Be eco-conscious about recycling

January 16, 2024

So much beauty in the natural world surrounds us here in North Salem. Even on the sultriest of summer days, nature lures us. Traveling around town–whether by foot, bike, horseback or vehicle–the textures and liveliness of our landscapes pique our attention. Careening winged creatures, sparkling waterways and lush flora; but one scourge blights the eye: plastic bags draping out of our recycling bins. 

Recycling has been a boon for our town. It’s an important tool to preserve our natural resources, reduce pollution and even fight climate change. With half of global greenhouse gas emissions coming from the production of new materials, recycling right is helping our local ecosystem.  

But there’s “wishcycling,” a new errant behavior, which involves putting items in the bin because we hope they are recyclable. Plastic bags are the biggest no-no. There’s no need to bag up recyclables. Plastic bags, problematic in many ways as we know, get caught in our recycling facility’s conveyor belts, disrupting heroic efforts to sort our trash.

In an effort to follow the trail of our recyclables, members of North Salem’s Climate Smart Committee recently arrived at the WIN Waste Innovations Plant in Stamford sporting hard hats and dayglow vests. The team witnessed a complex array of conveyor belts and manpower carrying and sorting heaps of our stuff through multiple, multi-level pulleys, separating it all into various bunkers: cardboard, paper, cans, plastic and glass. They saw a dizzying amount of tumbling, whirling and flinging before items got compressed into bales that “look like modern art,” said committee member Holly Thomson.

With a whopping 350-400 tons of recycled material heading into this facility daily from New York and Connecticut, and 30 tons per hour being processed, slowdowns happen because plastic bags, bottle tops and batteries cause contamination that make recycling less efficient and more costly. 

For your used plastic bags, keep an eye out for grocery stores that have collection containers at their entrances.

Fortunately, our town has been “extremely successful” with our dual stream system that we sometimes complain about, according to North Salem Chief of Staff Janine Kourakos. We can be proud we have the cleanest paper products around because they are not co-mingled with bottles and the like in a single stream. That means our second-hand pulp is sold to the marketplace at a much higher price than paper mixed with other recyclables. The best news is that whatever isn’t recycled does not go to a landfill. Post-recycled waste is taken to a “Waste-to-Energy” facility where it’s processed by thermal heating converted into high pressure steam. This steam is used to drive turbine generators and produce electricity for sale to local utilities. In fact, 6.4 million tons of non-recyclable waste becomes renewable energy, and is returned back to local communities, powering more than 340,000 homes each year, as well as schools and hospitals. 

At one local plant, a neighboring laundry facility captures the steam for its industrial pressing. Such interdependence of our living and nonliving environment is at the heart of our ecosystem, our bubble of life. Remember that “eco” derives from the Greek “oikos,” meaning home. Thank you for being eco-conscious!

For more information on what can go in your recycle bins and to see a video on what happens at the recycling plant, recorded by committee member Jocko McKean, visit the Climate Smart table at the St. James Auction and Community Fest on Saturday, July 29 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at 296 Titicus Road in North Salem and online at