Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Puzzling over Plastic Bags

I recently gave a talk on recycling to the Middleburg Womens Club, and one of the questions that came up was what to do with Ziploc plastic bags. Then they went on to tell me about a recycling project they’ve undertaken that involves collecting plastic grocery bags and weaving them into mats. This gave me the idea that maybe it’s time to shed some light on recycling plastic bags.

Most of us know how to recycle numbers 1 and 2 plastics. They’re usually bottles or jugs, and they go in the plastics container at your local recycling drop-off. Or, if you have a single stream service, you just put them in the big bin they give you and place it on your curb for pickup. Easy peezy.

But many of us scratch our heads when it comes to recycling plastic bags, even though they’re made from nearly the same material as bottles and jugs. It turns out they’re easy to recycle also, but they just take a different route because they have a different shape. Most plastic bags are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE, #2 plastic), but the thinner bags, such as produce bags, are made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE, #4 plastic).

Rigid plastics, like gallon milk containers, are typically processed by machines working off conveyor belts. But throwing plastic bags into the mix wreaks havoc on these machines, as the bags bend easily and get snagged in belts. They jam machinery and need to be cleared by hand. 

You probably know that most communities don’t accept plastic bags in their curbside bins. But many grocery chains and big box stores have bins set up to collect bags, and some dry cleaners accept number 4 plastic dry cleaning film. As with other materials, plastic bags should be clean before you toss them in the recycling container; be sure to remove any residue and paper items such as receipts and wrappers.

But what exactly can you put in the bin at your local grocery store? Most bag collections accept HDPE and LDPE in many forms. This includes plastic shopping bags, food packaging (those Ziploc-type bags), bread bags, plastic liners from cereal boxes, produce bags, dry cleaning bags, plastic newspaper wrapping, product wrapping (such as the cover on a case of water bottles, etc.), and bubble wrap and air pillows (popped). Black bags such as big trash bags are harder to recycle and sometimes not accepted at store collection bins because the plastic is dyed and produces dark pellets, limiting the reprocessing options.

Plastic bag recycling involves chipping the bags and melting them down into pellets. While pellets can then be reprocessed into new bags, they will most likely be shipped to a company like Trex for manufacturing into plastic lumber.

As you would probably guess, there are plenty of reasons to justify recycling plastic bags. Recycling a ton of plastic bags (about 450,000) saves 11 barrels of oil. It minimizes litter; think of all the bags blowing along our highways. And plastic bags are among the most common sources of marine debris, where they can be mistaken as food by birds and fish.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Compost Happens Here

If you drive down Park Road in Monroe Township toward the municipal office, you might see their new composting complex that just went into service this past summer. This is a sign of a trend in the waste management and recycling world, as composting is becoming more popular. It provides a means of recycling yard waste back to the earth, keeping it out of landfills, and it yields a soil amendment and mulch that work well in gardens and many other applications.

With this new addition, Snyder County residents have a handful of options for recycling their yard and wood waste. As one option, you can take them to Hawks Landscaping in Monroe Township or Shaffer Landscapes in Middleburg. Landscaping companies like this typically grind the waste into mulch for use on their landscaping projects.

Monroe Township’s new facility is open to township and Shamokin Dam Borough residents.
They accept leaves, brush, and trees, while they don’t accept grass clippings, kitchen waste, or construction debris. They don’t take grass because it may be contaminated with chemicals such as fertilizer and weed killer. Wood waste such as trees gets ground into mulch; the township uses this on its grounds and parks and makes any left over available to residents.

Penn Township has a compost site at the end of Gaugler Lane across from the Salem Lutheran Church, and it’s open to all county residents seven days a week dawn to dusk. They accept lawn and garden waste, including branches, grass clippings, and plants. Signs show you where to place each type of material. They tub grind the trees into mulch, which is available to anyone, and finished compost is also available. Materials not accepted include chemically treated wood products, Black Walnut leaves and trees, diseased or insect infested plants, weeds, material infected with emerald ash borer, and construction waste.

While the Monroe and Penn Township facilities are laudable, you may notice that neither accepts food wastes. I bring this up because this has become a big issue in the waste world. Food waste comprises about 20 percent of the waste stream going to landfills, and waste experts see composting it as a way of diverting it from landfills. Adding to the equation is the fact that an estimated 40 percent of the food produced in this country ends up wasted.

