Defending Recycling II

By George Stubbs

Since our previous “Defending Recycling” post, the wave of media hysteria about the “crisis” in the U.S. recycling industry has continued to crash. Most notably, the New York Times picked up the crisis narrative on March 17, in an article titled “As Costs Surge, Cities’ Recycling Becomes Refuse” (An on-line version was published a day earlier). The Boston Globe, which picks up many of the Times‘s stories (although the Times sold the Globe several years ago), subsequently published the article on March 18.

Prior to the publishing of the Times article, but subsequent to CNN and Atlantic pieces that we had taken to task in “Defending Recycling,” Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham weighed in with a splendid example of reductionist, either/or argument. Recycling “can’t fix what really ails us,” the column’s headline screams. Reducing what we purchase and then generate as waste is something we should do, she correctly points out, but in her final sentence, she claims that “unburying us is the way to lasting change.”

It’s the “the” that irks. This silver bullet thinking neglects the multifaceted nature of our waste problem and the fact that, though reduce we must, we have generated lots of stuff and will generate a lot more stuff, and we’re running out of places to responsibly put it. And many of us aren’t dealing with our waste responsibly, as the plastics-in-the-ocean problem so tragically demonstrates.

Recycling thus remains part of the solution to our unburying. We will need to take the paper, plastic, glass, and other materials we are generating as waste and do something with them that further embeds a circular economy.

Fortunately, a couple of recent articles have taken a more reflective and positive look at recycling, while recognizing that the industry faces challenges. In Naked Capitalism, a blog that aims to present critical thinking about financial and economic topics, CityLab Editorial Fellow Nicole Javorsky relates “How American recycling is changing now that China won’t take it.” (CityLab conducts research and publishes articles on how cities work and the challenges they face.)

Ms. Javorsky acknowledges that several municipalities have rolled back their recycling operations in the face of China’s National Sword policy, which established stringent contamination standards that have effectively blocked the import of U.S.-sourced secondary materials. She reports, however, that other municipalities have stepped up their recycling efforts, often in collaboration with non-profit recycling organizations. Many of these efforts focus on getting the contamination out of the recycling bins, as the Melrose Recycling Committee is trying to do here in Melrose.

Ms. Javorsky describes similar efforts in other jurisdictions, like Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County in Maryland. “China’s policy hasn’t led Montgomery County to stop recycling anything. It continues to generate revenues from all the materials it recycles,” Eileen Kao, chief of waste and recycling for the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, told Javorsky. The author concludes: “[T]here are strategies that local programs can use, either separately or in combination, to find their way back to health and continue recycling waste. China’s policy change may not represent the much-feared ‘end of recycling’ in the United States so much as an inflection point.”

In another article, published on March 26 in Resource Recycling magazine, reporter Colin Staub suggests that rumors about recycling’s twilight are belied by a number of new investments in secondary materials processing capacity. Recycling industry professionals, Mr. Staub writes, say they are seeing “a continuing commitment to recycling, still-functioning markets and investments in infrastructure.”

Waste Management, the waste industry’s largest hauler and operator of materials recovery facilities (MRFs), is particularly upbeat. That’s perhaps to be expected, but it can point to numbers. “We are seeing our municipal customers focus efforts on reducing contamination in their collection stream rather than eliminating their recycling programs altogether,” Susan Robinson, the company’s federal public affairs director, told Staub. “In fact, of our over 5,000 municipal contract customers, we have only identified two that have chosen to pause or stop their recycling programs to date.” (To read Waste Management’s full March 2019 recycling message, click on Fact Sheet Recycling and Marketing March 2019v2 (1)).

Then there’s the critical addition of new capacity for re-processing secondary materials. In “Defending Recycling I,” we cited ND Paper and Pace Glass as two recycling companies that are investing millions of dollars in new capacity for paper and glass, respectively. The Resource Recycling article mentions more. For example, Pratt Industries, which uses 100 percent recycled fiber in its corrugated packaging products, has built a new single-stream MRF in Atlanta. Pratt is also building a paper mill in Ohio that will process 425,000 tons of recovered fiber per year.

Waste Management says it spent $110 million in 2018 on recycling carts, collection vehicles, and facility upgrades. And in Chicago, the company is building a state-of-the-art MRF in Chicago. Staub cites more such developments in his article.

