SOLUTIONS 4/2: Recycling Revisited


By Huck Fairman

Why recycle? While most local residents support the idea and associated policies, many may not be aware of the widespread need and advantages of doing so.

Recently, on a Sierra Club zoom meeting, Amy Menzel, communications manager for the Atlantic Counties Utilities Authority, provided an overview of the need for recycling. As she and others who are focused on preserving our world have stressed, we need to make many changes and improvements, including recycling, in the way we live.

Among these, recycling is part of a larger effort to deal with all the things that our civilization makes. That effort can be described most broadly as: collection recycling, and reusing.

But why do this?

Menzel listed the benefits as:
• Saving our land, and landfills (which are filling up and polluting)
• Consuming fewer (and finite) natural resources
• Reducing pollution
• Slowing the depletion of critical elements (minerals, water)
• Saving energy
• Helping the economy to become more efficient

Recycling is not a new idea. It goes back to Earth Day in 1970.

New Jersey has been a leader in recycling since 1980. But perhaps unusually, in the state each county creates its own plan to do so. The more recent change, ending dual stream collection and turning to single stream collection has had the benefit of increasing the volume of recycling through greater participation. The state’s target is to have 80% of waste recycled. Currently it’s 40%. Nationally, only 35% of waste is recycled.

One example of how interconnected the world is can be found in the statistic that 70% of acceptable (washed) plastic has been going to China – despite political and policy differences. In 2018, China stopped accepting “dirty” plastics. A question for us: where will it go now?

This change, and the increasing volume, highlight the need for the following improvements:
• Develop domestic markets
• Improve our processing of plastic waste
• Upgrade our technologies and equipment
• Heighten general awareness
• Corporations need to use more recycled materials
• Improve product designs to use more recycled materials

Another way of approaching these changes is to transform our economy into a circular economy. To do so would require turning away from the concept of single-use products and raw materials, and instead conceiving and designing materials and products that can be used over and over.

Menzel listed a number of requirements for our New Jersey counties that will make recycling more viable.
• Currently only #1 and #2 plastics are recycled
• No batteries or electronics can be included in regular recycling (but towns and counties do hold special dropoff days for those items.)
• Keep items loose (do not tightly bag, which requires added time to handle)
• No loose, shredded paper
• No pizza boxes or food remnants in boxes
• Paper food containers should be washed and dried
• No plastic bags (some stores accept some plastic bags)

One may call Earth 911 to find locations that will take other items.

It would benefit the entire recycling effort if shoppers look for purchased items that can be recycled and avoid those that cannot. The overall approach to recycling can be
summed up as the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Adopting them will make a significant contribution to the many changes we all need to make in order to preserve the natural world we enjoy and depend on.