The latest data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency states more than 91.1 million tons of recycling was processed in 2015. This is a large jump from approximately 69.4 million tons in 2000 and a small increase from the 85.4 million tons in 2010.
While the rate of recycling has never been higher, officials in towns such as Gloucester Township are now challenged to get residents recycling correctly. In an article published on its website in 2018, Waste Management estimated roughly 25 percent of items placed in recycling containers are not actually recyclable. This problem, called recycling contamination, can increase the cost to process recyclables and also ruin the quality of recyclable materials in the same bin.
For Gloucester Township Municipal Recycling Coordinator Glenn Engelbert, educating residents on what can and can’t be recycled is one of the biggest challenges of his job. In 2011, Gloucester Township began single-stream recycling, and while Engelbert notes it increased recycling in the township about 40 percent, he said it also led to an increase in recycling contamination.
Engelbert said plastic grocery bags are easily the biggest problem Gloucester Township and many other local towns are having right now.
“You can take them to Shop-Rite, but recycling facilities do not recycle plastic bags,” Engelbert said. “It’s a major contamination problem, because now our loads are starting to be rejected at the recycling facility. There’s a limit of what they can take.
“If we could eliminate plastic bags, we would be good shape,” Engelbert added.
Engelbert acknowledges there are a number of residents who simply don’t know about the recycling rules. To combat this, Gloucester Township includes recycling rules inside all of its newsletters as well as online. Engelbert said the Gloucester Township MUA also does marketing campaigns to remind residents about the rules.
Bags are not the only plastic items residents cannot place in their recycling bins. Right now, Gloucester Township is only recycling plastic containers with the numbers one and two in the triangle.
Another issue is recyclable items used for food and drinks. While items such as glass bottles and metal beverage cans can be recycled, items with too much food contamination on them may be rejected at the recycling facility.
“Pizza boxes, that’s the trickiest one,” Engelbert said. “They are recyclable, but if they are contaminated with food waste, they aren’t worth anything to the recycling facility.”
Numerous other items cannot be placed in single-stream recycling bins. Among the prohibited items are construction debris, Styrofoam, pet waste, scrap metal and medical waste.
Some items, such as yard waste and electronics, are recycled separately from the single-stream bins. Yard waste, including leaves and grass clippings, must be placed in a separate container or lawn bag for pick-up on the regular recycling day. The township also has dedicated leaf pick-ups during the autumn and winter.
For electronics, Residents can call the department of public works at (856) 228-3144 to schedule a Wednesday curbside pick-up. Electronics can also be dropped off at the public works building at 1729 Erial Road in Blackwood on Monday through Thursday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Engelbert meets with officials at recycling facilities periodically to learn more about how the township can do a better job with its recycling. One of the biggest challenges is getting residents to understand the rules and publicizing changes to what can and can’t be recycled when that happens. Engelbert said it’s difficult to find waste in a recycling bin prior to its being placed on the truck.
“The only time we can stop things from getting into the truck if we see things hanging out curbside,” he said. “That’s when we’ll reject the cart.”
The contamination issue has had an impact on the bottom line for Gloucester Township and many other local towns. For many years, the township was paid for recycling. Today, the township now has to pay $5 per ton of recycling. Engelbert said Gloucester Township’s rate is low compared to other towns and could increase significantly in future contracts.
Residents are advised to visit https://glotwp.com/help-gloucester-township-recycle-smarter-in-2019/ and read about which items can be recycled in Gloucester Township. Residents can also find a list of frequently asked questions and a full recycling schedule at https://glotwp.com/information/single-stream-recycling/