The criticisms of recycling take two forms. First, the industry as a market is in crisis mode and may not survive. We can see that this narrative is, to say the least, exaggerated and premature. Second, recycling has not solved our problems with hyper-consumption and waste generation, therefore it is part of the problem, and we should stop doing it. The logic here is elusive. We should reduce and reuse, to be sure, but we have generated lots of waste, will continue to generate lots of waste, and we’re running out of places to put it. “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” isn’t just a clever slogan. It’s a succinct statement of a necessary strategy for dealing with our waste generation issues.

Advertisements

Defending Recycling

By George Stubbs

There have been recent media stories suggesting that recycling is a waste of time and energy, or is at the very least an idea that has outlived its usefulness.

To be sure, recycling is a segment of the waste management industry that is under stress. But these media reports only capture bits and pieces of the story, and potentially do a disservice by suggesting that recycling is merely a “feel good” exercise that compounds our problems.

One of those media stories was a report in late February on CNN. The piece opened with some disturbing anecdotes about the consequences of recycling’s current dynamics, such as low commodity prices and China’s purity standards (which have locked out imports of recyclables, or as the recycling industry refers to them, secondary materials). These conditions have led to cities like Philadelphia paying for recycling services rather than being paid for the secondary materials collected.

The news anchor then turned to an “expert”—Trevor Zink, assistant professor of management at Loyola Marymount University—who poured cold water on recycling using some shoddy logic. He noted first that recycling—the process of collecting and reprocessing secondary materials like glass, paper, aluminum, and plastic—is not entirely environmentally benign. Of course it isn’t—no commercial or industrial process is. Who thinks otherwise? To put a finer point on it, Zink provided no comparisons with the processes involved in making products from virgin materials.

He went on to flatter himself as an environmentalist, sanctimoniously declaring that he doesn’t recycle. The reason why was a good example of reductionist, either/or, all-or-nothing thinking that gets us nowhere. He claimed that the availability of recycling encourages us to keep consuming (possibly true, but no evidence provided). In essence, he reasons, because recycling has not been a silver-bullet solution to the problem of our hyper-consumerism, it is part of the problem.

There are no single silver bullets. There are strategies for solving problems that encompass combinations of necessary conditions that aren’t by themselves sufficient. Should we address our hyper-consumerism? Of course. Should we stop recycling because we consume too much? Of course not, any more than we should ditch energy efficiency even though improving miles per gallon (mpg) in motor vehicles or reducing the electricity consumption in appliances has, at times, led to a “rebound effect”: People tend to drive more and plug in more stuff as the energy costs fall (thanks to greater efficiency).

Should we be doing a better job of selling the virtues of recycling? Yes indeed. We need to defend recycling as one among several measures for addressing the fact that we are drawing down our supply of natural resources on the front end and running out of space to dispose of end-of-life products on the back end. We need to build a circular economy, and recycling is an essential part of the solution, even if it isn’t the whole solution.

Another part of the solution is something that, unfortunately, will be the true heavy lift—convincing people to buy less stuff (and buy stuff with less packaging). This was one of the take-aways of a recent article in The Atlantic that has garnered a good deal of attention. The article—whose title ominously asks, “Is This the End of Recycling?”—rightly notes that many U.S. cities and towns want to do the right thing, but they can’t afford it in the current economic climate. Waste management companies are now charging for recycling services because they have no more room to store recyclables, which are piling up because they can no longer export them to China, thanks to that country’s stringent contamination standards.

The rarely told part of the story, of course, is that these companies have had limited domestic options for sending secondary materials for reprocessing. There’s a lot of China bashing without a description of the conditions that led to our dependence on China in the first place.

To a large extent, China’s demand for our recyclables propped up the U.S. recycling industry for many years until the enactment of the purity standards–the so-called China National Sword policy. There are some nuances to the story, however–nuances that media reports on recycling often overlook in their bashing of China and the U.S. recycling industry, and that help make the case for continued recycling.

For example, U.S. recyclers do not and did not send cardboard and #1, #2, and #5 plastic containers to China, as there are good domestic markets for those materials. The same is true of metal cans, especially aluminum.

Glass has always been managed domestically, but for New England, the available re-processing capacity is limited (there are hopeful signs–see below). In addition, finding markets for paper and mixed plastics–#3, #4, and #7–is challenging. (For those who are wondering, #6 plastic is polystyrene, which is hard to recycle as well.)

