BRICK – Plastic grocery bags that are mixed in with other household recycling items are a big problem at the Northern Ocean County recycling facility since the bags jam up the single-stream machine and have to be manually removed by workers, resulting in extra expense and risk of worker injury, officials said.
“It happens about three times a day because people put their recycling in plastic bags and then place the plastic bags into their blue can, so the bags get into the sorter and build up. The opening gets smaller, and the recycling can’t fall through,” explained Brick’s recycling coordinator Trish Totaro from her office at the Department of Public Works. “It stops the whole process.”
The recycling center employs seven full-time workers who pull the plastic bags out of the equipment at the cost of $90,720 a year, plus the loss of processing time results in a production loss of $1 million annually. An additional $65,000 a year is for added maintenance on the machinery due to the plastic bags wrapping around the screens.
Even so, Brick residents are recycling more than ever, 18,179 tons in 2018, up from 16,298 tons in 2017, she said.
The tonnage includes single stream recyclable material like plastic bottles, cans, glass containers, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard and also leaves and brush material, she said.
“This is the first year we did not get recycling revenue because of what is going on in the overseas market,” Totaro said. “China won’t take anything at this point because the market is getting stricter about how clean the commodity is, but it changes every day.”
The savings comes from keeping the recycling material out of the county landfill. Brick pays $71.21 to dispose of each ton of household garbage, so about $1.3 million was saved in tipping fees for 2018.
The items placed in the blue recycling cans will never be 100 percent pure because a majority of residents look at the symbol at the bottom of a container, but that does not mean it is acceptable to the county recycling facility, Totaro said.
“The county dictates what we can recycle, and there is a trickle-down effect. We need for it to be as clean as it can be, and then the county takes it to the next level,” she explained. “The more disciplined we are about what we put in the blue container, the less they have to sort it at the county level.”
Metal recycling in Brick township was also increased in 2018, earning $77,000 in 2017 to $99,000 in 2018, she said.
As part of her job description, Totaro presents recycling outreach programs for each of the schools, so one explanation for the uptick in recycling could be from children encouraging their parents to go green.
“We get them onboard and they’re excited,” Totaro said. “They get a sense of ownership, and so people are becoming more aware of environmental concerns.”
Every year, the state collects data from each township on the total tonnage of residential and commercial recycling that was collected and awards a state tonnage grant based on the weight.
Brick’s total amount from 2016 (the most recent data available) was $109,895, Totaro said. The grant money goes back into enhancing and promote recycling efforts, and can be used to purchase cans, trucks and equipment, education, outreach and more, she said.
The problematic plastic bags can be recycled in the containers at grocery stores. Totaro said many kinds of plastic wrap can be placed in those containers, such as the plastic wrapping on bulk items, dry cleaning bags, and more.
The only plastic containers acceptable for the blue cans are bottles where the neck is smaller than the base of the container, which means the plastic containers for items like yogurt, sour cream and peanut butter are not recyclable and must be put in the regular trash.
Totaro said items like cardboard and newspaper must not be tied, and shredded paper should not go in the blue bins.
The Department of Public Works has a new recycling app that gives a free personalized garbage and recycling collection schedule for your address.
“Recycle Coach” is the newest technology being paid for by the Department of Environmental Protection, which has extended the contract through the end of 2010.
The app can be found on the public works/recycling page on the township website and can be downloaded wherever apps are available.