State program aims to remind people what gets recycled in Connecticut

Teacher Beth Hanlon helps guide second graders at Moriarty Environmental Science Magnet School in Norwich in sorting their lunch refuse into compost, recycling and trash at the end of their lunch period Thursday, October 8, 2015.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Teacher Beth Hanlon helps guide second graders at Moriarty Environmental Science Magnet School in Norwich in sorting their lunch refuse into compost, recycling and trash at the end of their lunch period Thursday, October 8, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Plastic bags don't belong in your recycling bin.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection launched a public education campaign last week to clarify rules like this in an effort to make sorting at waste facilities statewide more efficient and reduce the amount of waste that gets burned rather than reused.

With different systems in each town for getting garbage to either the waste processing facility in Preston or to a recycling center, figuring out how and what to recycle can take up as much time as a part-time job, said Winston Averill, the recycling coordinator for the quasi-public Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority.

That means many people put things in their recycling bin that aren't recyclable and that must be sorted out from the recycling stream and sent to the trash-to-energy incinerator in Preston to be burned and converted into electricity.

"People tend to throw everything into the recycling cart — they're trying to recycle as much as they can, and they're not sure," he said.

Residents of the 12 towns in southeastern Connecticut serviced by SCRRRA send paper, plastic, glass and other recyclables in one container to Willimantic Waste, where they are baled, crushed or shredded and shipped out for reuse.

Because Connecticut relies on a single-stream process where waste is sorted after it gets to Willimantic Waste, not before, the most useful public education efforts focus on keeping non-recyclables like shredded paper, plastic bags and batteries out of the recycle bins so they don't need to be transported back to garbage processing facilities or transfer stations, Averill said.

The state outreach program "What's IN, What's OUT," a joint effort between the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and CT Recycles, aims to help people sort through all the rules with the help of an animated music video featuring singing recycle bins and another starring a talking plastic bottle.

"When unacceptable items are placed in the recycling bin, it causes problems at the recycling facilities and also reduces the value of recycling materials," DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee said in a news release. 

"We worked closely with recycling coordinators in our cities and towns and the six facilities in our state that accept recycled material to get everyone on the same page," he said.

Recycle CT also debuted a search feature on its website that will display the proper disposal method for individual types of garbage — type in "mattress" or "car battery" — and get an answer, or a link to your town's waste management department.

SCRRRA has already tried its own public outreach already, launching its own search engine and a quiz game on its website earlier this year.

Averill said recycling will likely increase during the winter holiday season, but with that increase will also come more non-recyclable materials ending up at recycling facilities that will then need to be transported back to the incincerator in Preston.

Klee said the the state's encouragement of household recycling is part of a goal to divert 60 percent of the garbage that otherwise would end up in the waste stream by 2024, which he said could save the state about $40 million a year.

Averill said the effect of the state campaign will be hard to track because the contents of recycle bins come to Willimantic Waste in a jumble of plastic, glass and non-recyclable material, and because transfer stations all have varying rules about what they will accept from their residents.

"It's hard to measure the direct impact of the program," Averill said.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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