All plastic film, including plastic grocery bags, presents a significant problem for our domestic recycling facilities. According to a recycling expert at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), this is not a new problem, but there was no pushback on communities by recycling companies when China and other entities were not pushing back on the recyclers. In any case, the expert says, it remains very important for states, municipalities, and organizations like the Melrose Recycling Committee to communicate the importance of keeping contamination out of recycling–of “recycling smart,” in other words.

The upshot of this lengthy discussion about U.S.-China dynamics in recycling is a part of the story that many media reports are ignoring or glossing over: America, the champion of capitalism as the great engine of innovation, has largely dropped the ball on innovation in recycling, and China picked it up. Now China has broad capacity to re-process secondary materials. And not only that: the country’s growing middle class generates all or most of the secondary materials this re-processing infrastructure needs, so it no longer needs our discarded stuff.

China’s newly established, stringent contamination standards may thus be a kind of market protection strategy: A flood of foreign-sourced materials would reduce prices that domestic generators could demand for their recyclables. But so what? Whatever you may think of China’s moves on recycling, the answer isn’t to open that market back up, or to find other foreign markets. The answer is to innovate at home.

There is some sign that action to improve domestic reprocessing capacity is taking place, including actions that should help New England. Last June, Pace Glass began construction on what the company says will be the largest glass recycling facility in the world. The 250,000-square-foot plant, located in North Andover Township, New Jersey, will process recycled glass and deliver the cullet product to glass makers in New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The operation will employ about 80 people at the plant, along with 60 drivers.

Also, ND Paper announced last October that it will invest $300 million in the addition of recycled-pulp production lines at its recently acquired virgin paper mills in Biron, Wisconsin, and Rumford, Maine. Incidentally, ND Paper is the U.S. subsidiary of Chinese paper giant Nine Dragons. So it seems China will once again be helping the U.S. recycling industry—this time, here at home.

One important note–and reiterating a point made earlier: even if we do revive a robust domestic re-processing industry, we will still have to reduce the contamination of the recyclables stream. Our businesses are just as inconvenienced by contamination as the Chinese businesses.

Responding to the issues raised in the Atlantic article, the MassDEP Public Affairs Office put the situation quite well: “We are in a down market—yes. Probably the worst in the past 20 years. But recycling is a commodity and has always been susceptible to market fluctuations. If one looked at the costs of recycling over time, say the past 10 years, you will see savings over disposal costs. The key is not to panic with responses that can have negative long-term impacts.” MassDEP added, “As important as recycling is to a cost-effective solid waste management system, one should not ignore the additional environmental and public health benefits of reducing solid waste disposal.”

Which brings us back to the central point of the Atlantic article: We need to consume less. As the article notes, in 2015 (the most recent year for which EPA data is available), we Americans generated 262.4 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), which represented a 4.5 percent increase over 2010 and a 60 percent increase over 1985. We consume massively and toss our stuff at the least sign of blemish or dysfunction. An “out of sight, out of mind” mentality still prevails. The cost will be reflected not only in rising prices for dwindling landfill space, but also in damage to the environment and public health, as organic waste in landfills breaks down into methane—a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—and as toxic chemicals are released from incinerators and landfills into the air, water, and land.

We live in a market-oriented society, in which every industry experiences ups and downs. The recycling industry is no different. It is in a down cycle now, but there is hope that it will come back. Market societies also count on innovators to keep industries humming, and again, the recycling industry is no different. Innovation in recycling and re-processing will be absolutely necessary to deal with the wastes that are already filling our landfills and fouling our land, our waterways, and our oceans, and to deal with the waste that will continue to be generated, even if we are making great strides on consuming less. But we must not forget that conservation side to the coin—the imperative to use less. Recycling only encourages us to consume more if we fail to understand the whole story, and all of the consequences of our actions.

Multiple Environment Bills before Mass. Legislature

By George Stubbs

The Massachusetts state legislature has kicked off the 2019-2020 session with the introduction of numerous bills addressing environment and sustainability issues and concerns, including waste, energy, climate change, and pollution control. These bills include measures introduced or co-sponsored by Melrose’s representatives on Beacon Hill, Senator Jason Lewis (Democrat-5th Middlesex) and Representative Paul Brodeur (Democrat-32nd Middlesex).

