June 25, 2018

China policy adds new challenge for CT's recycling efforts

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Industry and state officials say that people continue to toss too many contaminants into their recycling cans.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Legislative Director Lee Sawyer says the agency is continuing to work to educate residents about what and what not to throw away in their recycling bins.

It launched a marketing campaign last year called "What's in, what's out."

It sounds like a simple problem to solve, but depending on which facility you ask, non-recyclable items like plastic bags and even dirty diapers are increasing in frequency in single-stream bins, despite education efforts.

Thomas Gaffey, recycling director at the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, suspects pay-as-you-throw trash collection in certain communities may be inadvertently incentivizing less scrupulous residents to toss overflow trash into the recycling bin so they don't have to pay for an additional trash bag.

"We think it's going to be a long process, it needs to be a sustained push," Sawyer said.

China's new scrap restrictions only compound existing challenges for Connecticut's recycling efforts. The state is trying to divert 60 percent of its waste through recycling and other methods by 2024, up from around 35 percent today.

The more junk residents throw in their bins, the harder the recyclables will be to sell, and the more likely service costs will increase.

"It could be about life or death for some of our recyclers in the state," Sawyer said of the need for residents to improve their single-stream behavior.

DEEP also continues to push for more "extended producer responsibility" (EPR) programs, which shift more of the cost burden and recycling duties onto manufacturers, and often, consumers.

While Connecticut has such programs for items like mattresses, electronics and paint, there are none for mandated recyclables that are problematic to the recycling industry, such as glass, or more recently, paper. Lawmakers would have to approve new EPR mandates, which face staunch opposition from industry.

DEEP also notes that it recently began working with the Closed Loop Fund, formed by a group of consumer-goods giants like 3M, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson, to finance investments in technology that would reduce recycling contamination and improve the desirability of Connecticut bales.

The fund hopes to invest $5 million in Connecticut this year, DEEP announced in March.

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