By Susan Dunne
The Hartford Courant
Earth Day is a day set aside each year for people to think about what they can do to make the world a cleaner place. However, making the world a cleaner place requires action every day.
Scrutinizing products before you buy them and knowing what goes in what refuse bin — and what doesn’t belong in bins at all — are things people can do to more effectively live the philosophy to “reduce / reuse / recycle.”
Fred Shaw, superintendent of pollution control for the town of South Windsor, who retired this month, and Ether Diaz, who monitors compliance, are on the front lines of recycling enforcement, educating town residents. Vernon Mathews, superintendent of public works for the city of Hartford, and city recycling coordinator Archie Byrd also emphasize education and awareness. “It’s the mindset of the individual household. It has to start there,” Byrd said. “Once you educate people, it’s a lot easier.”
Shaw said that in South Windsor, recycling is about 47 to 48 percent of what is gathered and garbage is 52 to 53 percent. Mathews said Hartford runs about 25 percent recyclables and 75 percent trash.
A 2016 revision to Connecticut law set a goal of “diverting, through source reduction, reuse and recycling, not less than 60 percent of the solid waste generated in the state after January 1, 2024.”
Chris Nelson of the state’s department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said benefits of recycling are reduction of waste to landfills, conservation of natural resources, prevention of pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials, conservation of energy, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, creation of jobs in recycling and manufacturing industries and disposal cost-savings for municipalities.
In a speech in January at CT Recycling Conference, Nelson pointed out that shrinking capacity of in-state landfills will bring higher costs to send garbage out-of-state. The preferred solution is waste reduction, he said.
Shaw said waste reduction should begin long before something becomes waste. It should start when something is purchased in the first place. He advised, first of all, to buy products with less packaging.
One easy and affordable way to get items with less packaging and to live the “reuse” philosophy is to acquire them used. The DEEP website has a “What Do I Do With … ?” page bit.ly/1Qk0lUN that advises in detail what to do with many items that may or may not be recyclable or that should or shouldn’t be discarded.
The page’s most prominent advice is to find new owners for old things. Donating, selling or giving away items in thrift shops, flea markets, tag sales, charities, FreeCycle, Craigslist or eBay or giving them to friends, relatives and neighbors reduces the amount of and toxicity in garbage.
But when buying new products, Shaw advised, examine them. “What amount of waste are you generating? Do you buy more than you can use? Buy containers that are recyclable. … Ask yourself, what are you going to do with the part that you’re not using?” he said.
Shaw said a key piece of advice, which is difficult to get across, is that people should buy only what they need.
One waste-reduction tip that many homeowners don’t consider, Mathews said, is the reusing of wood, which does not go into recycling bins anyway. “We get a lot of wood from odd jobs,” when people renovate their homes, he said. “We will take a little wood in the municipal solid waste to have burnable material, but wood can be reused in so many different ways.”
Repurposed material can take up permanent usage in a home. If it can’t be reused and must be thrown away, the second phase of awareness kicks in.
Byrd and Diaz said the most common items that belong in single-stream (also called “commingled”) recycling bins are cans, bottles, milk cartons, cardboard, plastic, food cans, aluminum pans, glass, newspapers, magazines and plastic toys and buckets.
Byrd said, however, that bottles for automotive fluids should not be recycled, but can be taken to the landfill. Some auto-parts stores, he said, will take used oil and other automotive waste and parts to be disposed of.
Other things that should not be recycled but taken to the landfill, Byrd said, are propane tanks, scrap metal, batteries, electronics, windows, light bulbs, paint, drinking glasses and mirrors.
Often, things put in the recycling bin should be in the trash bin and vice versa. “In the recycling container, we have people putting brush, leaves, air conditioners, chemicals. People put things in there that are prohibited at landfills,” Diaz said. “Another mistake is that when big cardboard boxes don’t fit into the recycling bin, people put them the trash.”
Styrofoam and foam pillows, which are not recyclable, often are put in recycling bins, the public-works officials said. Another mistake, which causes complications and slowdowns during landfill processing, is plastic bags. “They get caught in the conveyor belts,” Diaz said.
Byrd added that clothing put in recycling bins jams up machinery, too, and should be put in the trash instead. Mathews added that clothing worn by a person undergoing radiation therapy is radioactive. Radioactivity causes further processing delays and can possibly lead to a contamination citation against the city. “Recycling needs to be a clean load,” Mathews said.
Leaves and brush have their own collection days and leaves are composted rather than discarded. “It doesn’t have to fill up a landfill,” Diaz said.
Cleaning out containers before putting them in the recycling bins makes the processing more efficient, the public-works officials said.
Discarding items in toilets can be a problem, Diaz says. “Sometimes the packages of textile wipes [such as Lysol wipes] say they are disposable and flushable,” she said. They’re not. “They plug up the pipes and plug up the operation of the pump stations.”
Shaw added flushing old medicines sends them into waterways, potentially causing biohazards, especially if many people do it. “Bring it to the police, drugs, unused needles. They go to a place where it is burned,” Shaw said.
Mathews said since flat-screen TVs have become the norm, many people discard working analog TVs on the curbside along with their garbage. He said that they will be picked up if they are there. But often scavengers (Mathews called them “harvesters”) will get to them first, to strip them of their valuable copper wiring and then discard them again, usually improperly. “Why not just donate it if it’s working?” he said.
Anyone with questions about what goes into which bins, and what items have special recycling procedures, can call their town public-works office or visit the state “What Do I Do With … ?” website.
“People need to understand the impact of what they do,” Shaw said. “Public health and safety is at stake.”
Recyling Dos And Don’ts
1. Buy products with less packaging.
2. Buy more used products (at thrift shops, tag sales, etc.)
3. Clean out items before putting them in recycling bins.
4. Don’t put plastic bags in recycling bins.
5. If you can’t fit large cardboard boxes in the recycling bin, don’t put them in the trash bin. They don’t belong there.
6. Don’t flush textile wipes (like Lysol) down the toilet. No matter what the packaging says, if they’re not tissue they’re not flushable.
7. Don’t flush old medicine down the toilet. It contaminates the water source. Take it to the police department.
8. If you can’t figure out what to put in which bin, call your town hall. ___
This article is written by Susan Dunne from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.