Sen. Lewis recently joined with members of the Melrose Recycling Committee, the Melrose Energy Commission, and other member organizations of Sustainable Melrose to provide an update of environment and sustainability activities on Beacon Hill. Joining these groups were representatives of sustainability organizations in Wakefield. Rep. Brodeur was invited to come but could not join the discussion, as the Massachusetts House of Representatives was in an important session to determine the rules and committee assignments for the coming legislative term.

Which, if any, of the newly introduced bills makes it through to passage is difficult to say so early in the legislative session, when the respective chambers have only just set the rules of order and committee assignments. Thousands of bills are introduced in any given session; fewer than 100 typically make it to the finish line—and still fewer are bills of sweeping significance. But this is the season of hope—and action.

One measure that has a fighting chance is a bill that would limit the use of single-use plastic bags state-wide. A similar measure passed in the Senate during the last session but did not make it to the floor of the House—reflecting the dark mystery of legislative sausage-making embedded in the fact that, for reasons requiring some “inside baseball” to understand, the Speaker of the House (Robert DeLeo, Democrat-Winthrop) and the President of the Senate (Karen Spilka, Democrat-Ashland) wield significant power in determining which bills come to the floors of their respective chambers for a vote.

The plastic-bag measure has been re-introduced during the current session as HD134 in the House. As of February 6, the bill had upwards of 90 co-sponsors (there are 40 members of the Massachusetts Senate and 160 members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives; any of the 200 legislators may co-sponsor any proposed legislation in either chamber). By all accounts, the Senate will pass the bill again, and with a large number of cosponsors, to go along with more than 90 cities and towns across the state that have enacted their own plastic bag bans, there is high confidence that HD134 will pass the House and be signed by Governor Charlie Baker.

Several other newly introduced bills address environmental and sustainability-related issues in the current session. During the recent discussion with Sustainable Melrose, Sen. Lewis handed out a list of such bills that have been introduced in the state Senate, with short descriptions. Those bills include the following:

  • An act relative to energy savings efficiency (Energy Save Act, SD767): This bill would establish updated energy and water efficiency standards for common household appliances.
  • An act to reduce solid waste, increase recycling, and generate municipal cost savings (SD62): This bill would implement a number of strategies to reduce solid waste and increase recycling, including setting specific municipal recycling performance targets, strengthening oversight and enforcement of waste bans, strengthening regulation of waste haulers, and improving the collection and reporting of solid waste data.
  • An act to expand the Green Communities program to mitigate climate change (SD1710): This bill would expand the existing Green Communities program with a new designation, called “Green Plus.” To achieve this designation and access additional grant funding from the state, communities would need to establish a greenhouse gas (GHG) baseline and plan to reduce their carbon emissions over five years.
  • Resolve to protect pollinator habitat (SD61): This measure would establish a commission to study opportunities for improving pollinator (bee) health by increasing and enhancing native pollinator habitat. Such opportunities could include limits on the use of neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide widely believed by biologists to be responsible for significant honey bee mortality in the state and around the country.
  • An act to explore alternative funding sources to ensure safe and reliable transportation (SD870): This measure would create a voluntary vehicle miles traveled (VMT) pilot program to evaluate ways to protect data collected, ensure privacy, and vary pricing based on time of day, type of road, proximity to transit, participation in carpooling, income of the driver, and vehicle fuel.

For more information on these bills and others, please visit the Massachusetts State Legislature’s website. Read up and please contact your representative or senator if you support any of these measures.

Recycling Committee staff compiled the following list of environment- and sustainability-related bills introduced into the House of Representatives for consideration during the current session:

Reducing Reliance on Plastic Wrap—and Saving Sea Turtles Everywhere!

By Katie Turner Getty

“You know, sea turtles think plastic wrap is a jellyfish and they eat it. Then they get sick.”

I had just removed plastic cling wrap from a dish, and was about to toss it into the garbage can when my friend’s daughter spoke. I looked at the balled-up plastic film in my hand. It was true.

It did kind of look like a jellyfish.

Haltingly, I explained that I’d already used the plastic wrap, and it was dirty now, and I had to throw it away. So I did. Knowing that plastic wrap is not biodegradable and knowing that it poses a threat to marine life, I simply threw it in the trash.

