County Executive Robert P. Astorino last week gave school children a tour of the county's recycling center, which included a preview of the county's newest equipment that will process a greater amount of recycling material and generate additional revenue from curbside recyclables.
"We are already recycling a record amount of paper, metal, glass and plastics," said Astorino. "With this new equipment, we will be able to do even more with plastics, as we continue to be a leader in recycling in the region. This is great news for those of us who care about conserving our natural resources and tax dollars at the same time."
Astorino spoke to a group of 4th grade students from Enrico Fermi School in Yonkers at Westchester County's Daniel P. Thomas Materials Recovery Facility ("MRF") where recyclables from 36 of the county's 43 municipalities are processed and marketed to end-users and buyers who turn waste into new products.
These 36 municipalities belong to what's called the Refuse Disposal District No. 1. These municipalities are charged a $25 per ton tip fee for garbage, but no tipping fee for all recyclables delivered to the MRF. The $0 tip fee is an incentive for these municipalities and their respective taxpayers to divert as many tons as possible from the garbage can into the recycling bin.
The MRF, originally opened in 1992, recently underwent a five-month retrofit in conjunction with an expansion of the county's recycling law to include plastics coded #3 through #7. Now high tech optical sorting equipment shoots thousands of laser beams per second through each plastic container to identify the resin type. This allows the county to continue recycling #1 and #2 plastics and also collect and recycle containers coded #3 through #7, including yogurt containers, plastic cups and take-out food boxes.
"We never envisioned the recycling center as a profit center," said Astorino. "But because Westchester has been so innovative, our revenues continue to increase. This is a way to cut down on the costs of running our solid-waste programs."
For the first seven months of this year – before the new equipment was used – the county sold more than $4 million of recycled materials. The record for a 12-month period was $9.3 million.
Astorino predicted that with the new machinery, Westchester County would go beyond that.
"The new equipment helps in a number of ways," he said. "We can recycle more and we can get higher prices because of our sorting capabilities. The recycling center is a great partnership of innovative technology and environmental stewardship."
During a two-month testing period in July and August, the county saw a 15 percent increase in material recovered and marketed through the MRF. This included not only an increase in materials brought to the MRF due to the inclusion of plastics #3-7, but it also included a reduction in materials that were previously rejected by the old processing system. The new equipment is able to identify and salvage a greater amount of recyclable material. All of this additional material translates into additional revenue for the county's Refuse Disposal District.
By contractual agreement between the county and the operator of the MRF (City Carting of Westchester, Inc.), the county receives 80 percent of the total revenue while the operator, who is responsible for processing and marketing the material, receives 20 percent.
As part of Tuesday's event, the students were given yogurt cups donated by The Dannon Company, Inc. and Evian water donated by Danone Waters of America Inc., both located in White Plains. The two companies praised the expansion of the MRF's equipment.
"The Dannon Company believes that everyone can contribute to environmental sustainability by reducing waste and recycling," said Michael Neuwirth, its senior director of public relations. "We are very pleased that now plastic containers numbered 1 through 7 are recycled in Westchester County, and residents can recycle the plastic we use for our yogurt cups."
Nick Krzyzaniak, general manager and president of Danone Waters of America, said: "Environmental sustainability is at the core of our business. As an employer based in Westchester, we are very pleased that the county is making great strides in recycling. With the addition of coded plastics #3 - #7, residents can now recycle a wide variety of plastics, including water bottle caps. We look forward to partnering with the Westchester Recycling Center in building a more sustainable community."
Some recycling pointers:
- Residents are reminded to place all plastics containers coded #1 through #7 (excluding Styrofoam and plastic bags) as well as glass and metal food and beverage containers, and paper recyclables out for recycling pickup.
- Contamination of recyclable material lowers its market value. Recycling companies only want what they pay for. For example, when plastic bags are mixed with newspapers in a paper recycling bin the value of newspapers sold from the MRF is decreased.
- Aerosol cans should be emptied before recycling them If an aerosol can is empty, that is recyclable. But an aerosol container with content in it can potentially become a hazard at the MRF. (Small propane tanks or any container under pressure should never go in the recycling bin. Contact the Recycling HelpLine at (914) 813-5425 for more details.)
- A "Curbside Recycling Guide," labels to print and affix to recycling containers and a plastics recycling "Do's and Don'ts" brochure can be found at www.westchestergov.com/recycleguide.
The MRF has an education center where tours are given to groups of all ages. Tours show visitors how the MRF works and how and why recycling is an integral part of an environmentally sound and smart solid waste management program. You can book a free tour online. For more information on recycling, go to www.westchestergov.com/recycle or call (914) 813-5425.