Recycling Market Collapse Costs East Lyme

Recycling profits turn to costs after the global collapse of industry


Most townspeople are unaware of the global collapse of recycling because in EL, the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resource Recovery Authority (SCRRRA)’s financial reserves keep day to day recycling afloat.

“Honestly students gain empowerment from awareness,” Ecology Club advisor and AP Environmental Science teacher Laura Ashburn said. The mindset of thinking global and acting local is imperative in EL. Individual actions make the most difference; solving local issues solves global issues.

Students need to care because symptoms of the collapse are reflected in town beaches and in the Long Island Sound. When trash is seen on the beach and in waterways, people are forced to face pollution, and care more about fixing the issue.

“The whole recycling system has been flipped,” SCRRRA vice president and EL Director of Public Works Joe Bragaw said. EL recycling is contracted through this authority. In 2017, EL made $11,235 for recycling 2,247 tons of material.

“We voted to have SCRRRA pay the cost because the program is extremely important,” SCRRRA Executive Director Dave Aldridge said. Bins are still put out every other Tuesday and emptied while the industry collapsed in 2018 when China effectively banned U.S. recycling. China handled almost all of the U.S. ‘s recycling pre-collapse.

Ms. Ashburn’s Ecology Club participated in cleanup and data collection on International Coastal Cleanup day on Sept. 18 at Hole-In-The-Wall beach.

“If we can’t prevent it, we can try to aid it,” Ecology Club president and senior Alexandra Rommal said regarding the trash on the beach.

“A major issue is people just not knowing where to recycle,” Mr. Bragaw said.

“Wishcycling” is the practice of putting waste in recycling bins that aren’t recyclable, but wishing it was. Plastic shopping bags, styrofoam, items with food debris, and pieces smaller than a yogurt container are some of the most “wishcycled” products.

EL recycles most items, but some of them that are often put on the curb like mattresses and televisions. These must be brought to the transfer station on Roxbury Rd. as the town truck simply can’t pick them up safely.

Currently there are no fines or major repercussions for improperly recycling, but the town won’t empty bins if they are too close for the truck to pick up or have lots of improperly sorted items.

“We do things with a hierarchy of worries that we address. One is how much it costs towns, the very next one is the environmental impact,” Mr. Aldridge said.

From Oct. 2019 to Oct. 2024, SCRRRA will pay the $70 per ton because they care about the positive effects of recycling and have the ability. But, when that contract ends, if SCRRRA’s funds run out, the cost will be pushed onto taxpayers.

Funds will run out much sooner if no improvements to the local industry are made than if EL invests in and supports sustainable actions.

Mr. Bragaw said the town is working to start a composting center to shift food waste removal practices to be more effective and less harmful to the planet. Another goal for the town is to improve public education and awareness through social media.