Voorhees, like many N.J. municipalities, hurt by recycling costs

After years of revenue, the township now pays thousands per month to get rid of recyclable materials

In 2017, China announced that it would no longer accept the previous vast amounts of recyclable material it had for decades. New Jersey, like many other states, has been hit hard with the cost of recycling.

Voorhees Township has been no exception.

According to figures provided by the township, Voorhees Township made revenue for three consecutive years leading up to China’s decision to no longer accept recycling from the Unites States and others. Between 2015 and 2017, Voorhees Township made approximately $4,000, $11,000 and $41,000 each year for recyclable materials before beginning to experience hardship.

In 2018, Chief Financial Officer Dean Ciminera says Voorhees first started to go into the red with recycling around May, which continued to grow over time. In total, Voorhees Township paid more than $27,000 to take away recyclable materials last year.

Now in 2019, the township has paid over $92,000 through the end of May, with the cost per ton to get rid of the recyclable material growing higher and higher each month as well.

Part of the problem, Township Administrator Larry Spellman believes, is due to single-stream recycling.

“The nice thing with single-stream is that you put it all in one bucket, “ said Spellman. “The old days, you’d have a place for paper, green glass, clear glass, aluminum cans, even tin cans back then. Single-stream means we can put it all in one thing, but I’ve read something about with how recycling is separated along a conveyer belt, that the more something is recycled that is gets harder to be separated.”

Additionally, problems arise from recycling misconceptions with residents before materials even reach a recycling plant. Spellman says that, in meeting with trash and recycling workers, approximately 20 percent of what goes into a recycling bin is actually trash, due to recycling standards.

For example, pizza boxes with grease stains cannot be recycled, while certain plastic cups and other items, depending on its number designation found somewhere on the item, can also not be recycled.

However, whether out of hopefulness or forgetfulness, residents still often try to recycle materials that cannot be recycled, with plastic bags being another main offender. A single plastic bag, according to Environmental Educator Melissa Wolfe with Camden County, can ruin an entire batch of recycling.

Fortunately, Spellman says Voorhees residents in recent years have recycled on the better side of the national average, and every little bit to recycle smarter can go a long way, especially when it comes to the bottom dollar.

“For Voorhees, our residents are more around 11 percent,” said Spellman. “Recycling people actually like our trash.”

Both the state and Camden County are exploring opportunities and ways to help municipalities find smarter ways to deal with its recycling, however as of yet no substantial options have arisen. Until then, Voorhees Township and other municipalities face the harsh task of paying $75/ton to get rid of their recyclable material.

Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young, liaison to the Office of Sustainability, helps coordinate and promote sustainable initiatives across the county and wants to make sure residents are aware of recycling standards in the county, especially when it comes to plastic bags.

“Plastic bags are not recycled, instead they end up wreaking havoc on recycling machinery and costing thousands of dollars in damages, as well as work stoppages,” said Young in a press release. “These bags represent the majority of single-stream recycling contamination, lessening the ability of other materials to be recycled. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out.”

For additional information and recycling FAQs, visit camdencounty.com and click the recycling icon on the homepage.