Don't bag it - Plastic bags tangle up city's recycling

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Bag the trash, not the recycling.
That's the rule of thumb in Laconia, where recycling crews are encountering a "constant problem" of plastic bags tainting bins of recyclables.
"We get a tremendous amount of plastic bags," said Ann L. Saltmarsh, technical administrative assistant and solid waste/recycling coordinator in the Laconia Department of Public Works.
By rule, curbside trash must be contained in bags and those bags loaded inside bins for weekly pickup. In the separate world of recycling, however, where bins are picked up biweekly, plastic bags are not allowed.
Curbside recycling crews will sticker bins that violate the rule, alerting residents that plastic bags are a hazard.
About 40 percent of Laconia residents live in private developments where they use remote drop-off sites. Laconia maintains remote recycling drop-off sites at the transfer station; behind the Lakeport Fire Station; at the Weirs Community Center parking lot; behind the old city garage at 257 Messer St.; and at Lindsey Court, across from the Memorial Park Clubhouse. At those locations, signs are prominently displayed, warning against introducing plastic bags.
"The number of people who just put the bag and all in there is amazing, right next to the sign that says no plastic bags," Saltmarsh said.
"It's the biggest problem at the drop-off spots," she said.
The cost of violating this policy falls on taxpayers, Saltmarsh said. In 2015, the latest year when numbers were available, the city spent $8,500 hauling away things that were dumped in and around the containers and as a result of dumping entire recycling containers as trash because they were contaminated, she reported.
Any recycled materials that end up in the trash stream chip away at savings in trash disposal.
The city pays a contractor to pick up trash at the curb for transport to the transfer station, where it's mixed with trash from Gilford. The trash goes to an incinerator.
This entire process costs $150 a ton.
"If you have recycling, you take that weight out of the waste stream, so that's where the cost savings comes in, $150 a ton," Saltmarsh said.
When plastic bags and other prohibited items taint a load of recycling, the trash stream gets heavier.
Bags also pose a risk to equipment. Laconia operates single-stream recycling, meaning items are not sorted by category but collected together.
"The single-stream sorting facility is a huge warehouse, and basically a dump trailer pulls up full of loose recycling, puts it into a hopper," Saltmarsh explained. "A loader bucket literally picks it up and dumps it into a chute. It's sorted mechanically from that point. So plastic bags tangle up in the mechanics. They also have optic readers so they're looking for certain kinds of recycling, and if a plastic bag is floating over the top of the conveyor belt, then the optic reader can't do its job."
Violators can be brazen. One recent scofflaw left an entire kitchen counter at one drop-off site. Plastic bags of trash and yard waste, televisions, computer parts — all end up in the recycling drop-off locations, Saltmarsh said. Cameras record these violators, and police often follow up on the evidence, she said.
The pace of violations is likely to only increase as recycling continues to grow in popularity.
Twenty-five years ago, the city recycled 200 tons of trash. Now, Laconia is up to nearly 2,000 tons of recycling, Saltmarsh said.
Last year, the city collected nearly 1,100 tons of trash curbside and 663 tons at remote locations for a total of 1,760 tons, according to Public Works.
So if a resident has a bag of aluminum cans to dump into a recycling container, Saltmarsh asks that they keep the bag, leave the cans.
"It's just as easy to open the bag and put the (cans) in the container," she said.
For details about the recycling program, visit http://www.cityoflaconianh.org and click on "Departments" and "Public Works."

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Ann L. Saltmarsh, technical administrative assistant and solid waste/recycling coordinator in the Laconia Department of Public Works points out the plastic bags holding recyclables, which makes it impossible for the city to recycle that load. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Serious crash closes bypass

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