Changes affect Appleton, Union residents

Transfer station stops recycling no-longer-profitable plastics

By Louis Bettcher | Apr 10, 2018
Photo by: Louis Bettcher A sign at the Tri-County Solid Waste transfer station outlines the plastics that will no longer be accepted for recycling at the facility.

Union — The Tri-County Solid Waste transfer station announced April 1 that a variety of plastics will no longer be sorted or recycled on premises, but should be disposed of by residents in their trash bags.

A white sign affixed to a wall at the station's recycling center informs users that plastics numbered 1,3,4,5 and 7 will no longer be accepted, and should be placed along with other trash in garbage bags. The numbers of specific plastics can often be identified on the bottom of the container. Examples of the above-numbered plastics include certain yogurt containers, plastic vinegar and ketchup bottles, as well as peanut butter jars.

The facility will continue to recycle number 2 plastics, which are sturdier and are typically used for water bottles and milk jugs. David Stanley, who manages the Union facility, said the recent change in plastic recycling resulted in part from the fact that several plastics have become much less valuable recently, and that sorting them has also proved time-consuming and difficult.

Tri-County, which serves residents of Appleton, Liberty, Somerville, Union and Washington, ships the recyclables it collects to Lincoln County. Stanley said the recent changes may prove more profitable for the transfer station, and will yield a quality of product that is more valuable to international markets.

A global event that impacted transfer stations throughout the state was China's decision Jan. 1 to discontinue recycling a number of post-consumer plastics and papers. Known as the "National Sword" policy, the change means that China will no longer accept more than 20 materials. Up until this point, China had been a major importer of post-consumer materials from the United States.

Stanley relies on two or three employees throughout the week to ensure that waste and recyclable materials are disposed of or sorted carefully, but said as the volume of waste has continued to increase, this has become challenging. He said the numbers on containers indicating their category also have proven difficult for some people to read -- which results in items' being placed in the wrong bin, or being thrown in with the trash anyway.

"Up until the last moment, we looked at what it would take to make this happen," Stanley said April 9 regarding exploring the feasibility of continuing to accept plastics 1, 3 ,4 ,5 and 7. In the end, Stanley said, the April 1 change wasn't a surprise to him, and he didn't feel it was fair to Lincoln County Recycling to ship it a product that was of poor quality or little value.

One silver lining, Stanley said, is the fact that the plastics no longer recycled at the transfer station will not end up in a landfill. The household waste collected at Tri-County is shipped to a facility in Portland, where it is incinerated by EcoMaine, and the waste is used to create energy.

Within the first week of the new recycling plan, Stanley had explained the change and the reasons for it to a number of visitors to the transfer station, and said going forward he is always happy to share information about recycling and waste disposal with customers.

"Some people might have been throwing these [plastics] away anyway, but some people are also very concerned with what they can and cannot recycle," said Stanley, who hopes that this change may serve as a catalyst for customers to seek out more information about what happens to their waste after they leave the transfer station.

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