Category: single stream recycling

New Recycling Rules For Cleaner Recyclables

Please follow the recycling rules

Recently, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released new recycling guidelines, with some major changes as is outlined below. Read more about the new rules here: https://recyclesmartma.org/

Recyclables that are contaminated with non-recyclables may end up in the landfill due to excess contamination. Due to recent changes in the recycling industry as outlined in our other blog post, it is especially important that we work to limit contamination of recyclable materials.

Recycled materials are a  traded commodity. If contaminated, however, no one will be willing to purchase them, and they will instead likely end up in the landfill.

Plastic and paper cups are no longer accepted

The biggest change is that plastic cups (even clear ones), as well as utensils and paper coffee cups, are no longer recyclable. That’s right – the plastic and cups you get your cold beverages in will now have to go directly into the landfill waste bin in addition to the straw and lid.

The main problem is that these items tend to be spoiled with liquids and food. These items can then contaminate other materials in the recycling bin, such as paper. As a result, our recycling service provider is no longer accepting these products in our recycling stream.

For plastic items, ONLY plastic containers – jugs, bottles (with caps ON), tubs, and jars will be accepted, once rinsed and dried.

Empty, Clean, and Dry

Items that can be recycled such as hard plastic containers, yogurt cups and plastic bottles and jugs (with the caps on) as well as glass bottles MUST be emptied, cleaned, and dried before being placed in a recycling bin. Please do not put any items with food, food residue, or liquid still in them in the recycling bins.

Plastic Bags are NOT recyclable

Any kind of plastic film or plastic bags can not be placed in the recycling bins. This includes grocery bags, bubble wrap, flexible plastic packaging, saran wrap, zip lock bags, and styrofoam. These items get caught in the machinery used in sorting facilities and can cause breakdowns and even worker injuries.

Other items that are NOT accepted as recycling

These items go to the landfill. Do NOT place these items in the recycling bins.

Paper items

  • paper towels
  • paper plates
  • tissues
  • cups (with lids)

Cardboard

  • greasy pizza box bottoms
  • juice and milk cartons

Plastic (even with recycling symbol)

  • plastic cups
  • plastic bags and plastic wrap
  • chip bags
  • styrofoam
  • plastic utensils
  • foil-lined energy bars – brings these to a terracycle bin (locations on our Eco-Map) instead!

Glass

  • lightbulbs – bring incandescent and CFL light bulbs to 550 Boston Ave. to have them replaced for LED light bulbs!
  • broken glass

When in doubt, throw it out

It may seem counterintuitive to throw something out in order to support sustainability. However, it is much better to throw something out if you are unsure it can be recycled rather than contaminate the recycling with materials that can not be recycled. Please refer to the infographic below, but when in doubt, throw it out.

In addition, do not rely on the triangular recycling symbol found on many products. This symbol signifies that the material used in the product are physically able be recycled, but that does not meant that the waste infrastructure in your specific community  has the capacity to recycle them.

For example, the sorting facility where recyclables from Tufts end up can not accept plastic bags, as they can damage the sorting equipment. However, companies like Trex take plastic bags and have a separate, special sorting facility where they can turn those bags into recycled outdoor decking materials and products.

Eco-Ambassador Visit to Casella Waste Management Materials Recovery Facility

On Thursday, August 2nd, 12 Eco-Ambassadors, two Office of Sustainability staff members and one intern  visited the Casella Waste Systems Inc. Material Recovery Facility located in Charlestown, MA.

The visit was facilitated by Gretchen Carey, the Recycling & Organics Coordinator from Republic Services, Tufts’ waste hauler. Once we arrived at the facility, Mark Evans of Casella’s Commercial and Municipal Business Development Department explained the recycling process, what kinds of materials are processed at the facility, and the dos and don’ts of recycling.

A typical recycling lecture may simply end there. However, given China’s new policies about what recycled materials they will accept from the U.S. that has had a significant impact on the U.S. recycling industry, Mark spent a majority of the time explaining the current state of global recycling systems and what it means for the U.S.

How China influences the U.S. recycling industry

Mark explained that 800 – 1000 tons of materials are processed at their facility each day. The facility does not have the capacity to store a large amount of materials at a time. After materials are sorted and baled, they get shipped to places that will take the recycled materials and use them to manufacture new products.

In recent years, around 90% of all recycled materials sorted by Casella were exported to China.  This is different than when Mark first started working in the business, when only around 20% of the material was exported. Back then, a majority of the materials would go to domestic processing plants which have since been shut down due to China’s domination of the market.

The current problem

In the last few months,  China stopped accepting recycled materials from the U.S. due to the level of contamination of U.S. recycled materials. This is in large part due to their desire to increase implementation of environmental policies.

