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

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

New Format for Recycling Events

Most of you know that our annual recycling events are quite popular, as many of you have old, broken, and obsolete electronic devices to get rid of in addition to refrigeration devices and scrap metal. Once again, we have two events planned for this year, the first one June 1-2 at the Monroe Township shed and the second one October 26-27 at Beavertown Rescue Hose Company. For both events, the hours run 3-7 pm Friday and 9 am-1 pm Saturday

But while the locations are the same as in the past, we’re staging these under a different format. For starters, we’re collecting household hazardous wastes. This includes those chemicals you have stored around the house and have been meaning to dispose of for years, including paint, insecticides, automotive fluids, and cleaners. We used to hold such a collection day separately every five years or so. Now we’re combining it with electronics, refrigeration devices, scrap metal, clothing, and books.

We’ve arranged for ECS&R, a private contractor, to collect the hazardous wastes and electronic devices, while our usual partner HandUp Foundation of Milton will collect refrigeration devices, scrap metal, books, and clothes. ECS&R does it differently than we’ve done it in the past. For one thing, you must have an appointment to drop off hazardous chemicals or electronics. You can arrange this by calling 866-815-0016 or visiting (click on “homeowner recycling”). Having an appointment will reduce your waiting time and allow traffic to flow smoother.

ECS&R charges for electronics and household chemicals by the pound. They charge $1.45 per pound for chemicals and .60 a pound for CRT electronics and .40 a pound for non-CRT electronics. One tip for electronics: For larger, older devices such as TV consoles with wooden cabinets, strip the electronics out of them so you’re not paying for the wood and plastic. All financial transactions are between the resident and ECS&R. We’ll be taking donations to cover miscellaneous expenses we incur.

Hope to see you at an event or two.

Notice: The authority is still looking for a volunteer to fill an open position on its board. Join a good cause in advancing recycling in Snyder County. Contact Tom Gibson at or 570-374-6889, ext. 115.

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

570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Those Oddball Plastics

Most of us faithfully sort our number 1 and 2 plastic bottles and put them in the correct container at the local recycling drop-off. But in the process, we wonder about those other plastics we have to throw in the trash. You know, things like foam cups, yogurt cups (number 5), and number 2 butter tubs. What about the number 3-7 plastics; can we recycle them? The definitive answer is yes…and no. The whole situation is confusing because different places accept different combinations of plastics, often with restrictions.

You may have a single stream subscription where a hauler gives you a big tub, and you fill it with all kinds of materials, including 3-7 plastics. Most of this goes to the Lycoming County Resource Management Services in Montgomery, where they have a system for processing single stream.

The Selinsgrove drop-off has a container for 3-7 plastics, which are taken to Lycoming County. However, only Selinsgrove residents can use the drop-off because they pay a $12-per-quarter fee for recycling. Our other five drop-offs only take 1 and 2 plastics, meaning mostly bottles. We’re looking at putting in a container for 3-7 plastics at one of our other drop-offs, but the market for them is down, so we’re waiting for prices to rebound before we proceed with it. Lycoming County currently stockpiles bales of it because they can’t find a market for it.

To say drop-offs and processing systems take 3-7 plastics is actually a misnomer. They can’t take number 6 polystyrene (foam) because it’s too light and blows around on the conveyors that handle it; you can take that to HandUp Foundation in Milton because they have a system for melting it down into bricks. They can’t take number 3 LDPE because plastic bags get caught in the shafts in single stream conveyors. They can’t take number 4 vinyl because it’s usually too big, like a long piece of siding or window shutter. While you may be able to put these materials in a container, the single stream processing system will have to pick them out for landfilling. In the end, 3-7 actually boils down to number 5 (polypropylene) and 7 (other).

On the good side, these systems do take non-bottle number 1s such as food containers and number 2s such as butter tubs (as an exception, don’t include black PETE food containers such as clamshells). Even though these are made from the same PETE and HDPE materials as bottles, they use a different molding process that changes the materials’ characteristics, so the same recycling process won’t work on it. However, single stream has more flexibility to handle different materials because it relies heavily on photo sensors, which can be trained to sense many materials by shape and size.

