Why it’s Getting Harder to Get Garbage and Recycling Picked Up in Westfield

With bulky waste pickup possibly canceled this year, residents are encouraged to bring their junk to the Westfield Conservation Center. Credits: Michael Bruchert

WESTFIELD, NJ – Changes in the recycling industry have trickled down to Westfield. 

In June, the town announced that household recyclables will be subjected to stricter guidelines to qualify for curbside — no more shredded paper or plastic bags. 

“Our vendor, Giordano Company, is also moving toward the elimination of plastic types #3-#7 as recyclable items, but will continue to honor the collection of these items in Westfield for the duration of the town’s contract through the end of 2018,” reads a fact sheet on the town of Westfield’s website.

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Another casualty? The town’s annual bulky waste pickup, also known as “junk day” was canceled this June because no contractor bid on the job.

“Part of the reason we had no bidders is the recycling commodities market’s really dropped off in bulky waste,” Town Administrator Jim Gildea said. “The cost of doing that service has really increased quite bit and a lot of towns have been experiencing the same thing.”

The town could offer bulky waste pickup in the fall if someone bids on the job, but Gildea warned that the cost may be prohibitive.

The issue comes down to changing policies in China, which was formerly a major importer of recyclables.

“They have put restrictions on the quality of material we are shipping to China, limiting the amount of material we can ship there,” explained Jeffrey Bryk, head of Westfield’s Solid Waste Advisory Board and sales supervisor for Republic Service waste management.

In 2017 China initiated a Green Sword policy, which banned the import of some kinds of solid waste and set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials. Contamination of recyclables is caused by food residue and non-recyclable items entering the system.  

 “When non-recyclable items (contamination) end up in your recycling loads, they have the potential to turn the entire load into trash and increase processing cost, resulting in a contamination and/or service charge,” according to a letter from Giordano Company, Westfield’s contractor for recycling.

Some of the top contaminants in curbside recycling today are:

  • Food
  • Latex Gloves
  • Batteries
  • Styrofoam
  • Ropes/Chains/Cordage
  • Diapers
  • Hard Cover Books
  • Clothes/Shoes
  • Plastic Bags

Single-stream recycling, which makes recycling easier for consumers, results in a lot of garbage getting mixed in, Bryck said.

“They are rejecting our loads and restricting what we ship now,” he said. “My company, Republic, we truck material to Newark docks. They are spot-checking these bales at the docks before they get put on the ships, and they will reject the whole load if they find one bale that is contaminated.”

As a result, the cost to get rid of solid waste has increased. In April 2017, a residential single-stream mix cost $5 per ton for disposal, Bryck said. “Today they are charging you anywhere from $70 to $80 per ton.”

Despite these changes to the market, Bryck isn’t ready to panic.

“It is not a crisis,” he said. “It is not good. People always want to recycle, and it is the right thing to do. This will work itself out and the markets will turn around again. We need to re-educate people as to what is recyclable and what is not. “

You can find an updated list of acceptable and unacceptable items for curbside recycling on the town of Westfield’s website here.

And there is some good news: Thanks to a $10,000 Recycling Enhancement Grant awarded last month, the town’s conservation center will soon offer recycling for more types of materials, including batteries, fluorescent bulbs and many forms of Styrofoam. The grant is administered by Union County with funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

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