Are Your Recyclables Ending Up As Trash?

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Are the plastic, metal, glass, boxes and paper you collect for curbside pickup being thrown out as trash at the recycling facility?

I wondered that recently while walking through my neighborhood on recycling day. I noticed several over-stuffed recycling carts with popped lids. Sticking out were white plastic bags filled with recyclables.

Here’s what I found: if you’re collecting recyclables in plastic bags that you toss into your blue recycling cart, they’re being trashed not recycled.

Plastic bags foul up and create wear in the sorting facility in Berlin owned by USA Hauling which picks up Suffield’s recyclables. “So they’re thrown away as trash,” says Brian Popovich, a USA Hauling representative.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Suffield’s recycling loads are only 5% contaminated. At 15% or more contamination, the town would be levied additional charges.

After trucks pick up our recyclables, they travel to Babylon Recycling on Harvey Lane, also owned by USA Hauling. There, a team inspects the loads and grades them based on the level of contamination. Then the recyclables are loaded into roll-offs and trucked to a new single-stream plant in Berlin for sortation and eventual sale.

The 110,000-square-foot $40 million facility, takes in recyclables from some 100 communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts. “It’s considered the most technologically advanced in the Northeast with its robotics, optical sorters, lasers and artificial intelligence,” says Popovich.

“Suffield is a great example of a community that’s doing a good job, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement,” says Popovich. He offers additional advice for ensuring that our town’s recyclables are clean, saleable and kept from the landfill.

  1. Don’t “wishcycle.” If you doubt whether something is recyclable, throw it out to avoid contamination.
  2. Or visit a website that the major players in the recycling industry created. It’s a statewide agreed-upon list of accepted recyclables. Type in an item and a wizard tells you whether it’s recyclable and where. Popovich says it’s especially helpful for items that are hard to dispose of such as lithium batteries. RecycleCT is also available as an app for Apple and Android devices.
  3. Keep paper and boxes dry and break down boxes. When paper products arrive wet, they’re considered “residue” which is sorted as trash that ends up in the landfill. If you don’t break down boxes, they can jam the system.

As of April, the 10th month of this fiscal year, the town generated 3,630 tons of trash and 969 tons of recyclables, says Linda Zaffetti of the Suffield Public Works Department.

Currently, Suffield pays $96/ton to discard trash and an average to date of $95.30/ton to dispose of recyclables. The recyclable tip fee this fiscal year has ranged from a low of $53/ton to a high of $107/ton depending on the monthly market rate and a base rate calculation.

“Towns that provide the most outreach and education tend to be the most successful at recycling,” says Popovich. “They are primarily smaller communities like Suffield and Ellington.”

In Suffield, we should be proud of our recycling effort. But let’s improve it. Keep your recyclables loose and dry. Minimize contamination by throwing away questionable material and those deemed not recyclable by

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