This story originally ran in The Sandwich Enterprise in October 2010 and is being reprinted here as a service to the community in light of the selectmen's recent decision to enact a pay-as-you-throw trash policy at the transfer station.
By any definition of the word, resident Diane L. Martin of Old Mill Road would be considered an avid recycler.
She recycles plastics and paper, even her junk mail. She throws vegetable scraps and eggshells into a composter rather than into the trash can and then uses the decomposed material for her garden.
"It's really good stuff. It's excellent for the soil," she said.
But Ms. Martin believes she can do better, that she could reduce the amount of trash she throws out each week, if only she had more information.
"I'm not always sure what can be recycled and whether I am separating it correctly," she said.
A visit to the town's transfer station this week took some of the mystery out of recycling and answered some of Ms. Martin's questions, such as, "Can the cartons that hold orange juice or cream be recycled?"
Director of the Department of Public Works Paul S. Tilton said these waxy cartons are recycled with the metal, plastics, and glass materials. "Just remove the plastic pouring spout at the top," Mr. Tilton suggested.
In fact, recycling in Sandwich is rather easy, with all paper and cardboard materials going into one bin and all plastics, glass, and metal containers into another.
Paper products that can be recycled include newspapers, magazines, and envelopes, with or without a plastic window...even books can be tossed into this bin. Mr. Tilton pointed out that Sandwich allows hard-covered books to be recycled, something that other towns do not. While cardboard materials, such as the boxes that cereal and crackers come in can be recycled with the paper items, the plastic sleeves that hold the cereal or crackers should go into the plastics, glass, and metals bin. Mr. Tilton also pointed out that pizza boxes and the round cardboard that sits under the pizza inside the box should be cleaned of any food debris before they are recycled with other paper products.
"If it has gobs of cheese or oil on it, it should not be put into the recycling bin. If residents clean off the cardboard, they can recycle it," he said.
Almost all other recyclable items go in with the metal, glass, and plastic material bin. This includes plastic baggies, such as those available in a grocery store's produce section to hold fruits and vegetables, bread bags, as well as tin and metal food cans, aluminum pie plates and trays, glass jars and bottles, and plastic milk, water, and soda containers.
Shampoo and conditioner bottles, laundry detergent, bleach, and fabric softener bottles can also be recycled in this bin. Even some forms of Styrofoam can be recycled. Mr. Tilton said any Styrofoam that has the recycling triangle symbol on it, such as cups from Dunkin' Donuts, can be recycled with plastic, glass, and metals.
He suggested that all cans and bottles be cleaned before recycling and said, under most circumstances, this requires simply rinsing the item with water. "The only painful part is cleaning out the mayonnaise and peanut butter jars," he said. Mr. Tilton explained that it is important to make sure that recyclables are clean to keep rodents away.
Plastic bags with handles, such as those that groceries are packed in, go in a separate, smaller container in front of the recycling compacting bins. Mr. Tilton said these items need to be separated out because the handles on the bags tend to get caught during the recycling process.
While most residents may be aware that motor oil is accepted for recycling, DPW Foreman Stefan E. Masse said used cooking oil can also be recycled. The oils are dropped off inside the large building where the trash is thrown.
Mr. Tilton said there are some items that have no designated recycling bin. These items include cellphones, rechargeable batteries, and thermometers. These items should be handed to the guard at the shack when entering the station.
There are also segregated areas where residents can dispose of large bulky items, such as refrigerators and air conditioners, and mattresses.
There is also an area designated for taking light iron materials and other metals, such as aluminum.
Hazardous waste items, which include any products that have a danger, poison, warning or caution label on them, should be brought in on one of the four hazardous waste collection days offered in the four Upper Cape towns each year.
Mr. Masse admitted that recycling can be a bit confusing when it comes to which items can be recycled and which bins to put them in. He said there are always employees at the station who are willing to help residents.
Although most items today can be recycled, there are some items that cannot and should not be recycled. For health reasons, Mr. Tilton said used tissues, paper napkins, and paper towels should not be recycled.
And there are some materials which the transfer station cannot accept, such as construction debris.
Mr. Tilton said increasing the amount of recycling will not increase revenues for the town, since the DPW does not make any money from the sale of recyclables. He explained that the company that hauls away the recyclables does so in exchange for keeping the revenues. "Right now, it's a wash. But, if the price for the recyclables goes up, then we will renegotiate that contract," he said.
Mr. Masse said the town does make some money from the sale of light metals, but it is only a small amount. "We made about $7,000 on aluminum collected over a two-month period," he said. "It all goes back into the general fund," he added.
While increasing the amount that is recycled will not increase revenues, it will result in a savings in terms of how much the town pays to haul to SEMASS.
On a personal level, Mr. Tilton experimented with increasing his own family's recycling efforts earlier this year.
"We were recycling at a rate of 35 to 40 percent, and I was able to get that up to 65 percent," he said.
He dubbed the exercise "extreme recycling" and said he was able to reduce his trash output from about two bags per week down to just half a bag per week for a family of five.
Whether or not selectmen vote to adopt a pay-as-you-throw program, Ms. Martin is looking for ways to step up her own recycling efforts. "Recycling is good for the town and good for the environment. It's the right thing to do," she said.