Cocalico Area Leaders learn about recycling changes

By on August 1, 2018

Municipal government, education and police department leaders in the Cocalico area heard Kathryn Sandoe, Chief Communications Officer at Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (LCSWMA), explain why Lancaster County recycling programs, as well as those nation-wide, had to change.

United States manufacturers use recycled materials, just not the large quantity generated. Where do the rest go? Mainly to China.
In the last 20 years, China’s manufacturing economy has soared. Chinese industries used recycled fiber (mixed paper like newspapers, junk mail and other items) and plastic in manufacturing and the U.S. imported many Chinese produced goods.

This arrangement offered a good way of operating for many years, Sandoe said. Then the contamination crisis hit.

Lancaster County residents recycling efforts increased when newspapers, metal, plastic and glass could all be placed in one container. These items would be separated at a Material Recovery Facility, or MRF (pronounced “merf”), as they’re known in the industry.

Recyclables are compacted into bales. A contamination rate of five percent per bale was acceptable. Contamination could be excess food left in cans or glass containers. Or, it could be flagrant contamination such as people who think because a disposable diaper has some plastic, the entire, used diaper can go into the recycling bin.

Other common recycling bin contaminants include Christmas tree lights, plastic toys and deer heads. When newspapers are put into plastic bags, the bags tend to blow off at the MRF, get wrapped around conveyer belts and cause equipment break-downs.
“There’s no one at the MRF opening plastic bags filled with newspapers,” said Sandoe.

While many people are considerate and don’t put newspapers outside in wet weather, others are not. If one person’s wet newspapers are dumped into a recycling truck, the entire load can become contaminated.

Over the years the contamination rate of bales exported greatly increased, causing many problems when they reached their destination. China changed regulations in 2017-2018 to allow each bale to be no more than 0.5 percent contaminated. Stringent inspections, a crack-down on smuggling banned goods and suspension of issuing new licenses as well as not renewing others followed.

All of these events culminated in LCSWMA redefining recycling with an emphasis on simplifying and standardizing the process. LCSWMA works with other regional counties including York, Dauphin, and Chester.
Simplicity means thinking about recycling the big four, including: 1) corrugated cardboard (flattened); 2) plastic bottles and jars with necks; 3) metal food and beverage cans, and 4) glass jars and bottles.

Photo courtesy of LCSWMA
Remembering the “big four” is the simplest way to recycle.

While some places in Lancaster County do take items like egg cartons and newspaper, it’s not acceptable to throw these in your recycling bin. LCSWMA has a process that converts these and other garbage bag materials into renewable energy.

Sandoe concluded with “when in doubt, throw it out.” This applies, she said, to those jars of peanut butter which require inordinate amounts of hot water and scraping to clean out properly.

This July 24 educational program was hosted by Denver Borough. Cocalico leaders next quarterly meeting is October 23 at 7 p.m. in East Cocalico’s municipal building, 100 Hill Road.

Alice Hummer is a correspondent for the Ephrata Review.

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