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A worker at Willimantic Waste Paper Company, shown in this still from a Youtube video produced by the company in 2010, sorts a plastic bag from recyclable material. | (Courtesy Willimantic Waste Paper Company)

Plastic bags not accepted at transfer station

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The transfer station on Cherry Hill Road will not accept plastic bags in its recycling containers.

Within the last few weeks, a cardboard sign was posted by the recycling bins telling about the change. Bob Matuszkiewicz, site manager for the station, said the ban on plastic bags is not a temporary policy. An order has been placed for better signs.

Willimantic Waste Paper Company, the place where the recyclables are taken after being dropped off at the Durham transfer station, told Matuszkiewicz that it would not accept plastic bags because they clog the company’s equipment.

Plastic bags are usually high-density polyethylene, a number two recyclable plastic, or low-density polyethylene, a number four recyclable plastic.

John DeVivo, who works in Willimantic Waste Paper Company’s human resources and compliance department, says the policy change is in part a way to educate residents on how recycling works. Over the past years, the company has seen an increase of items they cannot recycle coming through their facility.

“We’re seeing more trash,” DeVivo said.

The Willimantic Waste Paper Company is owned by the DeVivo family. DeVivo’s great-grandfather started the business in the mid-1930s.

In the past, four to six percent of the material the company handled was “recycling residue,” or materials the facility couldn’t handle such as items contaminated by food. Today, DeVivo said the percentage is much higher.

DeVivo said within the last few days, he’s seen such examples as a pizza box still holding half a pie pass through his facility. Also, ceramic flower pots and planting containers that had 70 percent of the dirt still in the container roll down the conveyor belts. In one instance, he saw a flower pot that had a yellow-flowered plant still inside.

Plastic bags are a problem, according to DeVivo, because they are often contaminated with food and they also become caught in the equipment.

Residents will often bag their recyclables. This is a problem because the recyclables cannot get sorted and people can slip un-recyclable items through.

“If it’s in a black bag,” DeVivo said, “with automation, you don’t see they’ve put a pizza box in it.”

He added that workers need to cut the bag open and rip the contents out.

A video produced by Willimantic Waste Paper Company shows the automated process of sorting the recycling stream and it shows footage of workers throwing away plastic bags. It also shows plastic bags, spinning on the machines, caught on the sorting equipment.

DeVivo said four to six times a day, workers stop the machines and climb onto the equipment with razor blades to cut away the plastic bags. In the past, the workers only had to perform the maintenance once a shift.

At the same time, DeVivo understands the rise in trash. Single-stream recycling has made recycling easier for the consumer to recycle and to accidently add trash into the system.

“We understand these things happen,” he said.

DeVivo said many grocery stores accept plastic bags. The bags are collected, bundled and then sent off to a separate recycling facility.



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