The town of Brunswick embraces recycling as an essential step in the Maine waste management hierarchy after reducing and reusing. Waste reduction and recycling are part of the Town Council’s Climate Change Resolution adopted on Dec. 2, 2019. Recycling reduces global greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing energy consumed in mining and drilling for new ores and oil, as well as energy used in creating aluminum, steel, plastics, and other materials. Recycling also diverts mass from the trash stream destined to be dumped in dwindling landfill space or burned in waste-to-energy facilities.

Two waste management companies are available to Brunswick: Casella (our present agent) and ecomaine (possibly our future agent). Each charges more per ton for processing recyclables than for trash, but also provides a monthly variable credit based on average commodity revenue of each material. Recyclables have gained so much value over the past year, that it now costs Brunswick less per ton to use this process stream rather than trash disposal.

These companies sort items placed in curbside single stream recycling bins based on material composition. Like items are baled as a single material and sold to industries for processing into new products. Each material source must be pure; contaminated bundles are rejected by buyers, not marketable, and must be broken apart and reprocessed or degraded to trash Each plastic must be sorted by its chemical identity, designated by a resin number (#1-#6) within a chasing arrow triangle.

A buyer must exist for any material to be recycled. Foam polystyrene (Styrofoam) may be stamped with its requisite #6 resin code, and even say “recyclable”, but the nearest processor is in Arlington, Massachusetts. Transportation costs for this bulky material render it impossible to recycle economically from Maine, so no Maine recycler wants it.

Recycling companies use machines as well as people to separate materials. The machines can jam with large contaminants such as garden hose, rope, metal rods, or with plastic bags. Plastic bags empty and full are the most common contaminant recycling companies contend with. Items to be recycled should be placed loose in a curbside receptacle, never bagged. The Brunswick Public Works office offers free open bins and RECYCLING labels which can be applied to your own lidded garbage can with the advantages of eliminating wind littering, rain/snow which add weight and hence cost to paper, and animal dispersal.

Recycling contamination therefore can occur in several ways:

Dirty items—-e.g., a #1 plastic jar with a remaining inch of peanut butter in the bottom

Mixed material items defying mechanical separation—-e.g., a dog food bag made of plastic laminated on aluminum foil

Materials without identity—-e.g., a plastic brush handle with no resin identity number

Materials with no buyers—-e.g., #6 foam polystyrene

Materials that jam sorting machinery—-e.g., #4 LDPE film plastic

These unusable items in the recycling stream cost Brunswick (and hence every tax-paying resident) money by adding useless weight to the recycling load, and by adding fees for contamination charged to the town. Ecomaine assesses each town individually, with graduated penalties based on contamination percentage of total volume. Casella mixes many towns’ recyclables brought to its Lewiston sorting facility. An average fee is charged all towns on a similar volume principle.

Some items considered contamination in curbside recycle bins should be recycled elsewhere and not trashed. Examples of alternatives include:

Used clothing at Goodwill Industries. Even worn-out items are reused as rags or fiber.

Electronics at Brunswick Processing Center or Goodwill

Tires at Brunswick Processing Center

LDPE #4 plastic film grocery bags, bread bags, produce bags, wraps, bubble wrap, newspaper sleeves, etc. at Hannaford stores

Although 5-cent and 15-cent redeemable beverage containers will ultimately be recycled via curbside recycle bins and are not contaminants, this is not a best practice. A higher reuse value for glass is achieved via redemption centers, which are required by state law to sort bottles by color.

Crushed glass of uniform color can be remade into new bottles; mixed color glass from a recycling processor can only be used as landfill cover or as road fill. The weight of these plastic, aluminum and glass containers in the recycling stream also adds to Brunswick’s cost at no additional benefit to the environment. And you are deprived of deposit fees you could reclaim.

Stephen Wood is a member of the  Brunswick Recycling & Sustainability Committee.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: