on it meaning the plastic is recyclable, but not the diapers,” Conturo added.
Recycling does not create an economic or environmental benefit until sold as commodities and manufactured into the product, according to Conturo. By recycling non-recyclable materials, users increase contamination.
Plastic bags, such as grocery shopping bags, produce bags, plastic wrapped around water bottles and more can be recycled at grocery stores, where a company called Trex has contracts with businesses to recycle the bags. “They use the plastic bags as feedstock to make their composite wood decking benches and other things like that,” Crumbock said. “That raw material is needed in their industry.”
Low cost for recycling is at risk. “Until now in Cape May, recycling has pretty much been free, but based on the global market, that may change over the next two to three years,” Conturo explained.
“Buyers of this material look for improvement in quality, increasing the cost of processing. Value is dropping drastically,” Conturo continued.
The largest U.S. export out of the country is recycled materials, which is twice as much as agricultural goods, Conturo explained. China takes most of these materials.
China’s “National Sword” program in 2017 began scrutinizing packaged recycling for contamination.
“China banned paper and some of the recyclable plastics. They used to allow up to 5% of contamination in recyclables but then reduced that number to 0.5% contamination," Conturo said.
“In Cape May County, we are educating residents and businesses about what is acceptable in our stream and to clean it up on the curb. This change keeps things processing and reduces contamination,” he continued.
In 2016, New Jersey generated 9.7 million tons of solid municipal waste, per Conturo. Of that amount of waste, 4.26 million tons were recycled.
“Cape May County generated 90,047 tons of municipal waste in 2018 and 28,604 tons was redirected to a single-stream framework, which is 31% of the total solid waste stream," said Conturo.
“It’s important to see that 31% constitutes our single-stream program, but does not include things like concrete, oil, tires, vegetative and electronic waste. There are a lot of other recycling programs we have available,” he continued.
“There is a lot which is recyclable. A big problem with recycling is when you see the recycling symbol on the bottom and think it’s recyclable. What’s missing from the packaging is to check with your local program. Know before you throw,” said Crumbock.
Paper, plastic, metal, and glass all go in one recycling bin. Food contaminated containers, like pizza boxes, are not recyclable. However, if the lid of the pizza box does not have oil or grease, it can be torn off and recycled.
National efforts are being made to have recycling programs to help manufacturers with packaging.
“Always look because the recycling program changes from counties, states, and countries,” she said.
“Once everything is separated in your recycling container, put a lid on the can,” Crumbock said. Wet recycling materials clog up the processing equipment and the recycling buyer will not purchase it.
For more information, visit www.cmcmua.com or download the Waste Wizard app.