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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Beyond the Bin: Exploring Waste Management and Recycling

By Marina Kiriakou -

 


Most of us diligently sort our recycling each week, but there's often a lingering uncertainty about where it all ends up and what truly gets recycled.  This feeling, known as "wish-cycling," reflects the hope that our efforts will make a difference.  In honor of Earth Day, we're embarking on a series of articles to explore the world of waste management, beginning with a visit to the Westchester Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Yonkers.

 

The MRF is a crucial hub for processing recyclables in Westchester County, handling approximately 90 percent of the residentially collected recyclable material.  During a recent tour, the sheer volume of incoming materials was staggering, underscoring the magnitude of our collective waste generation.  Yet, amidst the sea of plastic bottles and paper products, there's a glimmer of hope as the facility works to divert waste from landfills and promote recycling. 


Single Stream vs. Dual Stream

One of the key distinctions in recycling facilities is the approach to sorting materials.  While some facilities opt for single stream processing to streamline operations and reduce truck runs, Westchester MRF employs a dual stream system.  This decision aims to mitigate contamination issues, particularly concerning paper recycling.  In single stream facilities, the co-mingling of materials often leads to lower quality paper due to contamination from glass, plastic, and metal residues.

 

Navigating Contamination

Contamination poses a significant challenge in the recycling process, affecting the quality and marketability of recycled materials.  Despite efforts to separate and process materials efficiently, contaminants like food residue (think greasy pizza cartons) and liquids inevitably impact the quality of paper and other recyclables.  The presence of tape on cardboard boxes further complicates recycling efforts, as removing it manually proves impractical.

 

Quality Control and Market Dynamics

To maintain quality standards, the MRF implements rigorous quality control measures, including audits and grading by external companies.  These assessments determine the level of contamination in recycled materials, influencing the market value and acceptance of bales. While plastics numbered one and two are separated and marketed separately, plastics three through seven are baled together due to cost considerations and market demand.

 

Community Engagement and Waste Reduction

Community involvement and education are essential pillars of successful recycling initiatives. Through public education campaigns and outreach efforts, MRF encourages residents to minimize contamination and adhere to recycling guidelines.  Simple tips such as the “tear test” for paper recyclables empower individuals to make informed recycling decisions, contributing to overall waste reduction efforts.

 

While recycling offers environmental benefits, it also has economic implications.  Revenue generated from recycling offsets some operational costs, but it does not fully cover the expenses associated with waste management.  Nevertheless, recycling presents a cost-effective alternative to traditional waste disposal methods, aligning with broader sustainability goals.


Challenges

Within this dynamic infrastructure, challenges persist, particularly regarding the market demand for recycled materials.  While efforts are made to recycle plastics numbered 1 and 2, there's uncertainty surrounding the fate of plastics 3 through 7, which are comingled and sold in bales.  The mismatch between available materials and end market demand highlights the complexities of the recycling industry and the need for greater transparency.

 

When news outlets, industry experts, and international environmental organizations report that only about 5-6% of plastic waste in the U.S. is actually recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills, the oceans, or being burned, consumers can’t help but wonder if they are making a difference. The truth is complicated, as we will explore in subsequent articles.

 

As we navigate the intricacies of recycling, it's essential to recognize its limitations as a solution to our waste problem.  While recycling plays a vital role in reducing waste, it's only one piece of the puzzle.  There is also a need to address upstream issues such as overconsumption and product design.

 

Local Resources

In Mamaroneck, the Village Committee for the Environment (CFTE) provides valuable information and guidance on sustainable practices.  Whether it's organizing local clean-up events, promoting composting initiatives, or advocating for environmentally friendly policies, the CFTE serves as a driving force for environmental stewardship.

 

What We Can Do

"Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.”  These simple actions can have a profound impact on our environment and help build a more sustainable future for generations to come.  Stay tuned for upcoming articles as we journey into waste management, exploring composting, community engagement, and actionable steps for positive change.

 

Check out some local resources to optimize your recycling:

Village of Mamaroneck Committee for the Environment (CFTE): See HERE. Learn more about the Village Committee for the Environment and their initiatives to promote sustainability.

 

Village of Mamaroneck DPW Recycling Page: See HERE. This page shows hours of operation, location for drop offs, and information about disposing of different material waste.

 

Sustainable Westchester: See HERE. This comprehensive platform provides information on how to recycle efficiently and optimize municipal cost savings.

 

Westchester County Material Recovery Facility Tours: Contact the MRF in Yonkers to arrange a tour of the facility See HERE.



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