Recycling in the Southern Tier


Recycling in the Southern Tier


Broome County (Debra Smith, Director of Solid Waste Management) & Tioga County (Ellen Pratt, Sustainability Manager)


In many cases, recycling has become an automatic part of our daily routine.  It instills the feeling of knowing you are doing something to help our environment, preserve natural resources and save valuable landfill space. Recycling has come a long way over the years, but during that time many have lost sight of the bigger picture of what happens to the recyclable material once it is collected at the curb or brought to a drop-off.


From the curbside or drop-off, materials go to one of the local recycling facilities to be sorted by material type and then marketed. Sounds simple, but there is a lot more to this story. Sorted materials are marketed to mills, brokers or manufacturers that may be in State, National or International entities. Each of these outlets have specifications the materials must meet, or they can reject the entire shipment of the material.  The main concern is contamination which has been brought to the forefront as recycling markets globally have reached a crisis point.  


A large portion of paper and plastic commodities have historically been marketed to China and over the years the amount of contamination in the materials from the US continued to increase.   As a result, China took action and instituted a policy called National Sword.  National Sword is an aggressive response in which 24 types of materials were banned and the accepted contamination rate for recyclables was lowered to 0.5%. This has had a lasting impact as nationally and locally recycling facilities are not able to meet such a stringent low contamination rate and it has led to a dramatic drop in prices paid for many recyclable commodities. In response, our local recycling facilities have increased their efforts to keep out contamination.


When people think of contamination in recycling, one of the first scenarios to come to mind may be recyclables with food left in it or dirty “garbage” mixed in.  However, in recycling, contamination is anything placed in the recycling bin that is not part of the accepted material list. While many materials are accepted in recycling programs, there are limitations to what can be recycled. Common items such as plastic bags, Styrofoam, leftover food, and random plastic items such as a CD case or plastic hanger are contaminants and have a negative impact on the recycling program.  Over recent months some may have noticed local haulers more carefully looking in your recycling bin during collection and your bin possibly being left filled at the curb.  This is to decrease contamination at the point of collection.  As a resident, when you place material in your recycling bin, it is one of the vital steps to ensuring the longevity and stability of the recycling program. There is an economic component linked to contamination that directly connects to what we place in our bin. If the recyclables collected have a high quantity of contamination, it forces the local recycling facilitates to slow down the sorting line - taking longer to process the tonnage of material coming into the facility, placing additional staff on sorting lines to improve quality control and taking more time to inspect the general load of recyclables when brought in by the local haulers.  All of this increases the costs associated with the recycling facility processing each ton of material that is brought to their facility and coupled with the dramatic decrease in the current markets it elevates their processing costs.  




What does this mean for residents?  It is vital for all of us to make the effort to prevent contamination of the recycling by being aware of what we set out in our bins.  Residents are asked to pay close attention to the list of accepted materials listed by your county and how to prepare them properly.  If you have an item and are not sure if it would be included in the recycling program, do not place it in your bin, first contact your county Solid Waste Department for proper direction. Broome County residents can visit the Division of Solid Waste Management webpage at waste or call 778-2250 and Tioga County residents can visit or call 687-8274 for more information.  


The Southern Tier has exceptional recyclers and your continued support and due diligence to follow the accepted guidelines will ensure the recycling program continues to remain strong and stable through these difficult market times. 




11/15/2018 - 9:37am