by Andrew Garda
Worried about the health of its DPW and recycling plant workers, Montclair has issued a directive to its residents to stop placing masks and latex gloves in their household recyclables.
Too many masks and gloves are ending up in Montclair’s household recycling system, putting workers at risk and clogging up the system, said Gray Russell, the sustainability officer for the township.
“Gloves and masks are not considered recyclable material,” Russell said. “They need to be properly disposed of in the garbage.”
Some municipalities do spot-checks before sending recycling materials to the facility, Montclair being one of them. However, it can be difficult to catch everything, so the masks and gloves go on to the facility.
“When Montclair collects recycling, when any town collects recycling, it doesn’t go to a manufacturer that makes new stuff out of it. At first, all municipal recycling goes to an interim facility that is called a ‘materials recovery facility,’ or an MRF,” Russell said.
The MRF that Montclair works with is a company called Atlantic Coast Fibers, in Passaic. There, the mixed recycling materials are sorted by hand from a conveyor belt.
It’s possible that a pair of gloves or a mask could be contaminated with COVID-19, putting workers at risk, Russell said.
“There is a man or a woman who has to pick it out with their hands,” he said. “They have gloves on, but they have to pick it out. So, there is a health consideration to it.”
Fred Petrone, who manages municipal accounts in the tri-state area for Atlantic Coast Fibers, agreed. While employees at the facility wear protective equipment, there are still too many unknowns when it comes to COVID-19 to take chances.
“I don’t think anybody knows how long the coronavirus actually stays on that type of material,” Petrone said. “24 hours? A year? Five days? You don’t know.”
Another issue is that neither gloves nor masks are made of material that can be recycled. Russell said that the process of recycling breaks various materials down into their component parts, which are then sent to different manufacturers to be remade into new products.
The material that both the gloves and masks are made of has no value to manufacturers and, therefore, none to a MRF.
That’s the biggest thing for Petrone.
“The material is not, and has never been, recycling,” he said. “So if somebody is putting something like that in there they’re not doing the right thing to begin with.”
PPE items, Petrone and Russell both said, are garbage and should be disposed of in regular home waste.
Most commonly, someone on the sorting line catches the items and removes them. Items that are garbage that get put into recycling are gathered and sent to an incinerator or landfill.
Fees vary from county to county and plant to plant, but Russell said the town is charged $85-a-ton for the garbage they send to the Essex incinerator, and the cost would be similar for wherever Atlantic Coast Fibers sends their trash.
“[The facility has] to pay to dispose of that as garbage, and garbage is very expensive,” he explained. “That is why we recycle, because every ton that we can recycle, we’re avoiding the cost of sending a ton of garbage to the Essex incinerator.”
While the cost of pulling out and sending trash isn’t immediately passed down to the municipalities, MRFs keep in mind who sends them trash or “dirty streams” of recycling and who doesn’t and when a contract comes up for renewal, a town that isn’t careful will see their costs go up.
Montclair does not make money on sending recycling items to a MRF, so any extra cost hurts the town.
And if a sorting line attendant misses a nonrecyclable item, it could get into the processors and contaminate other material that could be recycled, making the whole batch useless.
While masks and gloves are current issues, Petrone said people try to recycle all sorts of things they shouldn’t, from wood to pizza boxes to small camp-size propane tanks. None of that is recyclable, and all of it costs everyone involved time and money.
Montclair publishes a list of acceptable recyclables on its website at montclairnjusa.org.
The best rule of thumb is, if you’re not sure it’s recyclable, don’t put it in.
Once the materials are sorted and processed, they are ready to be returned to the economic mainstream as raw materials, where they will be used to make new recycled products.
For example, recyclable paper will be sent to paper mills, where it will be made into new paper products; recyclable glass will be sent to manufacturing plants where it will be made into new glass containers or fiberglass; recyclable aluminum cans will be sent to production facilities where they will be made into new aluminum cans and other aluminum products, and recyclable plastic bottles will be sent to plants where they will be made into carpeting, clothing and more.
What cannot be recycled
Masks, gloves, microwave trays, plastic bags, flower pots, nursery trays, food trays, dishware, toys, paint cans, Styrofoam, mirrors, window or auto glass, light bulbs, ceramics, pots, pans, toasters and small appliances, any plastic without a number on it, needles, rubber hoses, syringes, hazardous materials, pesticide, chemical, antifreeze and oil containers, paper bags, plastic film, coat hangers, aerosol cans, tar pails, vacuum and pool hoses, pool liners, shower curtains, PVC pipe, plumbing accessories, building products, plastic fencing, wire, electrical equipment, general household items, bowling balls, food and party trays, even if stamped with #1, #2, #5.
Also, pizza boxes, food-contaminated paper and/or boxes, soiled paper, wax paper, photographic paper, food wrappers, box liners, napkins, paper towels, tissue paper, self-adhesive envelopes, carbon paper, hard covers from books, plasticized overnight letter envelopes, blueprint paper, construction paper, metallic wrapping paper, wax-coated cardboard and polylaminated paper beverage cartons for juice, drinks or milk.