Contamination turned recycling from income to expense in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD – Growing confusion over what can be recycled has increased the costs associated with what was once a source of revenue for the city.

Public Works Department Acting Director John Marsilio says this confusion has been a problem since the 1990s, but has grown as the list of what can be recycled grows.

“There has always been what we call contamination,” Marsilio said.

“It’s not just Fairfield,” he added. “We belong to an organization with 10 or 11 cities and we all have the same problem, that there are items that people put in the trash that are not recyclable.”

Marsilio estimates that 20 to 25 percent of items put in recycling bins or brought to the transfer station for recycling are not actually recyclable.

“It increases the cost,” he said. “This is the problem.”

Marsilio says that in the beginning when recycling was more limited with just newsprint, cardboard, bottles and cans, it was a revenue generator for all cities. At $ 15 to $ 35 a tonne in revenue, a town like Fairfield was making over $ 100,000 a year.

Once the amount of recyclable material was increased and confusion settled over what could be recycled, the amount of contaminated items that now needed to be disposed of also increased. It costs between $ 55 and $ 115 per tonne, depending on market value, to dispose of contaminated items that would be recovered for recyclable materials.

“Instead of income, it became an expense,” Marsilio said.

“Some of the items on the list of products to be recycled have no commercial value like glass, but they are recycled,” he added. “The items on the other side cannot be recycled and they are just a burden on the expense side.”

During the 1990s, recycling was separated by category. Later, in the mid-2000s, recycling shifted from an arrangement of separate curbside bins to a larger, single-bin policy called single-stream recycling, a process in which Fairfield participates.

Over the years, the state of Connecticut has also expanded its list of desired items that can be recycled.

Although the list of items that can be recycled has grown, these items still cannot fit into a single stream:

Plastic bags

Hardcover books

Food waste

Paper plates



Motor oil or hazardous waste containers


CD cases

Sport stuff

“As you can see, there is a great opportunity for people to get lost,” Marsilio said, referring to a list of accepted and unacceptable items. “Under the metals you only have food grade aerosol containers, but on the other side you have aerosol containers for deodorants, cleaners, pesticides, so many people are confused about that. “

Food grade aerosol containers that are recyclable metals include aluminum foil, cans, bottles, aluminum foil containers, and metal lids for cans and bottles.

Acceptable recyclable items for paper include cardboard, cardboard, food and beverage cartons, junk mail, magazine and newspaper inserts, newsprint, office paper, and pizza boxes. Beverage bottles, food bottles, and jars are accepted items for the glass.

Plastic bottles, plastic containers and disposable plaster cups are also recyclable.

“We take the recyclables and haul it to a recovery plant in Shelton and they separate everything there,” Marsilio said. “What can be recycled is separated and those that cannot be recycled are loaded and placed on a truck and taken to the burn plan in Bridgeport.”

Mark O’Brien, executive director of sales and marketing at the Oak Ridge recycling plant in Shelton, echoed Marsilio’s comments about residents’ confusion over recycling.

“People don’t know what should go in the recycling bin and what should be thrown out,” O’Brien said. “It’s an ongoing battle, I might say.”

The authorities hope, however, to spread the word to reduce the contamination.

“It goes back to education and that sort of thing,” O’Brien added. “We have things on our website and a lot of municipalities have things on their websites. You know, we’re looking at things we can do to try to help educate.

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