Robert Miller: State looks to expand recycling program
Published 4:31 pm, Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Mattresses, unframed, are rectangular lumps with the potential for moldering.
If they get wet, they rot.
Even in fairly good shape, they have weight and a shifting bulk, as anyone who’s helped a friend move can attest.
They clog up the works at garbage incinerators — they don’t break down and they snag on the machinery.
That is why the state’s new mattress recycling program, funded by the manufacturers themselves, is proving welcome.
Rather than get mixed in with the trash stream, the mattresses are collected and trucked to in-state recycling facilities, where they are dismantled and their parts — springs, wood, padding — are packed off for reuse.
“Like anything else, it has to catch on,’’ said Ellen Rossini, office manager of Ridgefield’s public service department, which collects mattresses at its recycling center. “But it’s working out very well.’’
“It’s going fantastic,’’ said Mike Zarba, New Milford’s public works director.
From July through December, Zarba said, people from New Milford, Brookfield and Sherman brought 450 mattresses to New Milford’s recycling center.
That’s 20,000 pounds of trash taken out of the waste stream that haulers won’t have to pay for as garbage, Zarba said, and more room in Dumpsters for other things.
“Mattresses don’t compact well,’’ he said.
The program is one of three in the state — along with paint and electronics — where the manufacturers of the product are taking some responsibility for getting them out of the environment.
“It closes the loop,’’ Bingham said.
To create them, the DEEP has to negotiate with the companies that make the products, trash haulers and municipalities.
But, Sawyer said, the DEEP is looking at least three other bothersome things — tires, carpet and batteries — as candidates for what are called extended producer responsibility programs.
“If the costs can be shared, it’s a more equitable system,’’ Sawyer said.
Thinking about more EPRs comes as the DEEP prepares to release a comprehensive materials management plan, due out in February.
It also comes as the state has launched an ambitious plan to recycle about 60 percent of the state’s waste stream by 2024. That’s about twice as much as the state now manages to recycle.
“We’ve been stuck at 25 percent, 30 percent for 20 years, 30 years,’’ said DEEP commissioner Robert Klee this month. “We could be doing a much better job.’’
It also comes at a time when the worldwide market for recyclables — in China and elsewhere — is plummeting.
“Low oil prices affect the price of plastics,’’ Bingham of Winter Bros. said. “Plastics are a petroleum-based product.’’
One way to get people to recycle more, Sawyer said, is simply to get them to follow current state regulations. Some people are fastidious about it, he said.
Others — especially people who live in apartments and condominiums where there are communal Dumpsters — may not do any recycling at all.
One method that has proven to work is to relieve people of the work of separating glass, cans and papers into different bins and just put everything into one big bin — what’s called single-source recycling.
“We’ve seen recycling go up from 9,000 tons a year to 12,000 tons a year because of it,’’ said Cheryl Reedy, assistant director of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority, which manages the waste for 11 Danbury-area towns.
“We’ve learned that if you give people a big bin, they’ll recycle more.’’
Towns are also beginning to study municipal composting programs — getting food waste out of garbage.
Bridgewater started a pilot composting program in 2014. HRRA Director Jen Iannucci said Newtown and Ridgefield are planning to follow suit.
Light years away from Connecticut are places like British Columbia.
There, the provincial government started a program to make the producers of a wide variety of materials — including all paper, cardboard and several kinds of plastic — pay for recycling the things they produce.
That money funds a nonprofit organization, Materials Management British Columbia or MMBC, which has taken over trash management for much of the province.
“If they’re going to produce this, they have the responsibility for getting rid of it,’’ said Allen Langdon, managing director of the nonprofit, who spoke this month at the DEEP headquarters in Hartford.
Langdon said the MMBC now collects a wide variety of things, including coffee cups and Styrofoam packaging.
Because it has established a uniform system of recycling throughout British Columbia, the program is “incredibly efficient,’’ Langdon said, reselling 80 percent of everything it collects.
“We collect more Styrofoam in British Columbia than in all of the United States,’’ he said.
And, Langdon said, when companies have to pay for the packaging material they send out in the world, they start minding what they’re doing.
He gave one example of this: A bottled water company in British Columbia was packaging its cases of water using both cardboard and plastic film.
To reduce its levy to MMBC, the company used a heavier-grade plastic film, ditched the cardboard and saved money there as well.
“It’s like any other business,’’ Langdon said. “If you have a cost, you learn how to manage it.’’
Contact Robert Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org