Composting food waste involves several complex issues such as odor and varmint control and higher costs, so it’s understandable that Monroe and Penn Township don’t accept them at their facilities. But the technology exists to incorporate food waste into compost systems. In this region, Penn State and the Borough of State College have been leaders. State College offers curbside pickup of food wastes for residents, and Penn State collects food waste from its cafeterias on campus. Maybe someday Snyder County can get to this level.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority

570-374-6889, x-115

Friday, November 30, 2018

Recycling Glass a Tenuous Situation

It might be hard to believe, but once upon a time, glass was the king of recycling and one of the more desirable commodities. After all, it can be recycled infinite times without loss of quality, and everybody uses glass bottles and jars.

But today, the scenario has switched, and glass lives at the bottom of the recycling food chain. Many MRFs (materials recycling facilities) have stopped taking glass or are considering it. Why the shift? For starters, while there is an ample supply of recycled glass and processors that can use it in Pennsylvania, they say there’s not a good infrastructure for transporting the material between the two. The basic material used in making glass – sand – is readily available, so it doesn’t take much to stack it in favor of using virgin material. On top of that, using recycled glass saves about 20 percent of the energy of using virgin material; while this is enough to justify recycling, it doesn’t compare to other recycled materials such as aluminum cans, which saves 95 percent of the energy of using virgin.

But perhaps the biggest reason for the downfall of glass is the emergence of single stream recycling systems. Everybody loves their convenience because you can throw everything into a single container, including glass. But glass doesn’t actually work well with single stream. If you try to move it on conveyors for processing and separation from other materials, it shatters, and pieces of glass become dangerous projectiles. Single stream processors sort the glass from the recycling stream as early as possible and do what they can to get rid of it. It’s usually a hodge-podge of many materials mixed in with shards of glass.

The local situation with glass came into view recently when Lycoming County Resource Management Service (LCRMS), who picks up loads of recyclables from our drop-offs and processes them at their facility in Montgomery, called us in for a meeting. It seems their vendor charges them for disposing of the glass from single stream and recently raised their price. On the other hand, they pay for glass that comes from source-separated drop-offs like ours, but they’ve lowered their price. In response, LCRMS considered dropping glass from their program, meaning we would have to stop taking glass at our drop-offs. But they stopped short of that and decided to increase the rates they charge singles stream haulers. They pointed out that the source-separated glass they get from drop-offs like ours goes to a plant in Pennsylvania and gets turned back into bottles - this works largely because we sort it by color.

LCRMS also pointed out that they’re seeing more contamination in source-separated glass. With the glass situation as tenuous as it is, they encourage residents to take some measures, which we second. For starters, only put glass bottles and jars in drop-off containers. NO ceramic cups, plates, drinking glasses, mirrors, window glass, ovenware (like Pyrex) or light bulbs, as these have different material characteristics from bottles and jars and aren’t compatible in recycling. Also, NO plastic bags, cardboard, or trash should go in with your glass. And they encourage single stream users to separate their glass out and take it to a source-separated drop-off.

Surveys show that some 92 percent of people want to keep glass in the recycling mix, so processors like us and LCRMS strive to keep it viable. With your help in sorting at our drop-offs or with single stream, we can continue to keep recycling it into the future. Thanks for your efforts.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Recycling Paint

What to Do With Paint

Most of us go through it. In our garage or basement, we collect cans of paint and other finishes of various types, conditions, and amounts thinking we might need them. We put off dealing with the growing pile until a day of reckoning comes and we either have to move and clean the house for sale or we run out of space. How do we dispose of all those cans of paint?

This is one of the most frequent questions we get. The first option we encourage people to pursue is donating the paint to a worthy cause. Maybe your local school, church, theater, or scout troop could use it for various projects. You can try Habitat for Humanity.

The type of paint you have makes a big difference in what you can do with it, as latex (water-based) varieties are much easier to dispose of than oil-based. With latex, if you have a small amount in a can, you can get it dry and hardened by leaving it exposed with the lid off or by putting clay-based cat litter in it to soak it up. Then you can dispose of the can in the trash or recycle it at a scrap metal facility if there’s not much left in it.

