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Columbia County pushing NYS to make uniform recycling policy

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    A sign at the Kinderhook Solid Waste Service Station, 2468 Route 9H, informing residents a permit is required to use the county’s recycling service.
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    Visitors walk past a wall of plastics Monday at the pop-up exhibit “Ocean Plastics Lab” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Columbia County Environmental Management Council discussed banning certain plastics in the county at its meeting Monday.
February 1, 2019 03:00 pm

HUDSON — Columbia County is pushing for the state to create a uniform recycling policy so all counties collect the same materials as the next step to improving the county’s recycling program.

Columbia County Solid Waste Department Director Jolene Race told members of the Columbia County Environmental Management Council that the county needs to find ways to clean up its stream of recycled materials.

The Environmental Management Council was created by the county Board of Supervisors in 1974 to offer guidance on environmental issues.

The council also discussed the possibility of following in the footsteps of Albany County in banning the sale and use of certain plastics that cannot be recycled.

“We’re putting pressure on the state to create a uniform recycling policy,” Race said. “Massachusetts did it. All counties should be recycling the same materials, so if someone comes here from Dutchess County it does not matter. We have written letters and have received nothing back from the state.”

The drive for a statewide uniform recycling policy is to educate people on good recycling behaviors after years of lax enforcement of what is accepted at recycling facilities, which has caused a deep contamination of streams of materials, Race said.

“We have not made a good market,” Race said. “And we have inundated the stream with all types of plastics.”

Race told members of the council that Columbia County residents have become comfortable using the historically free county recycling service to dispose of all types of materials, including those that cannot be recycled, and it has caused a nonviable recycle product over the years.

Columbia County also switched to single-stream collection - using one bin for multiple recyclables - about five years ago, which can also make recycled materials less profitable because it is prone to contaminate the material.

The county bids out contracts for companies to process recyclables each year and Race said that this past year no companies bid against Casella Recycling, with which the county renewed a contract in August 2018.

The new contract includes changes to what the processing company will accept. Casella is no longer taking items with plastic coating or wax-coated paper. Race said more changes are on the horizon.

The county began charging a fee to use its recycling service at the start of the year. The service was free since its inception in 1989. The prices of a permit are $50 per household and $35 for seniors age 65 and older.

“I think this wakes people up,” said Stuyvesant Town Supervisor Ronald Knott, chairman of the county Public Works Committee. “When we started talking about the fee, I wanted to clean up the stream.”

The fee, which requires residents to visit their town clerk’s office or local Department of Solid Waste service station, has helped the county with the difficult job of reteaching residents what is acceptable to recycle and what is not, Race said, with county employees explaining the policies to people as they come in to purchase permits.

Because a product has plastic in it does not mean it is recyclable, Race said.

“We currently accept plastics that are ones, twos and fives,” Race said. “It worked great when we were only accepting ones and twos. We should go back to the basics.”

Plastics coded as one are polyethylene terephthalate, which includes soft drink and mineral water bottles, fruit juice containers and cooking oil bottles. Plastics coded as twos are high-density polyethylene, which includes milk jugs, containers for cleaning agents, bleaching agents, laundry detergents and shampoo bottles. Plastics coded as five are polypropylene, which includes luggage, certain toys, as well as bumpers, lining and external trimming of cars.

Other plastics, such as polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride, contaminate the recycling stream either because they are not pure plastic or they are poor-quality plastics, and often they cannot be recycled.

“Our challenge is to educate people again,” Race said. “It is going to get done right now with boots on the ground and face-to-face interactions. It is hard. There is a lot more education coming.”

Columbia County Environmental Management Council Chairman Ed Simonsen said that not accepting the inferior plastics will lead them to the landfills, which he said are already overfilled with plastics. Simonsen suggested that those plastics should no longer be produced.

The council discussed the possibility of the county outlawing distribution and use of certain plastics.

Albany and Ulster counties banned single-use plastic bags distributed by grocery and convenience stores.

Michael O’Hara, a Hudson representative on the Environmental Management Council, asked how the the flow of plastics coming across the county line can be stopped. The county does not have the means to enforce the ban at its borders like the state and federal governments, he said.

“With this ban you are reaching the retailers in the county,” Simonsen said. “You are stopping about 90 percent of the plastics in the county.”

Theresa Mayhew, a non-voting member of the council representing Cornell Cooperative Extension, suggested the move away from plastics such as single-use bags has to start with the market.

“We have to educate the public why it’s important not to use these plastics, not tell them they can’t use them,” Mayhew said. “We have to be realistic about this.”

Devan Singh, a member of the council representing the town of Copake, said a ban would force the markets to change.

“Do you think companies will lose the market here?” Singh said. “They will change with the market.”