Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection Director Adam Ortiz addressed members of the U.S. House Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, describing challenges local governments face when it comes to recycling and waste management.
Counties have the authority and responsibility to handle waste disposal and recycling within their jurisdictions. With recycled material markets at historic lows, county programs are suffering. One issue that only adds to the challenges counties face is the contamination of recycled materials. Ortiz testified before members of Congress that not all materials with a recycle symbol are able to be recycled by local programs, and simply end up costing time and money to remove from the recycling stream. Examples of such materials include styrofoam and single-use plastic cups which many people dispose of in recycling bins believing that the material will be recycled, when in reality they end up in the waste stream.
Ortiz suggested that materials unable to be recycled at the municipal level should not be labeled as recyclable. The triangular recycling symbol signifies recyclability, but when local recycling programs have to treat them as contaminants and separate them out for disposal, they should not be classified as recyclable.
From Ortiz’s remarks:
“Under the status quo, it is the local governments that are responsible for educating the public about recycling facts, and to help make sense of what has become a very confusing system. So setting national standards on which plastics and products can be recycled, and subsequently accurately labeling those products correctly could result in reduced cost for counties, and deliver less confusion among the public.”
From coverage in Route Fifty:
Ortiz said that Montgomery County loses money on recycling materials like glass, but continues to do so anyway to provide the service to residents. But for other jurisdictions, recycling programs are just too expensive to sustain.