Many received the RED STICKER this past week from DPW in Hudson. Why?
In the past, China used to buy much of the US’s recyclables – that is up until the new Chinese NATIONAL SWORD policy that started in January 2018. Stricter guidelines on the quality of recyclable materials – recyclablescannot be more than .5% contaminated –made sorting recyclables much more important, and nearly impossible to meet the new standards.
What does .5% contaminated mean? If it cannot be recycled, then it is contaminating the rest of the load. An oily pizza box or a jar of peanut butter, with too much peanut butter left, cannot be recycled. Styrofoam cannot be recycled. Composites – like a disposal razor that is both plastic and metal – cannot be recycled. Even the lid or cap on a bottle or container, if they are two different types of plastics, is considered a composite. Remove the lids.
Years ago, a glass baby food jar and its metal top – recyclable. Today, baby food in plastic squeeze pouches with different types of plastic and leftover food inside – garbage.
If there’s more than .5% GARBAGE – non-recyclable material in the load – then the entire shipment is discarded as GARBAGE.
Municipalities throughout the US, including the City of Hudson, used to be able to sort the materials, send them to China, and at least break even on the cost. This year, with stricter Chinese guidelines, the City is paying $40,000/year to deliver its recyclables to a sorter.
The City of Hudson’s DPW department enforces its sorting policy with red stickers. Here’s a copy of Columbia County’s Recycling Protocol below.
The best advice I can give you is to put these recyclable items into a container (with holes in the bottom to let the water drain) and leave them out for DPW. Since the City is using a single-stream sorter, all potential recyclable materials can be put in the same container.
SORTING? Do I need to separate my garbage? In Columbia County, no. We use a single-stream MeRF (Material Recovery Facility). MeRFs separate recyclables by placing them on a magnetized conveyor belt. The magnets hold onto the steel cans while paper and plastics are separated. Anything that can TANGLE a conveyor belt – a hose, wires, cables – should NOT be put in with recyclables. Cardboard boxes should be broken down because the MeRFs identify paper products by seeing them as “two-dimensional” objects and separates them accordingly. It is debatable if a DUAL-stream sorting (where paper and plastic are separated by the consumer) is better, more efficient, or cost effective. Different communities have different answers.
If you want your food packaging to be recyclable, I recommend buying products in compostable materials first – or canned goods in steel cans – since steel has a high recyclable rate. You may buy a frozen, non-GMO, organic vegan dinner, but the microwavable plastic dish will stay on the Earth for another 400 years.
Glass is also very recyclable, however, glass breaks, and then sometimes contaminates the rest of the load. A state-wide dime deposit on wine and other glass bottles would help keep glass out of the garbage stream.
All communities throughout the US are dealing with these new National Sword guidelines and unfortunately, there’s no easy solution. Here’s some ideas:
Companies switch to compostable materials from plastic. I recently switched my cookie bags from plastic to compostable wood pulp. What used to cost 4 cents/bag is now 29 cent/bag, but the compostable bag will not live on the Earth for the next 400 years like a plastic bag will. Other farmers at the market also switched, but there’s still a long way to go for other companies to follow.
Buy less plastic. Easier said than done, but it’s something to think about. Maybe a safety razor and blades as opposed to a disposable one? Maybe buy your fruits and vegetables at the Farmer’s Market in a reusable bag instead of at the store, wrapped in plastic? There’s bamboo cutlery and toothbrushes as opposed to plastic, which work just as well.
Composting – This is a plan that I would like to implement in the City of Hudson in my next term. This would not reduce the amount of plastic on the Earth, but it would take compostable materials out of the garbage stream. We pay per tonnage to either dispose of the garbage, or for the compostable materials to be carted away to a composting facility where it would then be used by local farms. It would be a financial wash for the City, since the costs are about the same. There is potential money from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for composting grants to help communities get started. A city-wide composting program will require a team of people. If you’re interested, please let me know.
Ban certain materials – like styrofoam. I could propose a law in the City of Hudson to ban styrofoam. Unfortunately, the City has no resource to ENFORCE the law. A law like this would have to be on the county or state level (similar to tobacco/alcohol age restriction laws) with the appropriate enforcement agency. Neighboring counties such as Ulster and Albany have banned styrofoam – so it’s possible.
(I’ve been reluctant to write this post, because it’s not very hopeful for the future. Even IF China does purchase a shipping container of recyclables, we do not know if it’s even being recycled! Or, if it’s just being discarded into the oceans….sigh… There’s still a lot of work to do.)