But I haven’t forgotten about it. In fact, every time since then that I’ve thrown plastic wrap in the trash, I’ve recalled the conversation I had with my friend’s daughter—and the definite resemblance plastic wrap bears to jellyfish.

As I embark on the second month of my personal #SingleUsePlasticChallenge, I’ve decided that, in honor of sea turtles everywhere, I will give up plastic wrap.

My new years’ resolution this year is to give up one single-use plastic item every month for twelve months. Last month, I stopped packing my lunch in single-use sandwich bags and instead started placing my lunch in a reusable plastic container. A very small step, to be sure—but my new years’ goal is to implement small changes to my daily routines that are sustainable in the long-term.

Reducing my reliance on plastic wrap will prove to be especially tough for me this month given that I’ve also been trying to minimize the amount of wasted food within my household. In fact, I believe my success in reducing food waste has had the undesirable side of effect of increasing my usage of plastic wrap—I typically preserve leftovers by wrapping them in cling wrap!

The conversation about sea turtles and jellyfish was still fresh in my mind at Christmas, when I had the opportunity to participate in a “Yankee swap.” At the swap, I angled for a set of five glass containers, which I was fortunate to obtain. My plan is to store food in the glass containers rather than wrap dishes in cling wrap. The glass containers will require washing—which will slightly increase water usage. But hopefully this negative will be greatly offset by not adding my used plastic wrap to the plastic pollution that is choking our oceans and waterways and harming animals.

As I continue my personal journey to reduce my consumption of single-use plastics, I still plan to eschew single-use plastic sandwich bags. I’ll also work hard this month to use my new glass containers to store leftover food. I also learned of a more traditional, time-tested method of storing food in the refrigerator—placing a saucer on top of the dish to form a seal. (Added bonus: You can then stack items on top of the saucer!) This method is, of course, much less convenient than simply stretching some plastic wrap over a dish. But the chance to save some sea turtles is definitely worth the added effort!

I’ve been surprised by how many times during my personal #SingleUsePlasticChallenge I’ve been tempted to quit. Negative, defeatist thoughts often crowd into my mind such as, “You are one person—what possible difference can you make?” But then I think of a sign that I saw a climate activist holding that posed a question: “What will you tell the future children of the world that you did?” And, it’s simple: As we face the threat of climate change to ours and future generations, and the relentlessly increasing wave of plastic pollution in our oceans, I do not want my answer to be “nothing.”

I hope others, too, will decide to embark on their own personal challenge and try to reduce reliance on single use plastics. Do you have any pro tips to help others minimize the use of single use plastics? If you do, please help me and others learn by leaving some comments on the Melrose Recycling Committee blog, or by sharing some tips on social media or to the Melrose Free Press or Melrose Weekly News.

DPW 2019 Calendar Features Second Swap Day

Start saving your reusable items now. This year, you’ll have more opportunity to help them find a new home.

The Melrose Department of Public Works (DPW) has released its 2019 schedule for curbside trash and recycling collection and special events, and the schedule has an addition that should be exciting news for Melrose residents. During 2019, DPW will be offering not one but two Swap Day events—in the early fall, as it has done for the past several years, but also in the spring. The scheduling of the second Swap Day is to a great extent a response to public demand for additional opportunities to exchange usable household items rather than throw them out.

The 2019 Swap Days, organized by the Melrose Recycling Committee (MRC) with the support of DPW, are scheduled for June 15 and September 28. Both events will take place in the City Hall parking lot, as they have in years past. DPW and MRC will provide more detail on acceptable items as the dates approach.

Also on the 2019 calendar are two household hazardous waste collection events. As in recent years, the City of Melrose is collaborating with its neighbor, Stoneham, in these events. The first HHW collection day will be on Saturday, June 29, most likely at Stoneham High School. The second HHW collection day will on October 26 at the Melrose DPW Yard on Tremont Street. Both events will be open to the residents of both cities; the Melrose event is also likely to be open to residents of other towns, at a fee structure to be determined. Check back with the DPW (https://www.cityofmelrose.org/trash-recycling) or MRC (https://melrecyclingcommittee.wordpress.com/) to obtain information about collection hours, fee structures and a list of acceptable items as the dates approach.

