Does Recycling Really Happen?

Does Recycling Really Happen?

By Mary Ann Kelly

What happens to your recyclables after you put them in the bins for curbside collection? We have all heard the news that China stopped taking imported recyclables and most of our recyclables end up in landfills.

But here in Westchester County, that is not the case. More than 90% of the County’s recyclables collected at the curb are recycled and turned from waste into usable products. At a recent webinar (“Recycling? Is it Working?”) sponsored by Saw Mill Audubon Society on April 28, 2022, Louis  Vetrone, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Facilities, stated that recyclables go to the Daniel P. Thomas Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Yonkers. This plant receives 80,000 tons a year of recyclables. It recently underwent a retrofit and an update. Now high tech optical sorting equipment shoots thousands of laser beams per second through each plastic container to identify the resin type. This allows the county to continue recycling plastic containers coded 1 and 2 and also collect and recycle containers coded 3 through 7, including yogurt containers, plastic cups and take-out food boxes.

About 6% of the materials are rejected due to contamination. About 92% is marketed and recycled. The recycling rate in Westchester is 50%, which is high for the Northeast. However, these numbers can fluctuate year to year because this includes organic matter. So a year that has a major storm with lots of tree damage might be higher because of tree and soil debris. 

Last year, Westchester made $2 million in profit from recycling, according to Vetrone. Financially, recycling makes sense compared to costs of solid waste removal, which cost $105 a ton to dispose of. Most of the County’s residential waste goes to the Waste-to-Energy facility in Peekskill. The full program on recycling is on SMRA’s YouTube channel.

So what do we recycle? When in doubt, recycle it?

No, non-recyclables are one of the biggest challenges faced by the County. Plastic bags should not go in the bins. They can cause fires at the MRF. Plastic bags can be dropped off at large grocery stores and retail businesses for recycling. If a plastic container is not cleaned, throw it out as it may contaminate other items in the recycling bin.

Mandated recyclables include food, beverage, detergent and shampoo containers and caps. With the expansion of the County’s Source Separation Law, all Westchester residents, businesses, schools and institutions alike are required to separate for recycling all empty plastic containers marked with the triangular chasing arrows symbol and coded with a number 1 through 7 in the center. A quick reference guide is found on the Westchester County Environment webpage:    

Mixed paper items include corrugated cardboard, file folders and office paper, newspaper and mail. Cardboard should be flattened and broken down. Wet paper is a huge problem so it is important to keep it dry, if possible. Milk cartons should be placed in the commingled bin and not added to paper. For more information, read the Recycle Right Guide with Q&As and the Pocket Guide, also available on the Westchester County Environment webpage . You can also call (914) 813-5425, the Recycling HelpLine, for more information or if you have additional questions.

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