New Collection Sites at Recycling Yard, Train Station
By Raven Rentas
MIDDLETOWN – When Middletown Township revealed its Styrofoam recycling machine Dec. 26, public works director Ted Maloney expected it to be filled with leftover packaging from the holidays.
What he did not expect was for the machine to be constantly jam-packed, nearly two months after its debut.
“It’s been a whole continuous stream of it (Styrofoam) coming into the recycling center, so it’s great,” Maloney said. “There’s really no slowing of the stream, that’s for sure.”
Middletown is home to the only two collection sites in Monmouth County that accept Styrofoam, a brand of expanded polystyrene (EPS), the plastic foam that is often used in packaging. It is commonly used to protect electronics, furniture and other fragile items in shipping.
Three collection bins, and the recycling machine itself, are located at the Middletown Recycling Center, and two collection bins can be found at the Middletown train station. The Middletown Recycling Center is located at 52 Kanes Lane and is open Thursday through Monday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The Middletown train station’s collection bin is always available. It is located toward the back of the train station’s parking lot on Church Street.
The collection bins are surrounded by other recycling containers as well, for items such as cardboard and paper. Although both sites are in Middletown, Styrofoam recycling is available to all residents in the county. The collection bins are labeled to remind citizens which plastic foam is acceptable.
Maloney was introduced to a concept similar to the Styrofoam recycling machine seven years ago at a conference. After seeing one in Sussex County, his interest in the idea grew. “I’ve always seen Styrofoam as a problem, both environmentally and economically,” he said.
Before the machine’s arrival, Maloney said residents would often put Styrofoam with other recyclables. It would end up in Middletown’s single-stream recycling collection as a contaminant, causing problems for the entire recycling process.
“Most people will do everything they can to not throw things into the garbage if they think it can be recycled,” Maloney said. “The problem is Styrofoam had no alternative (for recycling) around here or anywhere close.”
When Styrofoam wasn’t mistakenly mixed with recycling, it was being thrown into the garbage. While this was the correct action to take, it was not an environmentally conscious one. Maloney explained that Styrofoam takes up a lot of space in a landfill. By saving space in the landfill, Maloney said the county is also saving money.
“Styrofoam is not really heavy, so we don’t get charged a lot to bring it to a landfill, but the impact it has in volume is huge,” Maloney said.
According to recycling supervisor Joe Puzzo, the condensed form of Styrofoam is around one-hundredth the size of the standard product. Maloney said from the Christmas season to now, the department of public works has reduced bulky Styrofoam into five condensed pallets. There are multiple steps to this drastic transformation.
Maloney explained that over the course of a week, employees will pick up Styrofoam from the two collection sites and fill up an entire 40 cubic yard container. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when the recycling center is closed, workers will process Styrofoam through the recycling machine. At least two people put the Styrofoam into a machine where it travels down a shoot and gets chopped up. Maloney said it then gets melted down and “comes out looking like soft serve ice cream.” Employees eventually stack it down to pallets, bringing the Styrofoam to its final condensed form. This form is sold to Princeton Moulding Group, a local company that uses the recycled Styrofoam to make pictures frames and molding for construction.
The Styrofoam recycling machine is just a small part of Middletown’s efforts to be more sustainable. According to Maloney, the township switched from dual stream recycling to single stream several years ago. Maloney said they also introduced the phrase “strive for five,” to remind its residents of the five materials they are allowed to recycle. He said they tag recycling carts that have nonrecyclables in them. They do this to educate residents while also making it easier for the recycling collection company to identify which carts are contaminated.
“The education process is ongoing and we’re going to try to step it up each time,” Maloney said.
The township’s sustainability efforts are nowhere near complete. Maloney said the township is expecting to establish another collection site in the Bayshore area, possibly near Port Monmouth, in coming months.