Mayoral Musings: Resolve to Recycle

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New recycling requirements speak to our commitment to environmental awareness and conservation.

To recycle or not to recycle, that is the question. While it’s not exactly what Shakespeare asked, it is a question we’ll have to deal with in 2019. With the turn of the New Year, the Cumberland County Improvement Authority (CCIA) will be accepting only #1 and #2 plastics. This change means that we will no longer be able to dump any old plastics into the recycling container as a “single stream” of recyclables.

Instead, we will need to look for the recycling symbol and its corresponding number to determine whether it goes into the recycling bin or the regular trash. The bottom line is that now, “single stream recycling” will require residents to do some sorting. In addition to numbers 3 and 6, which never were part of the recycling stream, the CCIA will no longer be able to accept plastics numbered 4, 5, or 7 for recycling. Beyond plastics, residents should also refrain from placing any contaminated cardboard into recycling containers.

As to why these changes are being made, it’s about the broader market for recyclable materials. Back in August, in this same space, I commented on the fact that we’ve basically had the luxury over the last few decades of shipping our plastics, glass, cardboard, etc., in a single stream, over to China. The Chinese then sorted the good from the bad and did with it what they would in terms of giving these materials a second life. Those days are gone.

China is no longer an emerging economy with extraordinarily cheap labor needing or willing to accept, sort, and clean our single stream of materials. For us, that means we’ll have to change our habits when we dispose of recycling materials. Change is not easy and there will be some starts and stops, but change needs to happen because of shifts in the recyclable market, and for the health of our planet.

The bottom line is that the costs to dispose of our waste as well as the cost associated with recycling will go up. How much more these costs will increase depends to some degree on how diligent we are in sorting our recycling materials.

A good example of more efficient recycling is Germany, which recycles over 60 percent of their waste as compared to the U.S, where we recycle only about half that amount. So it can be done.

As mentioned above, any plastics numbered 1 and 2 should go in the recycling container. Any plastics numbered 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 should go into the solid waste stream. Beyond plastics, you should also place glass bottles, cans, newspaper, magazines, and cardboard into the recycling stream. If there’s any doubt, throw it out.

A good information resource is the Cumberland County Improvement Authority website which provides details on accepted items by visiting

One other point to note: We need to make sure that we remove caps and lids and to take some care in rinsing out containers with food and drink residue. That may not sound like much, but it is easier and more cost effective for us to rinse out a single bottle or can at home than for workers to add that step on the back end for literally tens of thousands of pounds of recyclable materials.   

As we go forward, we should expect more and demand more in terms of recycling, conservation, and putting forth solid public policy that is matched with adequate public investment. Most reasonable people understand that there is an environmental impact. What we sometimes miss is that this is an issue that can’t be solved by government from the top down; it is something we all have to be involved with in our daily lives and in our homes.

This will mean paying closer attention to the regulations, taking an extra moment to check for a number on the bottom of plastic containers, or checking a website occasionally. Mostly, it will mean changing habits and cultivating a mindset about waste disposal, a fragile environment, and the idea that we can give materials a second, third, and even a fourth life while conserving limited natural resources.

In 2019, it starts with a little cleaning and sorting of plastics before placing them into our recyclable containers and dragging them out to the curb each week.


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