The Recyclin' Town

The Suburban Farmgirl’s  talkin’  trash… recycling trash, that is!  (Got ya!)

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.  It’s a farmgirl’s mantra.  “Green” ‘s more than a color in recent years.  There’s been an explosion of products manufactured from recycled materials.  Do you ever wonder where those products come from, or what happens to your recyclables once they leave your home?

As a newlywed in the 90’s, my husband used to shake his head at what he considered “wasteful” habits, or everyday products we’d use containing chemicals not allowed for use in Denmark. Whenever lists are published ranking the greenest countries, Scandinavians are always in the top numbers.  I’m happy that with the rise of “green” products,  we’re catching on, and I’m really proud of my town for its efforts to help residents go green.

I try to reuse things before tossing them.  My dad still has jars full of assorted nuts and bolts, all neatly labeled, arranged in his workbench shelves from baby food jars from when my brother and I were babies in the 60’s and 70’s! Nowadays, my family doesn’t drink soda, but  we do drink seltzer.  In every grocery store, there’s machines for consumers to return glass and plastic beverage bottles and aluminum cans, getting five cents back for each. I treat that money back  as “coupons” at checkout, usually shaving a few dollars off my bill.  I don’t mind the bottle deposit; it’s a recycling motivator.  But what about everything else?  When you start paying  attention to what’s recyclable in households everyday,  it’s a lot!

Recycling in Connecticut is state law. There’s recycling drop off and transfer stations throughout the region.  Recently,  I noticed a flyer from our town advertising improved curb-side recycling.  Phoning the Highway Department, I found it’s a free service, part of our town’s taxes.   Only Newtown offers curbside; other towns’ residents hire private haulers.

According to Arlene Miles of the Newtown Highway Department, the curbside program started in the late 80’s, when our landfills were close to capacity.  In 1986, the state’s municipal agency, The Housatonic Research and Recovery Authority, was formed. This “recycling task force” is made up of one rep and one alternate from each municipality, of appointed town representatives such as janitors, heads of maintenance, and transfer station representatives, meeting  several times each year. Their website’s a great resource for info on recycling:

I was given a big, green recycling tub.  The first one’s free for each household.  If an additional one is wanted, currently it’s just $5.00, or consumers can use clear plastic garbage bags for overflow. (The town hopes to phase in larger “can” type totes eventually).  Newtown utilizes “Single Stream Recycling”, which couldn’t be easier.  Gone are the days of separating plastics, glass, and paper…everything can go in one container!  Easy peasy! Just about anything marked for recycling can go in the bin: glass and plastic jars, bottles, cracker and cereal boxes, old phone books, paper,  milk cartons, and tin and steel food cans. We’ve lots of critters in our area, so for “messy” cans like cat food, I rinse them in the sink with a squirt of soap, then place in my dishwasher.  Nothing’s simpler. Junk mail, catalogs, and unused newspapers  go in, as well.  (If there’s personal information, I tear that off or mark it out).  The box is placed curbside the night before my street’s scheduled pickup day.  Currently, 35 – 40 percent of our town’s residents use curbside.  It’s so convenient, I can’t help but wonder why more don’t take advantage of it. (For the rest of the trash, there’s several local businesses for pickup, or our town offers a low-cost yearly membership for use of the town waste-yard).

This is just one week’s recyclables for our family of three in our curb-side bin!

The recycling is picked up by two private companies contracted by the town, so the process helps local small business.  After leaving curbside, the recyclables go to a transfer station, known as a  “Materials Recycling Facility”.  There it’s pulled apart, sorted, and baled into individual commodities, then sold into the commodities market for raw materials, which helps pay the companies that do the transporting and sorting.  The money from the sold commodities goes back to HRRA, and profits help our town through education and services such as Hazardous Waste Day, where residents can safely dispose of things such as old latex paint cans.

It’s a boost to our environment and community.  Arlene says it costs $89.00 a ton to get rid of garbage, but only $10 a ton to get rid of single-stream recycling.  (Prior to July 2011, Newtown used Dual-Stream recycling, at a cost of $39 a ton to dispose of).

Recycling’s now a habit, and it’s amazing how much  we put in the bin each week.  That, in addition to composting our kitchen scraps, has greatly whittled down my household trash, saving money in garbage bags and disposal.  Can you imagine the environmental impact if everyone recycled?

Another small suburban Connecticut town offered nice composting bins (made from post-consumer material) this summer at a very low cost to its residents to encourage residents to compost.  One of my Farmgirl Chapter sisters purchased an extra one just for me.

We only get one earth, and our children inherit what we’ve done or undone. In addition to conservation, it’s cheaper to make products from recycled material. For example, according to Cheryl Reedy at HRRA, it costs 95% less energy to make a can from recycled material than to make a new can from newly minted aluminum.  Cheryl says, “As time passes, we need to realize that material we’ve thrown away for years as waste is not really waste.  We need to start thinking about garbage the way we think about electricity.”  It’s a “bright” idea, I think.

I’d love your thoughts on recycling.  Does your town have a recycling program?  Do you participate?  Why or why not?

  1. Colleen Hampton says:

    I also recycle a lot! I teach an Environmental Science class and I try to get the students to see the importance of recycling regularly. I even made a student fish her empty soda can out of the hallway trashcan when I noticed what she had done. I don’t think I’m at the fanatic stage yet, but I often check the trash can in my classroom to see if something recycled (especially the soda cans!) has been thrown away. I don’t do curbside recycling because my home is only 3-4 blocks from our town’s cycling center and I can save money by taking my recyclables there myself.

