People in Hamden will soon need to start thinking pink on garbage day — so the town’s garbage system can remain green.
Starting in about a month, pink bags will appear at people’s homes. They’re for stuffing with used clothes, blankets, drapes, sleeping bags, and other textiles that otherwise would go into the regular trash.
You leave the stuffed bags on the curb. A company under contract with the town, called Simple Recycling, will leave a new bag behind and cart the textiles away. “The top quality materials will be resold to local thrift outlets, mid grade is exported to international markets and “unusable” items are processed for raw materials,” the company says on its website.
The new pink-bag system is part of a broader effort to update recycling in Hamden, which like communities throughout the country is scrambling to adapt to a collapsing garbage recycling market.
Mayor Curt Leng announced the new system and discussed the broader effort during an appearance Tuesday on WNHH FM’s “Dateline Hamden” program.
“Over time people have become more accustomed to recycling,” but the market has changed, Leng noted. China, which used to buy much of the municipal recycling waste from the U.S., has stopped accepting it because so much is contaminated — recycled improperly. Contractors are scrambling to find new markets.
Dozens of communities have given up, simply dumping their separated paper and cardboard and plastic back into landfills. That’s because contractors no longer accept the recycled trash for free, since they no longer can expect to earn a profit on disposing of it. (Click here to read a New York Times story about this phenomenon.)
Hamden’s separated glass and plastic and paper still gets recycled, Leng said. For now. But changes are afoot.
Until now the town has been able to hire contractors who take the recycleables for free. That saves the town $77 a ton, the cost for carting and tip fees for unrecycleable trash that heads to landfills or burn plants. But contractors can no longer afford not to charge the town, Leng said. Bids are currently out for a new recycling contract, which he predicted will still cost the town less than $77 a ton but will probably cost something now.
The pink bags should help. Hamden is following other towns, like Manchester, in hiring Simple Recycling, which states that it aims to cut down on the 85 percent (or 14.3 million tons) of thrown-out clothing that currently ends up in landfills rather than getting recycled or donated.
It would also help to find a way to recycle glass better, Leng said. One reason so much of the separated recycleables left in people’s 96-gallon blue toters ends up too contaminated actually to recycle is that people throw in the wrong stuff (like bottle lids that aren’t recycleable or boxes with food waste). But it turns out another big reason is broken glass.
“If you have your recyclables and you’re doing the best you can, you’re following the guidelines, there’s not an item you’re putting in that’s wrong — if glass breaks, that contaminates paper and cardboard,” Leng said.
And even if you don’t break the glass bottle, if it breaks while being transferred into a truck, that still contaminates the surrounding paper and cardboard.
So, Leng said, the town is also exploring hiring a contractor to cart away and deal with just the glass. The town would continue with “single-stream” recycling of paper and cardboard and plastic left in the blue toters, but green garbage disposal for the new age would become a four step (not counting any food-scrap composting people do on their own).
Also on “Dateline Hamden,” Leng
• responded to listeners’ criticism of his plan to add school resource officers (cops) to elementary schools. He said the town’s divided, and while he still supports the idea, he’s opening to having the conversation and possibly changing the plan.
• said, in response to another listener question, that he’s not sure whether it makes sense to create a civilian review board to monitor complaints of police misconduct, or to retool the existing Police Commission to handle the job.
• affirmed that, contrary to some rumors, the town’s annual fireworks display is definitely on tap to take place this year.
Click on the video to watch the full episode of WNHH FM’s “Dateline Hamden” with Hamden Mayor Curt Leng, which also dealt with plans to tackle the town’s underfunded pensions and to redevelop the Newhall community center.