September 26, 2018

Recyclables in Plastic Bags Will Not Be Collected

By Anne Levin

If you use plastic bags to dispose of recyclables, don’t expect your recycling to to be picked up any time soon. Princeton is getting tough on those who continue to dispose of newspapers or any other recyclables in plastic bags, Mayor Liz Lempert said at the Monday, September 24 meeting of Princeton Council at Witherspoon Hall.

“Plastic bags and other contaminants will not be picked up,” she said. “We have a real problem in this country, and here in Princeton, with plastic bag recycling. Our recycling costs are going up by 40 percent with our new contract next year, in part because China has closed its doors to U.S. recycling. But we are working with our hauler to clean up our own, and see if it will bring our costs down.”

Plastic bags interfere with the mechanisms used in recycling. “They get into the gears and break the machines,” Lempert said. “They are the worst thing you can put in your recycling.”

Lempert said the town wants to work with the hauler on the problem. The hauler, in turn, wants assurance that Council “will back them up when they get angry phone calls,” said Lempert. “We are in conversation with them to find the best way to go.”

Council President Jenny Crumiller commented that she is supportive of the idea, as is the Department of Public Works. Councilman Tim Quinn suggested asking Mercer County to come up with an enhanced education mechanism to solve the problem.

“It seems there is more to be done to reinforce what does and doesn’t go [in the recycling buckets],” he said. “I was unaware you should no longer crush cans or bottles because it gums up the works and is not currently a best practice. So let’s write to the county and ask them for ideas.”

Two weeks ago, Lempert sent a letter to participants in Princeton’s organic waste program saying it was at risk for the same reason — participants are routinely including plastic bags and utensils in the waste. As a result, the material has been going to an incinerator in Tullytown, Pa. for the past several months.

On the municipal website, Sustainable Princeton’s Guide to Recycling lists accepted materials for recycling as paper, window envelopes, cardboard, telephone books, softcover books, hardcover books with covers removed, glass jars and bottles, aluminum and metal beverage containers, pet food cans, milk jugs, plastic beverage bottles, detergent and shampoo containers, juice and beverage boxes or cartons, and plastics with #1 or #2 symbols. In bold letters, it reads “NO PLASTIC BAGS.”

“You can recycle plastic bags by bringing them to McCaffrey’s or in the bucket that is here [at Witherspoon Hall], down the hall,” Lempert said. “There are five locations for the buckets throughout town. But you can’t put them in recycling or compost buckets without causing major grief for the town.”