The issues with plastics came to light recently when an article in the Daily Item told how the Sunbury Transfer Station temporarily gave up accepting 1 and 2 plastics because they couldn’t find anybody to take them cost effectively. They recently reached a deal with Trigon Plastics in Newmanstown to take 1, 2, 5, and 7 plastics. Trigon is a unique entity that makes plastic lumber, which they in turn use to manufacture plastic furniture. They set up a recycling facility to collect plastics, and they pull out natural-colored HDPE to use for making lumber and bale and sell the rest on the open market.

With this in place, Snyder County residents can now take their 1, 2, 5, and 7 plastics across the river to Sunbury. Just pay 75 cents to raise the arm to let you in. So at least we do have some options, and hopefully, we’ll have more in the future.

See how well you know your plastics. Here’s the numbering system:
1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE; soda bottles)
2 – High-density polyethylene (HDPE; milk jugs, detergent bottles)
3 – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC; pipe, siding)
4 – Low-density polyethylene (LDPE; plastic bags)
5 – Polypropylene (PP; yogurt cups)
6 – Polystyrene (Styrofoam; coffee cups)
7 – Other

Notice: The authority is looking for a volunteer to fill an opening on its board. Join a good cause in advancing recycling in Snyder County. Contact Tom Gibson at or 570-374-6889, ext. 115.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Cartons Take Their Place in Recycling

If you’ve spent any time in a grocery store, you know about cartons and see them all the time. The ubiquitous boxy containers are used for myriad types of juice, milk, broth and other beverages and foods. Yet, when it comes to recycling, they take a back seat to the more prominent materials such as plastics, paper, cardboard, and metal cans.

But that’s changing, thanks largely to the Carton Council, a trade group of carton packaging manufacturers who have united to grow carton recycling in the United States.

Why do we even need cartons if we have all kinds of plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and bimetal cans available? With an average of 94 percent product and only 6 percent packaging, cartons use the least amount of material. Their composite structure of plastic and paper gives them a high strength-to-weight ratio. That means they require less energy to transport.

Cartons come in two types: shelf-stable (or aseptic) and refrigerated (gable-top). Shelf-stable ones are for products such as fruit juice, soy milk, soup, broth and wine found on the shelves in grocery stores. Refrigerated cartons are for products such as milk, orange juice, cream, and egg substitutes found in the refrigerated section. Both types are made from paper with thin layers of polyethylene plastic, and shelf-stable cartons contain a layer of aluminum as well.

Actually, a typical carton consists of five layers. The innermost is polyethylene to form a liquid barrier, and then comes aluminum for light, odor, and oxygen protection. The middle layer is another polyethylene coating, and then you have paperboard for stability. The outer layer is another polyethylene coating for a liquid barrier. A typical shelf-stable carton averages 74 percent paper, 22 percent plastic, and 4 percent aluminum. The refrigerated cartons usually consist of 80 percent paper and 20 percent plastic. You may see other products that look like cartons because they have a wax coating, such as ice cream and take-out containers, but these are not included in the definition of cartons.

Unfortunately, we don’t take cartons at our recycling drop-offs in Snyder County. But you can put them in single-stream recycling if you subscribe or otherwise have access to it. Hometown Disposal and Waste Management are two haulers that offer it in our area. Single-stream materials go to Lycoming County Resource Management Services, just like our other recycled materials.

To prepare a carton for recycling, first make sure it’s empty; there’s no need to rinse it. Don’t flatten your carton; optical sorters used at material recovery facilities sense 3D shapes better than flat ones. And place the cap securely on the carton if you still have it.

At the materials recovery facility, cartons get separated from other materials, and from there, they get shipped to paper mills. Here they are mixed with water in a giant blender called a hydra-pulper to separate the paper from the plastic and aluminum. Once this is complete, the paper fiber is transformed into products such as tissues, office paper, and even building materials like ceiling and roofing tiles. The plastic is often used to make shipping crates and building materials. (The ultimate question: Why not more cartons?).