The full schedule of recycling events is as follows:

• April 20: motor oil/gas/antifreeze drop-off
• May 18: paper shredding (with JRM, the city’s waste contractor)
• June 15: Spring Swap Day
• June 29: hazardous waste collection (Stoneham)
• September 21: motor oil/gas/antifreeze drop-off
• September 28: Fall Swap Day
• October 19: rigid plastics drop-off
• October 26: hazardous waste collection (Melrose)

During the Saturday events on April 20, May 18, September 21, and October 19, Melrose residents will be able to drop off tires (for a fee), electronic products (fee for TVs and monitors), and other items. These items, which are listed along with any associated fees on the calendar, can also be dropped off at the DPW Yard during the week. Tires and electronic products will not be acceptable for drop-off during the HHW collection events.

The DPW 2019 calendar also specifies the dates for curbside collection of yard waste and Christmas trees, as well as metal products (for which stickers must be purchased in advance).

The Melrose Recycling Committee, an all-volunteer organization, extends is deepest appreciation to the Melrose DPW for its dedication to curbside recycling, and to providing opportunities for Melrose residents to properly dispose of hard-to-recycle items that cannot go into the curbside bins. Our DPW is working hard to make recycling work well and bring benefits to the City of Melrose.

Taking on Single-Use Plastics in the Home

By Katie Turner Getty

With the support of the Melrose Recycling Committee, I’ve decided to embark on my own #SingleUsePlasticChallenge during which, every month in the new year, I will try to take steps toward reducing my reliance on single-use plastics. I plan to document my personal journey in the hopes that other Melrose residents will feel inspired to join me in minimizing our usage of single-use plastics.

This personal challenge was recently spurred when I looked into the trash container in my kitchen one day and saw a mound of discarded, non-recyclable single use plastic products such as sandwich bags, freezer bags, and plastic wrap. It’s been established for decades that plastic never biodegrades. Rather, many plastics merely break down into tinier and tinier particles, which then insidiously contaminate the environment.

Days passed, and I reflected upon how the heap of single-use plastic in my trash would end up in a landfill, eventually contaminating the ground and water. I also remembered, as an elementary school student way back in the 1980s, learning about the danger that plastic posed to the environment. Now, thirty years later at the dawn of 2019, I feel disheartened to realize how little progress we’ve made toward eliminating this environmental hazard.

I had also been ruminating over the recent release of the federal Climate Assessment report and feeling great anxiety about its dire outlook related to climate change. I felt an overpowering sense of hopelessness and despair for our collective future. Certainly I do not wield enough power to single-handedly reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. I desperately wanted to take action to protect our environment—but what could I, one powerless individual, do? The problems seemed so insurmountable: how could I make a difference?

Then one night I was packing my lunch to take to work with me the next day, as I usually do. I put a sandwich in a single-use plastic sandwich bag. But then I realized—I had an opportunity to take action. It was a small action, no doubt, but action nonetheless. I could choose to stop using the sandwich bags. I could stop contributing to the heap of plastic in my trash barrel by simply choosing not to use a baggie and, instead, putting my sandwich in a reusable container every day.

So I did. It was such a simple thing. I’m almost embarrassed to express how great it felt to take action. I was finally—albeit in a very small way—aligning my actions with my values. It felt amazing to consciously take on the responsibility to fight for our environment in a very tangible way. In my excitement at making a tiny difference, I started wondering what else I could do—and thus my own personal single-use plastic challenge was born.

Admittedly, starting the new year by simply using a reusable sandwich container instead of a baggie is a very small step. But it is something that everyone can do. I’m just a regular person with a busy schedule and an ordinary amount of environmental awareness. But I feel that, as climate change and environmental pressures continue to worsen, it’s incumbent on me as a citizen of the Earth to do better. My plan is to set realistic goals and then implement changes to my daily routines that will be sustainable over the long term, and I will encourage my family and friends to do the same.

I know that many people are much further along the path toward eliminating plastic consumption than I am. Others might have already come up with great solutions to reducing reliance upon single-use plastics. If so, I encourage you to help me and others learn by leaving some tips and tricks in the comments section of the Melrose Recycling Committee blog, or by sharing some tips on social media or to the Melrose Free Press and the Melrose Weekly News. My hope is that we as a community can all move together toward our common goal of mitigating the hazards of single-use plastics and protecting our environment.

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