    Good for you, Colleen, teaching students the importance of recycling!  My daughter and I often go for walks; we bring plastic gloves if we see a lot of cans and bottles thrown on the side of the road.  It adds up! -Nicole

  2. Adrienne says:

    San Francisco has a great recycling program. In my building, there are three large bins: a green one for compost, blue one for recycled materials and a black one for landfill. Each apartment has a small covered plastic container with a handle to keep compost in until ready to add to the downstairs bin. Three separate companies pick up the trash depending on what kind it is. We also have Freecycle for items you no longer need or want so they can be made available for someone else who needs them (like outgrown children’s clothing, crutches, bicycles, etc). As of October 1, all stores have a plastic bag ban so you bring your own tote bags or pay 10 cents for a paper sack with handles or recyclable plastic bag with handles. It’s a good system and it works.

    Wow!  What great ideas!  I’m sure that the everyone in your building doesn’t think twice about recycling; it becomes second nature after a while.  I love the "Freecycle" idea, too.  Thanks for commenting! -Nicole

  3. Joan says:

    Oh yes, I have been a GREEN-E for most of my life. Unfortunately, since moving to this new area, there are no easily accessible ways for keeping GREEN – but I still do it. By IT I mean everything – I even put items at my driveway with a sign FREE and it takes only a few minutes before they are gone on to someone else who can use them and the containers of all kinds go to the re-cycler, food scraps go to the horses and chickens and then in a round about way it comes back to me as fertilizer and or compost. I can not figure out why everyone doesn’t do re-cycling – not only for the environment but it makes one feel good about earth/life/self. Good article, Nicole, to get us thinking.

    Thank you, Joan!  And kudos to you for doing your part, even after you have moved where it isn’t as accessible.  Keep up the great work, and thanks for commenting! -Nicole

  4. drMolly says:

    Oh, I’ve been recycling since it was not so cool to be doing so – being a "child of the 60’s" and a "back-to-the-lander" of the 70’s-80’s. Where we live now, a very small town on the Palouse Prarie of Washington State, there is a small place that one can take a few recycles, but we have WAY more than that – we have bins for all recycles of any kind in our garage. So, each week when I go shopping, I haul some with me to the "city" where I shop and deposit the "stuff" at the recycling center there.
    We, are, too, great proponents of re-use, so we have only one "garbage pick-up" a month & it is nearly always less than 1 can full, but never more than that! Pretty good, I’d say, in our own proud defense ;~).

    Molly, good for you!  You should be proud!  -Nicole

  5. Here in Long Beach, California we recycle everything also.. We have a large trash bin that is picked up once a week. I have a compost bin that I put all our household scraps in and helps with the garden… We recycle at least 80% of everything that comes thru our home.. It feels really good to be conscious of the need to clean it up…

    Deborah, 80% is awesome.  Good for you.  I am a big fan of composting, too, and it’s such a garden bonus.  Keep up the good work, and thanks for sharing! -Nicole

  6. Beverly Battaglia says:

    Nicole, I did not realize how involved you are in recycling! We may have it here in Georgia, because my neighbor puts out 2 recycling bins on the curbside. I have not asked her yet about it. I like the idea of the compost bin. Keeps down odors and flies I would think.
    Great article, very informative.

    Thank you! You should call your town and see if you can do it, too.  It’s so easy! -Nicole

  7. bonnie ellis says:

    Nicole: My husband and I have been "recycling" since we were married 50 years ago. It wasn’t called that then but we taught classes then and have been green ever since. But we separate glass, cans, and paper. I am glad so many are catching on. Thanks for your blog.

    Hi Bonnie!  I learned a lot about recycling as a child from my dad and my mom’s mom from watching them re-purpose or reuse things instead of throwing them away.  I also remember my mom always taking the wooden crate of glass drink soda bottles back to the store.  We always stopped and dropped them off at the courtesy desk before we did our shopping.  You’re so right – it was something that was done, and I am glad that it is coming back.  How cool that you and your husband taught classes – and it’s awesome you’ve been married fifty years!  Thank you for sharing, Nicole

  8. Kristy says:

    Great that people do, and continue to spread the word.

    My son runs the local waste station. There are, unfortunately, many things that cannot be recycled because there is no after market. For example, Number 6 plastic could be recycled, but recovery costs are high and re-purposed products too expensive to make it feasible. Florescent bulbs are made of materials that could be reused, but the glass shatters and the tubes are dangerous to work with. Regrettably we are going to have to become much more knowledgeable consumers.

    Some things that are recycled can only be used once. Egg cartons can be made from recycled newspapers, but that is a one time use. The egg cartons can not be used again.


    What great info!  Thanks so much for the comment.  I did not know that about egg cartons.  Thank you so much for sharing! 



  9. Rebecca says:

    I’ve found a good way to reuse the cardboard type egg cartons. They make good fire starters for campfires or fireplaces. Stuff them full of dryer lint, coat them with melted parafin (or old candle wax). This also makes them waterproof. You can then break off a small chunk to start your fire. I store them in an old popcorn tin and they’re always ready to go.

    Rebecca, thank you for the great tip!  -Nicole

  10. Charles LaGroue says:

    Nicole I read your blog and really like what your town has done with recycled products. I’m not sure if you remember, but at the farm all of the frame and I would venture to say 75% (or more) is recycled wood. To look at the house you would never guess its 2200sq feet. You’re like your old man,… I guess you were watching and listening when I tried to teach you when you were young.   Love Dad

    Thank you, Daddy! You are my first inspiration! Love, Nicole

  11. CR LaGroue says:

    Interesting blog. We have a recycling system in my city but it’s so inconvenient to use that most of us don’t use it…My city should take notes.

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