For oil-based paints, about the only option is to take it to a facility licensed to dispose of it. It won’t get recycled in the usual sense; it will probably get burned as fuel. Unfortunately, there are no such facilities in Snyder County, but a handful of them are scattered around the state, both private and municipal. A quick search brought up these possibilities an hour or two away:

Center County Recycling & Refuse Authority, 814-238-7005
Bower Disposal Company (Williamsport),
Monroe County Municipal Waste Management Authority, 570-643-6100
Hazardous Waste Experts, 888-681-8923
Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority HHW Facility, 717-397-9968

Another option for paints is to take them to a special collection event for household hazardous wastes. We held one in June at the Monroe Township shed, and we have another one scheduled for October 26-27 in Beavertown at the fire department and carnival grounds. Municipalities typically hold these events, and they bring in outside contractors to collect household chemicals, including paint, usually charging a fee. We’re using a company called ECS&R, and they charge $1.45 per pound for chemicals. You may want to keep this mind and do a quick estimate based on what you have so you’re not shocked by the price. At the June event, we had many people bring latex paint in. If you follow the procedures above, you can dispose of it yourself and save the cost.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority

570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Numbers Please, Part 2

In May, we presented numbers for the materials recycled in Snyder County in 2017, first for the entire county and then broken down by municipality. But there’s more. Here, we give you figures for our recycling drop-offs and individual businesses.

2017 Numbers for our Recycling Drop-Offs (tons):
Penn Township – 263
Freeburg Borough – 167
Selinsgrove Borough – 102
Franklin Township – 82
Monroe Township – 59
Spring Township – 55

2017 Numbers for Businesses (tons):
Conestoga Wood Specialties – 12,228
Bingaman & Son Lumber – 12,013
Shaffer Landscapes – 4460
National Beef – 1190
Cherry Hill Hardwoods – 1004
Walmart – 500
Lozier Corp. – 412
Weis Markets – 317
Target – 251
Giant Foods – 209
Lowes – 169
Aldi - 134
Dollar General – 104
Wood-Mode – 89
Midd-West School District – 78
Kohls – 72
Iron Mountain – 68
Ollies – 51 tons
U.S. Postal Service - 42
Best Buy – 33
Beavertown Block – 27
Staples – 26
Northway Industries – 23
Auto Zone – 6
Irvin’s Country Tinware – 5
Verizon – 3
Community Action Agency - 3

The numbers for wood-related businesses such as Conestoga, Bingaman, and Cherry Hill come mainly from wood waste, and those for Shaffer Landscapes come mostly from yard waste. These generate inherently higher numbers than other recyclable materials. If you discount that, National Beef comes out on top. Like the nearby big-box stores along the strip, National Beef recycles mostly corrugated cardboard boxes. Cherry Hill and Weis Markets showed the biggest improvement in their tonnages last year.

You may wonder how we get our numbers. For the drop-offs, we get them from Lycoming County Resource Management Service, as they pull the materials for us. For the larger businesses, PROP (Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania) gathers them from regional and national offices and disseminates them to all the recycling coordinators in the state. Haulers give us their numbers for residential and commercial materials as well. And many of the businesses report their numbers to us themselves; they’re actually required to by law, but there’s no enforcement of that, so we appreciate their efforts.

We congratulate the municipalities for making our drop-offs a success and the businesses for their recycling efforts.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority

570-374-6889, x-115

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Numbers Please

Once again, we have collected numbers from businesses, organizations, and haulers so we can calculate how many tons of materials Snyder County recycled the previous year, as required by Act 101. In turn, DEP uses our figures to calculate recycling tonnages for the state. This process allows us to monitor our progress and serves as a basis for grant money we receive.

Below is a chart of the numbers for 2017 for the entire county, along with two previous years for comparison. Metals include aluminum and bimetal cans, while organics includes leaves, wood waste, and yard waste as well as food waste. All numbers are in tons.

Countywide Recycling Numbers

Single stream
928 tons

The numbers indicate we’re holding steady with our recycling efforts, but there’s room for plenty of improvement. Single-stream recycling is up, indicating more residents are subscribing to the service through haulers. Tonnages for glass, metals, and plastics are down slightly, probably because of the increase in single-stream. Corrugated cardboard is up, probably because of all the online shopping we do and the boxes that generates; credit Amazon for most of that. Selinsgrove Borough wins the prize for the most residential recycling, while Monroe Township is tops in commercial recycling if you discount organics. This makes sense because Monroe includes the Route 11/15 strip and most of the big-box businesses there.

Materials Recycled by Municipality in 2017 (tons)

Beavertown Borough
Franklin Township
Freeburg Borough
McClure Borough
Middleburg Borough
Middlecreek Township
Monroe Township
Penn Township
Perry Township
Selinsgrove Borough
Shamokin Dam Borough
Spring Township
West Perry Township


Thanks again to all county residents, organizations, municipalities, and businesses that recycled in 2017 and those who reported your numbers to us. By measuring our recycling tonnages, we can continue to make progress in recycling and sustaining our planet.

Our software generates so many numbers we can’t get them all in one article. So stay tuned for more.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority

570-374-6889, x-115