Major Recycler Cheering Plastic Bag Ban in Boston

February 9, 2018
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One of the largest recycling plants in the nation, Casella Waste in Charlestown, is hailing the recent spate of plastic bag bans in the area, including the ban voted in by Boston late last year.

That ban will go into effect on or around Dec. 15 this year, according to Councilor Michelle Wu – who helped champion the ban. This week, Casella officials at the plant in Charlestown – which handles all of Boston’s recycling and a majority of the rest of Greater Boston – said it couldn’t come soon enough.

“We’re not doing anything special to prepare for it, but we are excited for it to begin,” he said. “It will simply mean no more contaminants coming through and slowing us down. We can’t wait for that.”

Wu said the City is also preparing and sees many different positives for the ban, including helping eliminate slowdowns at recycling companies.

“We are continuing to prepare and look forward to the implementation of the policy in Boston, where we followed the lead of dozens of other communities in the state before us,” she said, noting that she sponsored the ban with Councilor Matt O’Malley. “It was during the discussions and debates…we settled on what I and many advocates would describe as a policy that is not only good for residents who want to clean up the neighborhoods and get litter off the streets, but also something saving taxpayers money in helping recycling plants not have to stop and untangle machinery, which I’m told causes costly slowdowns.”

Casella handles about 200,000 tons of recycling per year and is the number one plant in Greater Boston – and a top five plant in the U.S. They handle almost all of Boston’s recycling, but one thing they don’t handle is plastic bags – known in the industry as Low Density Poly-Ethylene (LDPEs). In fact, while others complained about litter and bags in the trees, Casella said they are a major hindrance to productivity.

“By far, plastic bags getting into the facility are the number one contaminant in single-stream recycling,” said Bob Cappadona of Casella. “By themselves, they are a very good recyclable product. However, there just isn’t any market for the product. Second, with everything else, they get caught up in our machinery and cause us a lot of problems. If they come into our facility and get past our pre-sorters, they tend to get wrapped up in our disk screens and they wrap around them and cause stoppages.”

He said when bags get caught up in the disk screen machinery – which separates plastic jugs from paper/fibre products – the only way to remove them is the old fashioned way:  with a razor blade.

“There are so many that get in there that at lunch or at break time we have to keep two or three people there to clean the disk screens of plastic bags,” he said. “Every three or four hours we have to go in and clean it up.”

Cappadona said he doesn’t want to malign plastic bags because they are a good recycled product on their own, if people were to take them back to the grocery store as directed.

However, many people throw them in the recycling, many times because they don’t know not to do so. On its face, it looks like something that could be recycled in the traditional curbside barrels. However, it is one plastic item that isn’t accepted, but routinely gets in the stream.

In Boston, the various trash contractors pick up all the recycling on the curb, and from there, they take it to Casella on Rutherford Avenue, behind Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown.

Once there, that’s when problems come.

“Again, they are a good recycling product on their own, but when they get here with everything else, they are a contaminant,” he said.

In terms of the ban that will go into effect in Boston, Cappadona said they aren’t really preparing, but they are excited about it. And they hope other communities might follow suit to make their recycling product purer.

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