(Sept. 6, 2019) Improper recycling in Worcester County is harming the environment and increasing the cost of recycling, Anthony Spirito, division manager for refuse hauler Republic Services said last week in response to questions regarding glass recycling in Ocean Pines.
Spirito said company personnel frequently find non-recyclable items in recycling bins, such as plastic bags and yard waste, which includes tree limbs and grass clippings. Spirito said recyclables must be cleaned if they once contained any sort of liquid or food.
“You could have clean cardboard that’s getting stained and contaminated,” Spirito said.
When materials are contaminated, they can no longer be properly recycled. Though the old saying was “When in doubt, recycle,” Spirtio said the new saying is “When in doubt, throw it out” to avoid possible contamination.
Contaminated materials and misplaced non-recyclables must be separated and hauled to a landfill. This drives up the cost of recycling.
Republic is running a program called Recycling Simplified. According to Spirito, the program calls for only recycling clean cardboard, paper, clean colored plastics, household plastics and aluminum containers. Household plastics include Tide bottles and soda bottles.
Confusion over glass recycling arose at the Worcester County Commissioner’s meeting on Aug. 20 when Commissioner Chip Bertino mentioned that Ocean Pines residents were confused on whether to recycle glass. Bertino said he supports the Keep Worcester Clean campaign and that Ocean Pines would do “anything we can do to lessen confusion. It created a real dust-up for five or six days.”
According to Spirito, Republic continues to accept recyclables from Ocean Pines residents, but said the glass eventually ends up at a landfill.
“At this point in time, there is no market for broken glass recycling,” Spirito said.
Spirito said that the glass in residential recycling containers always breaks when it hits the truck. If it were to be recycled, the shards would have to be separated between colored and clear. It is then melted and reprocessed.
However, shards of glass make this a laborious task. Instead, the glass is separated from the other recyclables and transported to a landfill center. Because of the cost, Spirito said it makes more sense to simply throw glass away with other non-recyclable materials. He confirmed that intact glass can be recycled at Public Works located at 1 Firehouse Lane near south station fire department.
Spirito said that the trade war with China is also driving up the cost, as China used to be the primary purchaser of American recycled material. Since it is no longer buying, the U.S. is selling to other countries, such as countries in southeast Asia. According to Spirito, these countries have a higher standard for recycled materials, so recycling services are not making up for losing China as a buyer.
A year and a half ago, Spirito said, it cost $30 a ton to recycle material. Though he couldn’t say exactly how much it costs per ton today, he did say that it has increased and could continue to rise. The cost typically fluctuates between $80-120.
Ocean Pines has a three-year contract with Republic. Residents can pay a quarterly $60.81 fee for single-stream recycling with a three percent increase to account for inflation and employee benefits every year.
Though an increase cost per ton to recycle doesn’t currently affect resident fees, Spirito said it could in the future. He thinks that re-educating people on recycling can help turn the situation around.
“We still want to be able to do the right thing and recycle,” Spirito said. “We just got to get smarter with it.”
In contrast to Ocean Pines, Berlin does not have single-stream recycling pick-up for residents. Residents must separate their own recyclables: glass, plastic (no bags), aluminum, tin cans, paper and cardboard.
Berlin also does not provide recycling containers. There is no recycling fee for residents.
Jeff Fleetwood, managing director of Berlin, said he sees items in recycling bins that cannot be recycled, particularly construction materials, such as lumber and shingles.
He said if a household has a significant amount of recycling material, there is a single-stream bin next to Heron Park.
“It cuts down on the amount of waste that’s dumped into cells in the landfill,” Fleetwood said.
To save money, Ocean City dropped its recycling program nearly 10 years ago. Instead, almost 90 percent of Ocean City’s waste is sent to the Energy Resource Recovery facility, owned and operated by Covanta, located in Chester, Pennsylvania.