Single-use plastic bags in shopping cart

PALMER TWP., Pa. – Palmer Township will be one of a handful of communities in the United States to accept flexible-plastic waste in its curbside recycling bins, starting next month.

Flexible plastic — including bags for groceries, potato chips and cereal — can go into Palmer residents' bins starting May 1. TotalRecycle Inc., a division of JP Mascaro & Sons, will process the plastic at its Birdsboro plant in Berks County.

Single-use plastic that would have gone into landfills or perhaps wound up in the ocean will instead become material for decks, walkways and playground surfaces. 

"These are items that used to be considered contamination," Cindy Oatis, Palmer's recycling coordinator, said Monday after a township board of supervisors meeting. Plastic waste has become an issue across the country and single-use bags have been banned in some states. 

Oatis said the U.S. generates about 12 billion pounds of single-use plastic annually.

"This change is being driven by the consumer who does not want to be contributing to these seas of plastic," she said. Flexible plastic is the fastest-growing segment of the plastic-packaging industry in the U.S., she added.

The board of supervisors approved the plan after being assured that there will be no additional cost to taxpayers. The Palmer plan excludes rigid plastics, such as packaging for electronics, and flexible plastic will be accepted curbside but not at the Hartley Avenue recycling center.

"Consumers asked for a way to recycle," said T.J. Stinson of TotalRecycle. The company has been recovering materials for two years, he said, and it provides the only curbside solution for single-use plastic.

Demands from customers led to companies including Procter & Gamble Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Nestle USA to support the initiative to recycle single-use bendable plastic. The goal is collect what would otherwise wind up as litter or in landfills and develop markets for the material.

Reports of plastic winding up in the oceans created public outcry. Environmental groups have sought bans on single-use bags, but Pennsylvania has blocked such regulations until at least July. In 2014, California was the first state to ban single-use bags.

Stinson said TotalRecycle can recover the single-use plastic and prepare it for markets. 

Supervisor Chairman David Colver spoke in favor of expanding the township's recycling plan to include single-use plastics. The vote to join the TotalRecycle program was unanimous, with supervisors Jeffrey Young, Robert E. Smith, K. Michael Mitchell and Anne-Marie Panella also in favor.

"From an environmental standpoint, it is the future," Panella said.

Oatis said information about the expanded recycling will be sent to homes, posted on the township website and included in future Palmer newsletters.

Bamboo business

In other actions, the supervisors told John Beena of Dunkle Street that he had to get rid of his bamboo garden even though it is maintained well.

Beena said he planted bamboo as a barrier so bike riders and dog walkers would not cut through his front yard. The township prohibits bamboo, which is deemed an invasive species that can spread and damage property.

Beena said he maintains his bamboo garden and there is no risk of it spreading.

Code Enforcement Officer Daniel Lichtenwalner agreed but said the township sent a letter to Beena after receiving complaints.

"We're not just going out and nailing everybody who has bamboo," Lichtenwalner said, adding that Beena's plants are kept in order.

"Maybe it's hard to make exceptions for good gardeners versus bad gardeners," Beena said. 

Young said "bamboo's a nuisance," and it has gotten out of control in the township. 

"The bamboo's got to go and you have to figure out how to get rid of it," Colver said. If Beena needs extra time to remove the plants, Colver said Palmer will work with him.

The township's compost center does not accept bamboo because seeds could wind up in mulch, the final product of yard waste.

"I'll take care of it," Beena said. 

Pool prices

Also during the virtual meeting, resident Mike Flavelle said he was glad to hear the Palmer pool will be open again this summer but complained that the price of memberships for senior citizens went up to $100.

The township pool was one of the few municipal pools to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Colver said prices had to increase so the pool's operations could be funded by its revenue instead of relying on taxpayers. 

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