Solid waste chief: You can’t recycle every piece of plastic

HUDSON–County Solid Waste Department Director Jolene Race attended the county’s Environmental Management Council (EMC) meeting this week to talk about recycling and why county residents are now paying for the privilege.

The EMC was created by the Board of Supervisors to advise “on present and proposed methods of using, protecting, and conserving the environment for the benefit of all the people,” according to the group’s page on the county website.

At the start of the new year, for the first time, the county set a fee for residents who use the solid waste stations for recycling. Now when people bring their paper, glass, metal and plastic to any county solid waste station to be recycled, they need a permit. The window sticker permits are available at several town halls and also at the waste stations. The cost for the permit is $50 a year or $35 for residents 65 and older; they cost $100 for out-of-county residents.

Ms. Race told the members of the EMC that she has been with the Solid Waste Department since the county started the recycling program in the 1990s. The county currently has a contract with Casella Recycling, a private hauler, and several years ago the company required waste stations to adopt single stream recycling: with paper, plastic and other materials mixed together.

Ms. Race said that was not a good thing. The county went from a 2% contamination rate–unacceptable items or materials mixed with recyclable ones–to 20% contamination.

“We didn’t have a choice,” she said of the change to single stream recycling.

Ms. Race also said that “everything is now plastic” compared to when the county started the program. People who recycle mix all kinds of plastics together, some of which cannot be recycled.

Part of the need for the permit is that the tipping fee – what the county pays for a private hauler to remove the recycling – has gone up from $60,000 to $250,000. And China decided last year that it will no longer accept US recyclables, a move that has impacted the market for recyclables.

Ms. Race praised the Board of Supervisors for imposing the new county fee, saying that in other counties boards have decided to absorb that cost in their budgets. But she said that with a fee, people might think about what they are recycling.

“Most people want to do the right thing,” she said. But when she recently visited some of the county’s solid waste stations, she saw diapers and paper plates with food on them in the recycling bins, and those are among the items that are not recyclable. “We have to educate people again,” she told the committee. Ron Knott (R-Stuyvesant), deputy chairman of the Board of Supervisors, who attended the committee meeting, said the permit fee “woke people up” to the issue with recycling.

“You’re going to see a change in the whole recycling industry,” Ms. Race predicted, pointing out that the numbering system used to identify different types of plastic items will most likely be going away and some plastics that can’t be recycled will also be taken off the market.

But she said one big issue is that there are no state standards on what plastics can be recycled. “It’s New York State we need to focus on,” she said, adding that a recycling protocol should be set for the whole state and not on a county-by-county basis.

Ms. Race said that she only knew of few other counties that have put in place permit fees like the one in Columbia County. She said that most people she talked to were supportive of the permit fee.

For her, an important task ahead is getting information about recycling to residents. She said that takes “boots on ground” and her office now has only two people.

The county will only accept plastics marked “1,” “2” or “5” for recycling. There is also a list of recyclable products on county’s website, under the Solid Waste Station Department.

“Change is hard but it’s a necessity,” Ms. Race said.

Also at the meeting, the EMC, which is made up of representatives from all the towns in the county and the City of Hudson, discussed proposing that the Board of Supervisors ban polystyrene plastic. One committee member asked about enforcement of a ban, asking, “Who’s going to watch them?” a reference to companies, especially supermarkets, that use polystyrene.

Other committee members said they needed to see a model of the ban from another municipality before recommending a ban to the Board of Supervisors.

Council members also received copies of the newly completed Natural Resource Inventory for the county. They will be taking the inventory back to their towns and giving a copy to the town Planning Boards. The committee is writing a resolution for the Board of Supervisors to accept the inventory. They plan to put an inventory in every library in the county.

The EMC meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the first floor meeting room at the 401 State Street County Office Building in Hudson. Meetings are open to the public.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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