During o the 1990s more than 50% of municipal waste in the Garden State was being recycled, but since that time our numbers have dipped.

Today the combined municipal recycling rate in New Jersey has dropped below 40%, but in many respects, recycling is a lot more complex than it used to be.

For years, many kinds of refuse, especially plastic containers, were all shipped off to China to be recycled, but starting in 2018 the Chinese no longer accepted a lot of recyclable material from the U.S., which means towns and counties in New Jersey that had been getting paid to dispose of their recyclables suddenly has to start paying to have the material recycled.

Doug O’Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey, said while the Garden State recycling rate is better than some other states, it’s not where it should be.

There's no trash fairy

"Every ton of garbage that’s not recycled, it goes somewhere. There’s no trash fairy, so it either goes to a landfill or it ends up being burned at an incinerator in our community," he said.

Recycle can
Stockbyte, ThinkStock

Recycling is uneven

He said some New Jersey counties have enacted a county-wide recycling program but what materials are ultimately collected for recycling may differ from town to town.

"Some towns require dual stream recycling where you have to separate out your glass and your paper and plastics, and some counties and towns just have a straight single stream method where they will do the sorting after the material is collected," he said

The state Department of Environmental Protection keeps track of recycling efforts in each county, and some do better than others.

In North Jersey, the leader is Bergen County. Mercer and Middlesex do well in Central Jersey. Cape May and Cumberland score best in South Jersey.

Counties that are recycle-challenged include Hunterdon, Hudson, Union and Atlantic.

To see how your County is ranked by the DEP for recycling you can look here.

O’Malley pointed out that recycling coordinators in different parts of the state oversee different programs, while reminding local residents "that recycling isn’t just a good thing that someone else does, it’s a good thing that everyone should do."

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash
Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Don't be shy

He said to expand the amount of material that will be recycled in Jersey local residents should start asking questions

"Do you have a recycling coordinator in your town, and is that person getting out there and educating more people in the community, and is there enforcement if people aren’t recycling?"

He said some Jersey residents wind up “wishcycling,” putting things in the recycling bin they would like to think should be recycled, such as a bowling ball, but in fact are not recyclable materials, and this slows down the entire recycling process.

"Only 5% of plastics are recycled in this country so just because something is recyclable doesn’t mean it will be recycled," O'Malley said.

Information about residential and business recycling in New Jersey, including what you can recycle in your town and county, is available here.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

Click here to contact an editor about feedback or a correction for this story.

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