The cost of ‘green’

  • Full-time employee Marshall Torsey sifts through recycable plastic bottles on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

  • Manager Scott Bradford stands in the Peterborough Recycling Center Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

  • Full-time employee Marshall Torsey sifts through recycable plastic bottles on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

  • Peterborough resident Dan Parish holds a collection of items he found while perusing the shelves of the mini mall at the Peterborough Recycling Center on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

  • Manager Scott Bradford sits on a bale of mixed paper at the Peterborough Recycling Center. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • Employees at the Peterborough Recycling Center sift through waste Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

  • Recycling plastics at the Peterborough Recycling Center on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

  • Recycling plastics at the Peterborough Recycling Center on Wednesday. Staff photo by Brandon Latham

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/5/2016 6:17:52 PM

When comparing recycled tonnage, many transfer stations in the Monadnock region far surpass national averages, but in an area that prides itself on being “green” most facilities still don’t accept all numbered plastics.

The town of Peterborough recycled 76 percent of its waste last year. Since 2004, the percentage of waste recycled at the town’s center has never dipped below 58 percent. At its highest, it reached 80 percent.

Nationally, Americans recycled about 34 percent of the waste it generated in 2013. Only 9 percent of plastics were recycled that year, according to numbers collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Even still, the Peterborough Recycling Center does not accept number three through six plastics.

“We really need to do better,” said Tory McCagg, a member of Jaffrey’s Recycling Committee.

A recent survey conducted through the town of Peterborough asked residents to gauge the effectiveness of the recycling center through a series of questions. The vast majority of responses were positive, although more than 20 people suggested the town should recycle more plastics, calling the expansion “long overdue.”

“Peterborough residents desperately need to be able to recycle more than number one and number two plastics,” a resident commented on the survey.

The resident asked Peterborough to move to a single-stream operation.

“We are sending an enormous amount of recyclable plastic into the trash,” the respondent said. “Just think of how many people use number five yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream containers alone. There must be a way this can change.”

Scott Bradford, manager of the Peterborough Recycling Center, said the issue with incorporating more plastics ultimately boils down to financial constraints.

Expanding the center’s capacity to include such items would require purchasing another machine, adding an additional staff member, and expanding the facility – a substantial investment that wouldn’t be recovered from selling the content.

“Financially, it’s not a smart move,” Bradford said.

The price for baling and shipping number three through seven plastics are not worth as much as the lower numbers. Number three through seven plastics usually hover around zero dollars per pound, Bradford said. Occasionally, the price will increase, but never to the point that it could be profitable.

Randall Heglin, director of public works in Jaffrey, said the facility does not accept higher numbered plastics because of financial and space constraints.

It’s an especially bad time to be selling recyclables right now, he said.

Before the economic recession hit the United States around 2008, much of the baled recycled material was being sold internationally, especially to countries like China that were expanding rapidly.

When the market slowed, China’s demand for recyclables also stagnated, factors that drove down the price of baled material.

During that time, recycling centers in the area had to pay to dispose of things like mixed paper, which is typically one of their more profitable items. That only lasted about six months, but the price remained low thereafter.

“I had never seen prices so low,” Heglin said.

The price for those materials is increasing, although slowly.

“They are saying it will take five to six years for prices to recover because they have such a stockpile right now,” Steve Elliott, Wilton’s Director of public works, said.

Right now, generated revenue is low, meaning recouping any expansion costs would be especially difficult.

McCagg said finances are nearly always an obstacle to expanding plastics at local recycling centers.

“Plastics are not economic to recycle,” McCagg said. “And the way we are in this country is that it has to make money, it has to be economical in order to do it.”

Right now, she said, it’s less expensive to make new plastics than it is to recycle old ones.

She said the waste issue is so consequential that it should transcend finances.

“What it really comes down to is; Why aren’t we recycling this stuff?” she said. “We have islands in the middle of the ocean that are made of plastic. This issue is bigger than money.”

There is, however, a simple solution, McCagg said.

“If centers don’t accept certain plastics, than don’t buy them at the store. It’s really about us as individuals, and the choices that we are making.”

What does that mean?

Most everyone can identify the three arrowhead recycling symbol in the shape of a triangle, but do you know what the various numbers and letters attached to that little symbol mean?

Me neither, so I did a little digging.

The numbers and letters were created by plastic manufacturers to help people identify the type of plastic resin used to make their container, according to the U.S. EPA.

Plastic #1 are labeled PET, or PETE, which stands for polyethylene terephthalate. These plastics are generally clear and used for soda and water. This is the most widely accepted plastic at transfer stations across the nation. If recycled, these items generally end up being repurposed into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 are labeled HDPE, which stands for high-density polyethylene. These plastics are generally opaque and include milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles and shampoo bottles. They can be recycled into pens, recycling containers, and detergent bottles, to name a few.

Plastic #3 is labeled V or PVC, for Viynl. It’s generally used to make food wrap, plumbing pipes and detergent bottles. Many recycling centers don’t accept #3, but it can be reused for paneling, flooring, decks and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 is labeled LDPE, which stands for low-density polyethylene. The plastic is generally used in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, carpet, frozen food and some foods wraps. Many centers do not recycle the plastic, but it can be used for paneling, trash can liners, floor tiles and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 is labeled PP, which stands for polypropylene. The plastic is generally found in yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup containers and medicine bottles. It can be recycled into brooms, bins, pallets, and signal lights.

Plastic #6 is labeled PS, which stands for polystyrene. It’s found in egg cartons, meat trays, and disposable plates and cups. The plastic is notorious for being difficult to recycle, but can be remade into egg cartons, vents, foam packing and insulation.

Plastic #7 stands for all other mixed plastics, but includes polycarbonate, which contains bisphernol-A, or BPA. It is commonly found in sunglasses, computer cases, nylon, various water bottles and bullet-proof materials. It can be recycled into plastic lumber and other custome-made products.

There’s no quiz, but the next time you’re at the store, take a moment to find the recycling label and see what you can remember. That little label tells you more than you may have imagined.

 

Plastic recycling fun (and not-so-fun) facts:

Five recycled plastic bottles make enough fiberfill to make a jacket.

Plastic takes up to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill.

Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times.




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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