Letter to the Editor:

In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, I sat in my high school auditorium, rapt by a presentation on sustainability and how recycling was something we could all do to save resources. There was the promise of recycled products lining store shelves and the endless cycle of plastics and paper being reused over and over again to the benefit of all Mankind.

Almost fifty years later, with Earth Day 2019 just around the corner, Fanwood and municipalities across America are struggling with a glut of recyclables. The stuff you are throwing into your blue bins may, or may not be recycled any more. The cost of disposing of recyclables has tripled since Fanwood began its curbside program almost three years ago. The city of Philadelphia, which proudly was one of the first big cities to begin curbside recycling more than thirty years ago, is now burning half its recycling. The scenario repeats itself in other cities, as documented in a detailed report on the front page of this past Sunday’s New York Times.

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This didn’t happen overnight. Even when Fanwood had its Recycling Center up until 2016, the writing was on the wall. It was no longer profitable, even two years prior, because the price of recyclables was tanking. The Recycling Association came to the Borough to subsidize their operations. We stepped in and decided that curbside would encourage more recycling. It did. People embraced the program and we now collect an estimated double the recyclables than before. But for what? To have it ultimately incinerated the same as our regular trash?

China has shut the door to the world’s recycling because it’s either too much or too dirty. Other countries won’t be far behind. In the U.S., the recycling process itself is labor-intensive and expensive. Small recycling plants have shut down. The experts say we are bad at recycling in general. We throw all kinds of things into those blue bins that we shouldn’t, so batches of contaminated recyclables simply get directed for incineration. Plastic bags are a special nuisance, clogging the machinery that does the sorting. They claim there are still markets for some recyclables but how many recycled products do you see on store shelves?

The entire recycling model needs to be revisited, as does the law requiring recycling, so that these questions are addressed: What should the end game of recycling be now? Do we need more realistic goals for recycling? What happened to U.S. markets for recyclables and how can they be recovered? What is the state-of-the-technology for incineration?

In the meantime, recycling remains the law in the state of New Jersey. The Fanwood Borough Council and Mayor Colleen Mahr continue negotiating a new curbside recycling contract for the period beginning July 2019. We will be working hard to keep the cost reasonable for our taxpayers. But the question of what happens to all that plastic, paper, glass and metal after it gets picked up at the curb is bigger than our town and requires the attention of the legislature and Congress.

Tom Kranz
Fanwood Borough Council