DPW to Offer Holiday Packaging Disposal Option

By George Stubbs

Packaging, packaging, packaging—it’s that time of year when gifts are being ordered for exchange on Christmas day, and the piles of cardboard, wrapping paper, and plastics of many different varieties, especially Styrofoam, will start to pile up. With many people now shopping on line, there’s even more packaging to deal with, like air pillows and packing peanuts (we won’t go into what’s happening to our greenhouse gas emissions profile with all those delivery trucks on the road).

Disposing of all that packaging in our regular trash increases the amount of garbage that the city sends out for incineration, and thus increases costs to the city. Fortunately, many of us want to do the right thing and recycle that packaging. Unfortunately, a lot of it can’t go in the curbside bin, and we don’t always know what the alternatives might be. There are just so many different categories of packaging, and they’re changing all the time as the packaging industry comes up with new ways to protect products during transfer from the factory to the warehouse or retailer and on to the home.

The Melrose Department of Public Works (DPW) is helping out by holding a special collection event at the DPW Yard on Saturday, January 5, from 8 a.m. to noon. During this event, DPW will accept drop-off of the following items:

• Cardboard (clean and flattened)
• Gift wrapping and other paper
• Clothing and textiles
• Plastic bags (e.g., Macy’s; make sure they’re clean)
• Christmas trees (no wire, decorations, stands, or attached plastic bags; trees will also be picked up curbside in early January)
• Air bubble wrap (cleaned and air removed)
• Styrofoam (the kind that electronic products and appliances come in, not the kind that food comes in).
• Electronics (with a charge for TVs and monitors)
• Tires (additional cost)

Along with Christmas trees, you should consider de-wiring your wreaths (and removing other non-recyclable parts) and recycling them as well.

Other items present challenges, but not insurmountable ones. For example, the “air pillows”—the air-filled plastic-film cushions that many vendors use to prevent the breakage of fragile items during delivery—may pile up in advance of Christmas day, as you empty deliveries for repackaging as gifts. If you don’t want them hanging around until January 5, you have an alternative. You can puncture the bags to deflate them first and then, as with other plastic-film products, bring them to the collection bins at retailers like Shaw’s and Whole Foods. Don’t put them in your curbside bin.

Packing peanuts will not be accepted at the DPW Yard, and they present a little more challenge (and not just in fighting static electricity and getting them off your fingers and clothes). The good news is that packing peanuts can be brought back to local UPS stores, like the one on Middlesex Turnpike in Burlington (maybe save that drop-off as a side trip to the Burlington Mall). According to the phone app iRecycle, the Burlington UPS store accepts clean foam packaging of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Boxes and other packaging materials are welcome as well. Other local UPS stores—but not all—accept packing peanuts. Call ahead for information.

Most gift wrapping, cards, and envelopes—including shiny paper and heavy cardstock—can be recycled, but not all of it. Wrapping and cards with glitter, foil, felt cutouts, metal charms, and ribbon count as trash, unfortunately.

With this guidance in hand, you should be able to properly dispose of most of the packing and other materials that are accumulating in your home during this season. May your holidays be full of joy—and environmentally friendly.

George Stubbs is co-chair of the Melrose Recycling Committee

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Reducing Waste and Reducing GHG Emissions

By Sunil Sainis

Solid waste reduction has traditionally been motivated by a desire to minimize environmental pollution. In decades past, immediate concerns over local pollution shaped solid waste reduction efforts, and the success of these efforts spawned the global recycling industry. Today, recycled materials are part of the global supply chain for various products.

With the globalization of the economy, we have also seen a rise in awareness of the non-local costs of poor waste management. Extremely large scale pollution effects like the “garbage gyre” phenomena in our oceans are well documented, and these impacts are driving critical innovation in the solid waste management field.

The most pressing global pollution problem is greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report indicates, extremely high atmospheric GHG levels are likely to result in irreversible and abrupt climate change.

In the light of this, one is compelled to recognize the following two points:

1. Our GHG emissions are intimately linked with our lifestyles, which emphasize a “single-use” culture—i.e., use an item like a plastic bag once and throw it away. This single-use culture leads to staggering levels of waste.
2. Any recycling process we propose for reducing solid waste carries with it an associated GHG emission footprint, which may not be favorable to reducing the drivers of climate change.

The first point is relatively easier to comprehend. We simply need to identify key elements of our lifestyle that increase GHG emissions and solid waste. If one were to focus on these elements, then we could see significant progress towards the goal of 45% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 set by the IPCC.

