RCC: The Fate of Our Recyclables

Fitchburg Star - Oct. 11, 2023

You may have heard or read articles in the last couple years that recyclables are not actually being recycled but instead are going to landfills.

Fortunately that is not the case for Fitchburg's recyclables picked up by Pellitteri, Fitchburg's waste and recyclables hauler. Fitchburg's Resource Conservation Commission (RCC) met with Pellitteri to find out what happens to our recyclables after they are picked up at our curb.

According to Pellitteri:

Corrugated paper, aka cardboard, is made into more cardboard.

Paper is used to make tissue, paper, napkins, toilet paper and paper towels.

Paper cups are now recyclable! The fiber from these cups is used to make tissue paper, container board and paper board.

Plastic bottles are used to make landscape edging and drainage tiles for construction sites and farm fields.

Glass is used to make more glass bottles.

Aluminum cans are usually turned into more aluminum cans.

Small appliances (which are recyclable curbside) contain several different materials, including metal, glass and plastic, all of which can be separated and recovered. After processing and decontaminating, these materials are used to make more products.

All of the recyclables collected by Pellitteri are kept in the United States, most in the Midwest. None are shipped overseas to become the receiving country's problem.

So, please, keep recycling . . . after first reducing your volume of recyclables and reusing what you can.

You can help improve our recycling rate by following these tips:

Keep your paper and cardboard dry. Water is a big contaminant of paper and cardboard. It reduces their recyclability.

Rinse out bottles and cans. They don't need to be thoroughly washed, but food residue should be removed. Example: Don't put a jar of peanut butter that still has peanut butter clinging to the sides in your recycling cart. You can leave the top on plastic bottles.

Put the top of cans in the can and crimp the top. The top by itself is too thin and likely won't get recycled. Contrary to popular belief, don't crush your cans. Crushed cans have a higher chance of not making it through the automatic sorting process which sometimes can cause them to get discarded.

Nothing with a battery can be recycled curbside.

Don't contaminate the recycling stream with wish-recycling, i.e. putting items in your recycling container hoping that they can be recycled. Fitchburg's website includes a list of everything you can recycle curbside. When in doubt, you can call Pellitteri directly at 608-257-4285.

Common items found in recycling carts that cannot be recycled curbside include: rubber hoses, twine, plastic lids on paper cups and electronic cables. (However, electronic cables can be recycled at Fitchburg's spring and fall e-cycle events.)

Styrofoam (aka polystyrene) cannot be recycled curbside. You can recycle it by dropping it off at Fitchburg's Drop Off Site on Fish Hatchery Rd. Styrofoam is used to make picture frames and other similar items. Please do not contaminate the styrofoam by dropping off packing peanuts and thin foam wrap. These items are not recyclable.

Many other items can be recycled but not curbside. Fitchburg's website includes a Recycling Guide with hard copies available at City Hall. The Recycling Guide includes lots of information about how and where to recycle a particular item.

Plastic bags cannot be recycled curbside. Many retail stores and grocery stores accept plastic bags for recycling. Unfortunately, an investigation by ABC revealed that only about 11% of the plastic bags dropped off at stores for recycling actually get recycled. The rest are either land-filled or shipped overseas where they become another country's problem.

Recently, I was driving behind a semi-truck with a trailer packed full of plastic bags, presumably destined for recycling. Even though the trailer was covered, bags, pieces of plastic and even an entire empty garbage bag blew out in the wind, littering the landscape.

Americans go through 100 billion(!) plastic bags each year. After doing the Resource Conservation Commission's annual waterway cleanup, I can tell you that many of those plastic bags become litter where they end up in our ponds and streams, polluting our waterways and harming aquatic life.

The solution is easy: STOP using/consuming plastic bags. However, with shipping and packaging, that's much easier said than done. A more feasible action is to REDUCE the number of plastic bags you use/consume by using reusable bags, paper bags, reusable produce bags and glass storage containers.

Pellitteri now has an app you can download. The app can be set-up to remind you to put out your refuse and recycling carts and notify you of delays in pick-ups. The app and Pellitteri's website include a Recycle Right Search Tool which tells you what can be recycled and how.

Pellitteri also has over 30 short videos of recycling tips on their website (pellitteri.com), most of which follow Fitchburg's recycling options. The exception is styrofoam, which as I mentioned, you can recycle by dropping it off at Fitchburg's Drop Off Site on Fish Hatchery Rd.

So, again, please keep recycling. our curbside recyclables are being recycled right here in the Midwest. Then, consider going one step further and closing the loop by buying products made with recycled material.

Thanks for doing your part to conserve our resources by reducing, reusing and recycling wisely.

Diane Streck is a member of the Fitchburg's Resource Conservation Commission.