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Trash and recyclables in N.H.

Guest Columnist

This year marks the 50th anniversary of both Earth Day and the introduction of the recycling symbol. A modern reworking of the infinity symbol, in which each arrow in the triad represents a different step in the waste management process, it is as iconic as the peace sign, the Nike swoosh, and the Cocoa-Cola logo. To understand its true meaning, you have to dig a little deeper though. The three chasing arrows represent the actions of reduce, reuse and recycle, but with today’s proliferation of single-use materials do not accurately represent the hierarchy of recycling in the 21st century. Study after study has shown that we need much greater emphasis on the first two steps of the process, reduce and reuse, and less on the last.

There is a vast network of private and public businesses that get rid of the trash that we generate and the path of trash from our homes and businesses take many, sometimes international, routes to its final destination. Science Cafe New Hampshire will look at the changing dynamics of waste management and recycling with a panel of experts who will detail the consequences of mitigating waste materials and how it affects resources, land use and city and state budgets.

It is important to note that almost half of all garbage coming into New Hampshire landfills is traveling from out of state. Most of it from Massachusetts, because they are actively closing plants and landfills. By 2021, they will only have one landfill remaining in the state so, as a result, are investing heavily in reduction of waste. In the last few years Bow, Hookset, Laconia and Tilton have had to dramatically alter their recycling programs, and in March 2019, Nashua was on the verge of having to suspend its recycling program to adjust to the changing market for recycled goods due to a change in China’s solid waste import policy.

China had been the largest buyer of American recycling waste, but in 2018 that ended when they enacted their “National Sword” program. Prior to this, China processed more than 50% of the world’s scrap, but this new policy banned plastics, unsorted mixed paper, textiles and some glass and metals. According to the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, the average price of mixed paper in the northeast has dropped from a high of $85 per ton in March 2017 to below zero today. The program also required lower levels of food waste contamination from 2% to 0.5%. Other countries in Southeast Asia unveiled similar laws and restrictions on recycling.

Unfortunately, recycling consumers have not always done a good job providing overseas vendors with a product they can easily repurpose. Much of the problem with recovering raw materials from recyclables comes from contamination, such as food waste and unwanted liquids. Food waste is another part of the problem for landfills. It is the single largest component of material in landfills and combined with yard waste it makes up 25% of the landfill volume.

Asia’s initiatives increased the cost of waste management, dramatically demanding solid waste managers search for more effective methods to deal with recyclable materials. Last July, the state of New Hampshire created a committee to Study Recycling Streams and Solid Waste Management. New London State Rep. Karen Ebel chaired the committee. The committee released a 27-page report in November with its findings and solutions. The report outlined 39 different findings from the committee and more than 20 recommendations on what the state of New Hampshire should be doing. Here is a link to the full report: https://bit.ly/2OAbU3O.

On Wednesday, we will look to our panel for solutions to many of these problems, and we invite you to be a part of the discussion. As always, Science Cafe is free, open to the public and offers a place where the community can engage in civil discourse, talk science, have a beer or tea, learn from each other and enjoy a safe haven for the geeks among us. Come join the conversation.

Science Cafe New Hampshire is hosted at The Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar in downtown Nashua. You can learn more about Science Cafe New Hampshire at www.ScienceCafeNH.org on this session and all topics Science Cafe New Hampshire.

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