Sunday, May 27, 2012

After 25 years, how's recycling doing in NJ? - Part 2

How did New Jersey's Department of Agriculture
ramp up recycling?
It started with prune pits.

Back in the days before recycling got its name, Agriculture Department staffer Karen Kritz received an intriguing tip from a farmer. Prune pits, which are hard as rocks, can sometimes be used in place of rocks.  

Recognizing that "farmers are very creative," Kritz ran with the idea. Before long, some state prisons were saving on paving costs by lining their roadways got it...prune pits.

The NJ Department of Agriculture began to formally explore recycling ideas, which Kritz detailed last week for members of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, when the state enacted the nation's first mandatory recycling law in 1997.

See: After 25 years, how's recycling doing in NJ? - Part 1

The recycling law focused on traditional household waste materials--paper, glass bottles and metal cans. Kritz was deputized by the then Agriculture Secretary to develop a recycling program for something the law did not cover--nursery and greenhouse film. About a million pounds of it was winding up in landfills every year. 

Greenhouse film
She pulled together a group of nurserymen, county agricultural agents, county recycling coordinators and private recyclers to brainstorm the issue. They discovered that agricultural film is made from the same chemicals used in plastic grocery bags. Best of all, there was a way to recycle it.

That's all Kritz had to hear. A program was established and some 300,000 pounds of greenhouse film was recycled in the first year. By 2011, the total had grown to 1.1 million pounds annually. 

A recycling rate nearing 100 percent

NJ Agriculture Dept.'s Karen Kritz
What used to end up in state landfills is now being dropped off by farmers at two South Jersey collection centers in Atlantic and Cumberland counties. It eventually returns to commerce in the form of plastic grocery bags,  

Kritz estimates that New Jersey is now recycling close to 100 percent of the material used each year--the nirvana number for any recycler of any kind of material. The program's astounding success has attracted interest--and imitation--nationally and abroad.

Cost to taxpayers for pesticide container recycling:  Zero

The department (through its one-person recycling program--Karen Kritz) went on to establish a recycling program for plastic pesticide containers. Kritz was discouraged when only 676 of them were collected in the program's first year, so she worked harder at getting the word out to the farming and recycling communities. Last year, 80,000 containers were collected at three locations in South Jersey. They are picked up by a Texas-based company and used to make parking lot bumpers and liners for tractor trailers. 

Success breeds success. The department is now looking to expand the program by establishing collection sites for farmers in other parts of the state. Kritz (hint, hint) told the committee she could use $10,000 to purchase a grinder. Any interested donors out there?

L. Grace Spencer
Programs work when the people involved are dedicated. Driven might be the more operative word for Karen Kritz. Last year, for quality control purposes, she inspected every single one of those 80,000 containers herself.

Entire program cost to New Jersey taxpayer other than Kritz's 276 pay hours?  Zero.

Committee chairman Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, a Democrat, congratulated the Agriculture Department on its recycling initiatives and saluted Kritz with this:
"If I had the ear of the (Republican) Governor (Chris Christie) when it comes to giving out raises, you'd be at the top of my list."

NEXT: In Part 3 of our report, other recycling participants tell their stories

Does your community have a recycling success you'd like to share? Your business? Organization? Have an idea on how to improve recycling rates in New Jersey, or in the state or country where you live? Tell us what you think in the opinion box below. If one is not visible, activate it by clicking on the tiny 'comments' line.  Signed comments appreciated. Anonymous submissions accepted.

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