This is a carousel. Use Next and Previous buttons to navigate
ORANGE — Town leaders differ over whether to hire a part-time recycling attendant at the transfer station amid reduced recycling rates and slight contamination issues that cost the town nearly $1,000 last year.
According to Orange Recycling Committee Chairman Mitchell Goldblatt, the town's recycling rate dropped about 14 percent between 2020 and 2022. The rate is down an additional 6 percent through February 2023, data shows.
"We’re putting in 60 to 70 tons (of recyclables) a month when we used to be putting in 80 to 90 tons a month," Goldblatt, who also sits on the Orange Board of Selectmen, said. "It’s concerning. We want people to be recycling."
Contamination also has been a problem at the town's transfer station on South Orange Center Road, Goldblatt said. According to Sylvie Napoli, an office manager in the town Public Works department, the town paid $900 as a result of contaminated recycling loads during the 2021-22 fiscal year. In 2020-21, that cost was about $440, per Napoli.
In light of those issues, the Orange Recycling Committee has advocated for the addition of a part-time recycling attendant in the next fiscal year budget, an effort Goldblatt said would benefit the environment while reducing long-term costs for the town. Goldblatt estimated that the position would cost roughly $20,000 for 2023-24.
The attendant would monitor and assist residents with sorting their recyclables into the correct containers. The town's transfer station currently has two or three on-duty workers during the busy weekend hours, but nobody who specifically oversees recycling.
First Selectman James Zeoli said he thinks hiring a recycling attendant is unnecessary. The transfer station has clearly-marked signs for each designated recycling area. "I don’t think having another person at the transfer station is a need," he said.
Zeoli said that the town's recycling loads were not being rejected often enough to justify adding an attendant to the budget. "Very rarely is that happening," he said. "That’s not a norm, that’s an excuse to get an attendant."
The contamination arises when materials are placed into the wrong recycling bin. Plastic bags usually are the biggest culprit, Goldblatt said. Other non-recyclable materials include pill bottles (they are "too small to be recycled"), plastic toys and Styrofoam, which the chairman called a "huge problem."
"A lot of people do what’s called wishful recycling, where they think it’s recyclable so they just throw it in," Goldblatt said. "Sometimes it’s actually more harmful to throw in something that is questionable."
If a recycling load contains too many contaminants, the processing facility will reject it, and the town will have to pay an extra cost to have it hauled to the trash plant. Orange is charged $98 per ton for disposal of both mixed solid waste and recycling, according to Napoli.
Aside from the extra costs, contaminated recycling loads also are discouraging to those residents who chose to carefully sort their materials into the proper bins. "All their efforts are wasted," Goldblatt said. "Even one load being rejected is too many."
As the price of recycling and garbage disposal continues to rise, Goldblatt said, so a recycling attendant would "pay off" by helping the town avoid incurring unnecessary costs due to contamination. "We want to keep our costs down and obviously do what’s best for the environment because that’s what it’s all about," he said.
Despite the Recycling Committee's request, funds for the position were not included in the town's proposed budget for the next fiscal year. A disappointed Goldblatt said he would continue advocating for the position at the town's April 20 budget hearing.
"If there’s nobody there to help people, it’s going to continue and progressively get worse," the selectman said. "It would help everyone to have an additional person down there."
Goldblatt and Zeoli agreed that the town needs to look at separating glass bottles from the rest of the recyclables, as they are one of the heaviest materials and often cause problems when they shatter.
After dropping off some recyclables at the transfer station Tuesday, Orange resident Jason Ornstein, 56, said he supported the idea of hiring a recycling attendant. "I think these guys need extra help here," Ornstein said.
Jonathan Demirjian, another Orange resident visiting the transfer station Tuesday, said he supported the town installing another person at the transfer station, but did not necessarily agree with assigning that person to deal with recycling. He noted that the recycling bins were "pretty well delineated."
"I don’t know why somebody has to be labeled a recycling person down here," Demirjian said. "If you want to add another part-time person, that’s fine if the town can pay for it."