However, the plastic is sometimes left combined with the aluminum to create a material called a poly/al mix. Some mills use the material for generating energy, while others sell it to plastic manufacturers that use it to make plastic lumber. In some cases, the material ends up in a landfill.

For building materials, the whole carton can be used, and the carton’s plastic becomes the binder that holds the boards together. Headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, The ReWall Company is a manufacturing company that converts plastic coated paper waste into what they label “healthy, high performance green building materials through a low energy, eco-friendly recycling technology.”

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Recycling Better Than Landfilling

Note: This ran on the editorial page of the Daily Item newspaper in January, 2018

In his two 12/18/17 articles on solid waste disposal and recycling in the valley, Joe Sylvester painted a revealing picture of what happens to our trash. He told how most of it goes to the Wayne Township Landfill in Clinton County or the Lycoming County landfill in Allenwood. Many folks in Sunbury and Northumberland, Union, and Snyder counties take their trash to the Sunbury Transfer Station, which then conveys it to the Clinton County landfill and also has extensive recycling operations. Sylvester goes on to say that the statewide recycling program has kept a lot of paper, plastics, glass and metal out of the ground, reducing the amount of trash going into landfills. But while I commend this effort to shed light on our solid waste and recycling situation, as a recycling advocate, I’d like to clarify and expand on a few things.

The article says Sunbury’s transfer station trash business breaks about even each year, while recycling is projected to show a $50,000 loss this year, citing the fact that the market for recyclables has been down. The article also says that both landfills have ample room for future expansion, with the Wayne Township Landfill having 23 years of additional disposal capacity. These two facts would lead you to believe it’s acceptable to landfill our materials rather than recycle them. We beg to differ and feel recycling is always the preferred option, for several reasons.

Indeed, the markets for recycled materials have been down for awhile, making it difficult to make a profit or break even on them. We look at recycling as a glass-half-full scenario; when markets are good, you make money, and when they’re down, it becomes a utility that you pay for, like sewer, trash, or electric power. The problem is, it’s hard to charge residents for recycling like municipalities do for other utilities, making it difficult to generate revenue. Recycling gets treated like the proverbial step child when it comes to economic analysis, as not all the costs and externalities are accounted for to create a level playing field.

As perhaps the main argument, recycling saves huge amounts of energy, water, and virgin resources over landfilling materials. As the prime example, recycling aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy required to produce virgin aluminum. Even at the low end of the spectrum, recycling glass saves 20 percent.

In addition, recycling reduces landfill space required, and this is significant because landfills are complex and costly. Thinking long term, we’re running out of land as our population grows; 23 years of landfill space is not much in the overall sustainability equation (think seven generations).

A look at the status of recycling in this country shows that we have a lot of work to do. The overall U.S. recycling rate has been stuck at around 34 percent for the past decade, and it has actually dropped slightly the last year or two.

In Snyder County, we have a network of six recycling drop-offs spaced so most county residents have easy access to one. Two boroughs, Selinsgrove and Shamokin Dam, offer curbside pickup. Materials are source separated, meaning residents sort them by hand at home before they bring them to a drop-off. Some residents subscribe to a single-stream service, where you just throw all the materials into one container. Surrounding counties have similar setups.

The article said that in 2016, Snyder County recycled 1,748 tons of materials. By our numbers, we actually recycled 4,961 tons, including 803 tons of single stream, 182 tons of glass, 3042 tons of paper and cardboard, 158 tons of plastics, and 776 tons of metals (mainly bimetal cans). The difference stems from the fact that much of it comes from big-box stores and other industries along the Shamokin Dam strip recycling cardboard, which doesn’t go through Lycoming County.

The article also says Snyder County pays Lycoming County to pick up the materials from our drop-offs, currently $130 per container. While the county pays a large portion of it, the six individual municipalities that host our drop-offs pay many of the expenses incurred. Kudos to them for keeping our recycling operations flowing … and that much material out of landfills.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator

Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority