Monroe Township adapting to changing recycling rules, regulations

An example of a recycling violation sent to the Monroe Township Department of Public Works by Omni Recycling LLC.. An electronic device like this printer and keyboard can be recycled at the public works department located on Glassboro Road, not in the curbside pickup. (Special to The Sun)

The Monroe Township Department of Public Works has unofficially adopted the United States Marine Corps mantra, “Improvise, adapt, overcome,” when speaking of the township’s ever-growing recycling problem.

It all started in September 2018 when the public works department received a fee of $58 per ton of recycled material from Omni Recycling LLC. Tonnage fees rose incrementally over the rest of 2018 and into 2019, and the most recent reported fee per ton was $89.95 in September. The township recycled 4,108.5 tons of recyclables in 2018 and 4,081 in 2017, meaning roughly 342 tons are recycled each month. As of September, Omni instilled a $75 fee per load of contaminated recyclables in addition to the increasing tonnage fees.

The department of public works – specifically certified recycling professional Debra Bender and director of public works Nick Mercado – improvised and adapted to the curveball thrown by Omni by making a philosophical change to begin educating residents of how to clean up their recycling.

“We can’t be reactive, we have to be proactive. We have to educate as much as possible. This is a huge problem,” Bender said.

That said, Bender outlined the accepted recyclable items in single stream curbside pickup, which are as follows: newspapers; magazines; junk mail; pasta boxes; corrugated cardboard tissue boxes; paper towel rolls; rinsed and cleaned green, brown and clear bottles and jars; rinsed aluminum, tin food or drink cans; cookie tins; No. 1 and No. 2 plastic bottles only; shampoo bottles; water bottles; detergent bottles and soda bottles.

Non-acceptable items are: food contaminated paper or cardboard boxes; plastic or wax coated boxes; styrofoam; window glass; ceramics; dishes; light bulbs; mirrors; aluminum foil; oil and paint cans; foil pans; non-bottle items No. 3 through N. 7; yogurt tubs; berry containers; microwave trays and plastic bags.

All recycled items should be placed loosely in the recycling carts. This means recycled items should not be placed in a trash bag, then placed into the recycling cart. Plastic bags of any kind are not recyclable.

In an effort to spread the word of what is and is not recyclable, the department of public works placed a flier with the above information inside a recent Monroe Township MUA bill. Upon realizing the information was only going to select residents, as some residents don’t use the MUA or have signed up for electronic statements, public works posted the information on the township website as well as its Facebook page.

Taking it one step further, if a recycling driver finds a cart that has non-recyclable materials in it, they will not pick it up. The driver will take down the address and that resident will receive a letter explaining why the cart wasn’t picked up and include information about what is and is not recyclable. Between Mercado and Bender, the two believe the residents want to comply and want to recycle.

“Most people do,” Mercado said of people wanting to recycle.

The issue is breaking the habit, in the opinion of Mercado and Bender, who say people have been doing things a certain way for years. Up until September 2018, putting plastic items No. 3 through No. 7, grease-stained pizza boxes, ceramic dishes and plastic bags in single stream recycling carts was OK in theory. Now it isn’t.

With increasing fines from Omni, mayor Rich DiLucia, with the assistance of the department of public works, sent a letter to residents, including the following:

“Unfortunately, since contamination has become such a problem, we have no option but to leave these recycling carts until the improper items are removed. Residents failing to adhere to this policy and who continue to place plastic bags including trash bags, plastic wrap, bubble wrap, etc. in our recycling cart, will cause the township to accrue approximately $1,600 per week in fines. Should our residents continue to disregard these removal procedures, we will have no choice but to seek alternate measures for additional revenue to cover these fees,  including the assessment of fines on frequent non-compliant households. Our goal is to continue and maintain our current recycling policy without the assessment of fees and/or fines for the majority of our compliant residents… Thank you for your continued support to the majority of our residents who continue to cooperate and adhere to our recycling efforts. We truly appreciate your efforts and strongly urge everyone to continue to do their part.”

In this letter, DiLucia included information about recycling plastic bags, which can be done at local grocery stores and big box stores.

“Our goal is not to fine people, we don’t want to do that,” Mercado elaborated. “We’re just stating that these things, if it continues and we continue to be charged higher fees – and those are potentials, just because these are the current rates – if contamination does not get reduced, this market place could instill additional fees and charges. At that point we might not have much of a choice.”

Any questions about recycling can be directed to the department of public works at (856) 728-9844. For more information, visit the “Township of Monroe” Facebook page.