The second point is much harder to grasp. At the conceptual level, one has to recognize that waste management is like any other industrial process. Every industrial process has some inputs, some outputs and a feedback loop. Every process is deliberately engineered or evolves to operate at an optimal cost (usually defined as a yield or an energy cost). Any attempt to change either the inputs or the feedback or the outputs results in the process walking away from its optimal state. In the case of recycling efforts (the feedback loop for solid waste), if one defines the cost in terms of GHG emissions, a similar departure from optimum will be observable.

To illustrate some of the challenges described above, consider the case of plastic bottles. People use these bottles as a cheap substitute for reusable glass or metal containers. Only a small fraction (6%) of these bottles are presently recycled, with the remainder ending up in solid waste. From a recycling perspective, eliminating the use of these bottles is ideal. There is a catch, however: the plastic recycled from these bottles is used to make blended textiles, toys, and other plastic containers. If people were to stop using these bottles, the associated recycling stream would disappear and that would lead to increased demand for virgin plastics from the industry that currently use recycled plastics. As virgin plastics typically have a much higher carbon footprint than recycled plastics, this shift does not bode well for reducing GHG emissions.

There are other environmental benefits to removing single-use plastic bottles from the waste stream besides their availability as a feedstock. Plastics in the ocean, affecting the food chain, is a major concern. But this example illustrates that some comprehensive thinking is in order when proposing to disrupt industrial processes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for its part, has looked into these issues in some detail and prepared a set of opportunities for GHG reduction through waste management. It has also offered some guidance in the form of WARMs (WAste Reduction Models) to help with understanding feedback loops in the current process. A careful study of these will be necessary to identify pathways for success in combined reduction of GHG and solid wastes.

Sunil Sainis is a member of the Melrose Recycling Committee and a device physicist by profession.

Compost Food Waste at the Melrose Farmers Market

At the Harvest Market on November 18 at Memorial Hall, Melrose residents will be able to drop off food scrap generated in their homes in a bin to be provided by Black Earth Compost, a Massachusetts-based composting services company. This offering, sponsored by the Melrose Recycling Committee (MRC) in collaboration with the Melrose Farmers’ Market, provides residents with an opportunity to divert food waste from their normal trash, and—for those who are already backyard composting—an opportunity to divert food scrap that shouldn’t go into the backyard composter.

Food waste constitutes a major portion of our weekly waste generation—upwards of 30%, according to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others. Food waste is also heavy, adding to waste disposal costs for the City of Melrose, which is charged by the ton for waste disposal services. Getting food scrap out of the waste stream not only saves money for Melrose, it helps the environment by putting that waste to good use, in the production of compost.

Easy home storage

For those residents who already compost in their backyards, the offering at the Harvest Market will allow you to dispose of items like dairy products, bones, meat, seafood, and animal greases and fats, which shouldn’t go into backyard composters because of the animal attraction problem. Food scrap can be collected in large yogurt containers or other covered plastic containers, paper bags, plastic bags, and milk cartons. To reduce odors, store these containers in the freezer or refrigerator. A layer of shredded newspaper at the bottom of your storage container also helps.

Keep in mind that, when you drop off the food scrap at the Harvest Market, you must empty the container and reuse it or dispose of it in some other way. Plastic bags can be cleaned and brought to the plastic bag recycling bins at retailers like Shaw’s and Whole Foods. Milk cartons and yogurt containers can be rinsed and put in your curbside recycling bin. Paper bags are compostable.

Consider curbside composting!

The Harvest Market will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 18, at Memorial Hall on 590 Main Street in Melrose. Black Earth will remove the food scrap after the event and bring it to its facility in Manchester by the Sea, where it turns food waste into a compost product.

Black Earth also provides curbside composting pickup services in several communities, and it is looking for expressions of interest from Melrose residents so that it can build up the collection route densities that can keep costs down. MRC volunteers will be able to provide more information about this service at the Harvest Market and will take names and contact information from people who are interested. Alternatively, contact MRC through its website or the company directly at https://blackearthcompost.com/. Here’s a link to a video explaining the service: https://youtu.be/MlvKgywcwYg.

Celebrating its 25th season, the Melrose Farmers’ Market provides all Melrose-area residents with the opportunity to buy and learn about nutritious, locally grown and produced foods. The market promotes local farms, organizations and businesses and builds community while contributing to a sustainable future.