In the U.S., recycling has moved to be collected in a single stream in most locations, meaning that all recyclable items can be disposed of in a single container. The contents are then separated and processed in a plant like the one we visited. Contamination is an inherent problem with mixed recycling.

In recent years, due to the switch to automated waste collection, there is no one to physically monitor the items being hauled into the recycling trucks and delivered to the recycling plants. According to Mark, on average, the material that comes through Casella’s plant has a contamination level of around 10-20%.

One of the largest hits to Casella is associated with mixed paper – basically anything that is not cardboard or newspaper. Casella used to be able to sell mixed paper to Chinese companies for around $80-90 a ton. Now, they have to pay to get rid of it. As a result, Casella had to increase what they charge their customers for processing their recycling.

These changes were implemented so quickly that the U.S. industry has not had time to adapt. Gretchen mentioned that there was very little warning regarding China’s new policies. Last summer, they were notified that the level of contamination had to go down to 0.5%. By December, China started to implement this policy.

You can’t recycle electronics through regular recycling!

What needs to change

“They are just doing what should have been done years ago,” Mark commented, referring to China’s new, stricter regulations. However, now that China has made the switch, the U.S. also has to find ways to reduce contamination of recycled materials and increase outlets to recycle the material domestically.

Because of the single-stream and automated systems, it is imperative that individuals know what can and can’t be recycled and act accordingly. Gretchen and Mark both mentioned the phenomenon of “wish-cycling” or “aspiration recycling.” This is when someone thinks, “this seems recyclable, so maybe if I put it in the recycling bin it will get recycled.” If there is any doubt, it is better to simply put the items in the trash rather than to contaminate the recycling and increase labor for the workers in the recycling plants.

Materials like plastic film, cords, and other items that tangle easily in particular increase labor for workers at the plant, as they get wrapped around equipment used for sorting and compacting. The equipment is rendered useless until cleared.

Systemic changes also need to occur within the U.S. recycling industry to create more outlets for recycling. One solution is for individual companies to become outlets for specific materials.

If you are often on the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus, you have probably run into a Terracycle recycling bin. Tufts is part of Terracycle’s “Energy Bar Brigade.” Through this program, foil-lined energy bars collected get sent to Terracycle to be recycled and turned into new products. Because the materials collected are so specific and uniform, there is no contamination and it is easy to turn the materials into new products.

Similarly, recently, Tufts has recently started to look into putting out separate collection bins for plastic bags and film, which cannot go in the regular recycling stream. Once collected, these can be sent to Trex, an outdoor decking company. Trex is able to use the plastic film to create new eco-friendly products.

These kinds of new outlets for recyclable materials, if utilized, can help reduce contamination rates of single stream recycling.

Hope on the horizon

Despite the bleakness of the past few months in the U.S. recycling industry, Mark noted that he is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Recently, Nine Dragons, a Chinese paper milling company, announced that it will acquire two U.S.-based paper milling plants. This could open up domestic outlets for U.S. waste facilities to send recycling.

While this will definitely help the current disastrous situation for the U.S. recycling industry, one or two new domestic mills will not be enough to meet the demand for recycling outlets. Industries, companies, and vendors will increasingly be pushed to create products with recycled materials, or to take back materials that cannot be put in the regular waste streams.

All in all, the trip was an incredibly informative and enlightening experience that is sure to make all of the already environmentally-conscious Eco-Ambassadors even more attentive of what they place in their recycling bins.

China’s National Sword

via GIPHY

Recycling is complicated. Most people see their recyclables taken off of their curbs each week and think that it’s the end of the process, but really it is just the beginning:

  1. From there, the recyclables are taken to a recycling sorting center, where all of the plastics, papers, and metals are sorted and packaged together with like materials.
  2. Then the recyclables are sold to manufacturers domestically and internationally on a commodities market.

The above video shows how mixed recycling is sorted.

The Changing Recycling Market in China

Some recyclables end up in China since it is the largest importer of recyclables from around the world. China uses these raw materials to drive their manufacturing based economy. The U.S.—China recycling relationship began when China sent over cargo ships full of exports to the U.S. and instead of sending those ships back to China empty, the U.S. began sending back discarded recyclables.

Beginning in 2013, China began regulating what recyclables were coming into the country, because historically most of the recycled materials that were sent to China were unsorted, contaminated with non-recyclable materials, and contained hazardous waste. The 2013 policy was known as the Green Fence and random inspections of shipments of recyclables began. The country began to reject shipments if they were contaminated, thus the total amount of recycled material that China receives has declined since 2013. The newest change to recycling policy is the National Sword. In this new policy, the Chinese government has banned 24 materials and has increased the rigor of the inspections.

How does this impact Tufts?

Now trash goes in blue bags and recyclable in clear bags!

