Recycling is the law in New Jersey but there’s a problem you might not be aware of.

An increasing amount of material being collected from those blue bins cannot be disposed of properly, which means it’s being trucked to a landfill.

According to Doug O’Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey, China had been accepting a major amount of recycling material from the Garden State, but now “China is laying down the law on their end and saying we’re not going to take recycling that’s contaminated.”

This means recycling “that has plastic bags or food waste in it — anything other than the actual product that’s being recycled.” A large amount of plastic products are being rejected because they have not been washed properly by people throwing them out.

“The reality is that too often in New Jersey we wish-cycle, we throw things in the recycling bin that we wish could be recycled that actually can’t be," he said.

He noted this is the worst kind of nightmare a recycling company can face.

“Because it means they need to sort out the items that truly can be recycled and the ones that can’t, and that takes time and money.”

He said China is now refusing to accept waste from other countries unless it’s pristine, “and that’s made it a lot more difficult to create a market for our recycled materials here in New Jersey.”

O’Malley said local governments need to do more to educate the public.

"We also just need to reduce the number of single-use plastics," he added.

Polystyrene foam cups and plates are at the top of the offender list because they are very difficult to recycle.

“If you ever go to clean up a river, you’re going to see the little pieces of white foam everywhere. That stuff doesn’t go away; you can’t really recycle it.”

He added another major recycling contaminant is plastic bags, which New Jersey has been considering banning from stores.

“You can’t just throw in plastic bags in your blue bin [...] they literally gum up the works in the recycling plant," he said.

“You have to pay people a lot of money to unwind all those plastic bags."

How to recycle

The following is a list of rules for recycling in Somerset County. It's not as simple as just throwing things into a recycling can. Check with your county or municipality for guides for recycling where you live.

PAPER: Newspapers have to be bundled with string. Shredded paper has to be in clear or labeled plastic bags. Other loose paper should be placed in a brown paper bag or box.

CARDBOARD: Corrugated cardboard and pizza boxes must be cut into 2-foot squares and tied with string or twine.

DON'T RECYCLE: Waxed paper, tissue paper, napkins, paper towels, frozen food boxes, cups, metallic & plastic-coated paper, paper with metal objects such as file folders and binders.

BOTTLES AND CANS: Must be rinsed thoroughly. Bottle caps must be removed. No styrofoam. Plastic #1 and #7 only.

DON'T RECYCLE: Unnumbered plastic, microwave trays, motor oil and anti-freeze bottles, pesticide and pool chemical containers, plastic toys, plastic cups, plates and cutlery, flower pots, 5-gallon buckets, plastic coat hangers, plastic caps, prescription bottles.

ALSO DON'T RECYCLE: Scrap metal and electronics, fire extinguishers, batteries and clothing. Check hazardous waste schedules and drop-off locations instead.


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