Monday, December 05, 2011

What's Recyclable and Where Our Recyclables Go

If you live in Princeton, you may occasionally wonder what items are supposed to be going in the green and yellow recycling bins residents put at the curb every other Monday. Though local government websites are useful, they may not for various reasons be able to provide the most up to date information. Here's what I was able to find out recently:

Mercer County: The county, not Princeton township or borough, is in charge of the curbside recycling program. (Note: The county's recycling website was revamped in late Feb/2012. Its list of recycling do's and don't's can now be found here.)

That list is useful to some extent, but the private company that the county contracts with to pick up the recyclables posts its own list, which I've pasted below in quotes. (If you like pictures, here's a downloadable flyer.) The hauler lists several additional items as recyclable, which I've marked in red, that the county does not include on its list.

(The list below is from the Central Jersey Waste and Recycling website)

"The following material can be recyced ONLY if they are clean (free of food waste.) A good rinse should be sufficient for most items!
• Plastics marked with numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (but not compostable #7)
• Aluminum cans
Aluminum trays and foil (cleaned)
Aerosol cans
• Steel and tin cans
• Glass jars and bottles
• Metal lids
• Newspapers and inserts (remove plastic sleeves)
• Magazines, catalogs, phone books
• Office and school paper
• Cardboard
• Boxboard (cereal boxes, etc.)
• Brown paper bags
• Paperback books
• Paper-only junk mail"

Update, Aug/2012: I've adjusted this list to reflect changes on the Central Jersey Waste website. They've added #6 plastic as acceptable, and removed plastic lids from their list.

Why the contradictory lists? It turns out that the county is reluctant to expand its list, in part because any change requires an amendment to the Mercer County Solid Waste Management Plan. The county also wants to make sure there is a longterm market for any item it adds to the list.

Where our recyclables go: The hauler (Central Jersey Waste and Recycling) takes the recyclables down to Trenton, then transfers them to semis to haul them up to the Colgate Paper Stock Company in New Brunswick, where all the various recyclables are separated out. Colgate is a so-called MRF (materials recovery facility) that has its own list of items it accepts or rejects for recycling. That list includes plastics numbered 1-7.

Plastic lids: I always thought that, since there are rings on the plastic bottles that are made of the same material as the lid, then the lid must be recyclable along with the bottle. The Colgate sorting plant, though, makes it clear they don't want plastic lids. What I've been told is that the rings are detached from the bottle by the plant that makes new products from the bottles.

Plastic bags: Many bins put curbside have recyclables in plastic bags. A representative of Colgate told me that plastic bags occasionally gum up their sorting machinery. He also said that though they accept all numbered plastics 1-7, the plastics 3-7 end up getting shipped out of the country, to destinations and fates unknown. 

Styrofoam: Some residents put styrofoam (#6) out for recycling. I've heard contradictory opinions about its recyclability. This link, which has info on what various plastics are used for, says styrofoam is one of the more useful plastics to recycle. But obviously it's so bulky that it's hard to transport efficiently, which may be why the Central Jersey hauler excludes it from its list.

Princeton Township has a web page with lots of links to info on recycling, though its list, like the county's, does not include all the items that are accepted by the private companies actually doing the recycling. 

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