Because of the National Sword, Tufts can no longer use blue bags in the recycling bins. Blue bags are opaque and prevent the recycling sorting facility from being able to see whether they are filled with trash. Instead of throwing out our blue bags, Tufts is repurposing them.  Tufts will continue to use the blue bags for trash bags until the blue bags run out.

As consumers and recyclers alike, we all need to make sure that we are properly sorting our recycling from trash. Help us keep our recycling clean so it can actually be used again! This is the only way to ensure that the recycling facility will not reject our recycling.

Never put these items in the recycling bin:

  • Liquids
  • Food waste
  • Plastic bags

Remember these items, and nothing else, go in the recycling bin:

  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Glass
  • Metal (aluminum)*
  • Rigid plastics*

* = If you have a rigid plastic or aluminum to-go container, please rinse or wipe off food waste before recycling it.

via GIPHY

For more information on recycling at Tufts visit the Facilities Services – Recycling & Waste Management website or email recycle@tufts.edu.

Grafton Campus Waste Station Checklist

Recently, you may have noticed some big changes in recycling on the Grafton campus: all recycling is now mixed, meaning there are now only types two bins at waste stations across campus: trash and recycling! 

Research shows that an effective way to capture more recyclables is to pair trash containers with recycling containers. Your waste station should have BOTH types of bin listed below:  

Gray trash bin with white “landfill” label 

Gray recycling bin with: 

  • Blue “mixed recycling” label 
  • Light blue bag 
  • Blue UFO-shaped lid 
Complete waste station

Now, that’s a good looking waste station!

If the waste station in your office or classroom doesn’t look like the photo above, please submit a work order that will go to Facilities Services.

During the transition to mixed recycling, Tufts strategically reduced the number of waste stations in each building. This helps with efficiency (regarding the time to empty bins) and sustainability (reducing the number of plastic liners we use reduces our overall impact!). Your original central waste station may have been moved to another area on your floor or removed entirely during the transition, however, please do not move any waste receptacles. If you feel that an error has been made with your waste station please submit a work order and contact recycle@tufts.edu with specific questions.  

 

This week at the Cummings School: Mixed Recycling

After switching to mixed recycling on the Medford/Somerville, SMFA, and Boston campuses, Facilities Services and the Office of Sustainability are excited to announce the Grafton campus is transitioning to mixed recycling beginning this week.The Grafton campus transition will complete the university’s switch to mixed recycling. The old glass/metal/plastic and paper/cardboard bins will be replaced with mixed recycling bins that can be identified by their UFO-shaped lids, blue bags, and mixed recycling labels.

A dual stream waste station at Tufts Medford campus before the switch which includes a bin for glass/metal/plastic and a bin for paper/cardboard.

A waste station with mixed recycling and trash co-located.

Before this year, Tufts utilized a dual stream system, which required separating glass, metal, and plastic containers from paper and cardboard items. With the switch to mixed recycling, all of these items will be collected in one bin.

What is Mixed Recycling?

“Mixed recycling” means that the items you normally sort into the blue and green-lidded recycling bins (paper/cardboard and glass/metal/plastic) can be disposed of together. The recyclable materials collected will remain the same but will not need to be separated.

The UFO-shaped mixed recycling lids will allow people to dispose of items in a variety of shapes (e.g. bottles and cardboard).

 

Why is Tufts Moving to Mixed Recycling?

  1. It’s more convenient!

The ability to put paper/cardboard and glass/metal/plastic recycling in one bin will make recycling simple and easy, providing the Tufts community with two primary options for disposing of waste: “Mixed Recycling” or “Landfill” (along with composting for food waste in some locations). For example, you might recall mixing your recyclables at the recent President’s Picnic.

  1. Our waste stream is changing

The switch to mixed recycling is a direct reaction to the changing needs of the recycling industry: with increased demand for more efficient packaging and changes in personal habits, the makeup of the nation’s waste stream is changing. At one time, paper made up to 70 percent of the weight flowing through recycling programs, but now it accounts for less than 40 percent in many cities. More complex, lightweight materials have begun to replace paper; Tufts’ mixed recycling program will accommodate the disposal of these changing materials more efficiently.

  1. Mixed recycling will support Tufts’ waste reduction goals

Transitioning to mixed recycling supports Tufts’ larger plan to improve solid waste and recycling efforts in line with the President’s Campus Sustainability Council’s goal of reducing total waste by 3% per year. This system makes recycling easier for everyone and encourages people to recycle rather than send trash to the landfill whenever possible. Every Tufts community member is asked and expected to help the university meet its waste goals by educating themselves about their campus’s move to mixed recycling.

 

Learn more about what goes in the new mixed recycling bins – and what doesn’t – in this short online workshop.