Plastic recycling clarified

Audrey Cozzarin holds a bag containing one-month’s household plastic food packaging which cannot be recycled. (Contributed)

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One word: “Plastics.” Turns out, there are two plastics: One that is recyclable and one that is not. Plastic food packaging in particular is a huge problem when it comes to recycling here in Norwalk and in our state.

I was unsure whether all food packaging is truly recyclable, so I contacted both Norwalk DPW (recycling list here) and Christopher Nelson at CT-DEEP (CT Department of Energy and Environment Protection). Mr. Nelson explained that plastic packaging that can be torn but does not stretch, is not recyclable in Connecticut. At all.

Most potato chips and other snacks are packaged in plastic bags that cannot be recycled. Even though grocery stores such as Stop & Shop, Shoprite, Whole Foods, Kohl’s, and Target have collection receptacles for products purchased at their stores), only #2 and #4 film and stretchable plastics are accepted.

From the Recycle CT website: “Clean and dry plastic bags and other types of film, such as [kitchen] bags, bubble wrap, newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, wrap from cases of toilet paper or paper towels can be brought back to participating retailers.”

Chip bags and other packaging that can be torn does NOT go in our blue curbside bins. It is not recyclable at all. This plastic often ends up in landfill and, worse, as part of the colossal plastic-islands in the oceans. At least the plastic film and packaging that stretches, collected at the above participating stores, can be converted by innovative manufacturers such as Trex Boards into building products.

My husband and I have taken on a personal challenge of no longer purchasing food items packaged in unrecyclable plastic. We purchase fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables which (magically, a wonder of nature) come in their own skin and require no packaging. We love the Field Goods service which delivers affordable fresh, local, healthy food items to Norwalk Library for pick-up.

Did you know that Whole Foods allows you to bring your own container to fill with dried food items from their bulk bins? Have the container weighed first at the customer service desk and the weight will be deducted from the sale. It’s a great example of reuse. I wish more stores offered ways to allow us to fill up a container again and again, reducing waste.

Please be mindful of store items—food and non-food products—packaged with materials that potentially end up cluttering the earth and seas. Help Mother Earth stay free of plastic. As the late comedian George Carlin said, “Could be the only reason the Earth allowed us to be spawned in the first place—it wanted plastic for itself.” Of course, he was joking.

Join me in contacting food manufacturers and stores, recommending strongly that they find other ways to package their foods and products, ways that leave the earth better as we go along. Without Mother Earth, we have nothing.

Audrey Cozzarin


Member, Episcopal Church in CT Climate and Environment Ministry Network


David McCarthy November 17, 2019 at 6:14 am

That’s great. Unfortunately, give the City’s lack of any action, I’d bet any recycling collected is being burned, because it certainly isn’t being recycled, because there isn’t any where for it to go

Sarah LeMieux November 17, 2019 at 12:39 pm

Thank you so much for this article, Audrey! I would also be interested to learn more about the ministry network mentioned.

Audrey Cozzarin November 17, 2019 at 2:13 pm

David, I hope the city is not burning any trash. Sarah, the task force info can be found here:

It is hoped that more churches and community efforts will strengthen and support efforts aimed at leaving the world a (heck of a lot) better place than we found it! I feel that when we put the Earth first, problems arising in humanity begin to resolve.

Thank you for your interest in this topic, not only recycling issues/challenges, but the regard for and care of our common home, the Earth.

David McCarthy November 18, 2019 at 6:26 am

The city’s trash is all burnt. The city’s recycling was previously handled through a ten year contract that paid the city for each ton. I believe Nancy reported that the company was let out of the contract some time ago. I don’t know anything past that, but ask yourself what they’d likely do if the company stopped processing recycling. It’s going to the incinerator in Bridgeport, would be my guess.

Carol Custus November 18, 2019 at 11:26 am

Thank you very much for this information. I had no idea that not all plastic is recyclable. I will definitely pay closer attention to what I purchase going forward.

Audrey Cozzarin November 18, 2019 at 4:05 pm

David, thanks for bringing up the elephant in the room: Where does our collected recycling go after curbside pickup? I made some calls and here’s what I have found so far:

– Norwalk City Carting picks up the recyclables;
– It is trucked to their recycling center in Stamford;
– It is sorted and sent (not sure how) to other local cities such as Peekskill, NY, and other countries such as India to be reused.
Whether it is truly “reused” or burned, tossed into the oceans, or burned, it would require a news exposé or big effort to “follow the trail”.

Trash, on the other hand, IS burned in an incinerator which, I am told, generates power.

Residente November 18, 2019 at 4:45 pm

Great info, great effort. Without knowing exactly where Norwalk’s recycling goes, I lost faith in recycling as a whole a few months ago when the NY Times had a feature explaining that China and other SE Asian countries were no longer taking our recycling mostly due to overload (I think they said).

Indeed – manufactures need to find alternatives to plastic, and create more sustainable packaging before the oceans keep getting overloaded with plastic.

On the positive, the plastic bag ban, albeit 10 years late has been really nice. Also, Van Dyk recycling solutions in Norwalk has really impressive sorters. Not sure if the city uses them though. I believe in the States we have a dismal recycling rate (around 40%). Not positive, but I heard Norwalk’s trash goes to the incinerator in Bridgeport, my guess would also be that recycling follows or is shipped to a landfill somewhere.

Keep it up – the people need to be the difference here. The packaging is definitely a challenge

Angela Carey November 19, 2019 at 4:39 pm

Thank you Audrey for your continued efforts on this pressing and urgent issue. It is tragic that lawmakers don’t outlaw more materials, especially styrofoam as that never degrades. Here’s what is written about styrofoam…
“These products can persist in the environment for more than a million years, however, since polystyrene is not biodegradable. Though it is slow to break down chemically, Styrofoam does however fragment into small pieces, choking animals that ingest it, clogging their digestive systems”
Imagine, that big business still prevails!
I implore people to bring their own reusable cups and as you suggest minimizes purchases in non-recyclable materials.
A strong recommendation that I’d make is staying away from prepared and pre-packaged foods and vegetables… the shelves with prepared produce and fruits keep growing by the day!
As a food rescuer for a local shelter we receive numerous boxes a week from grocery stores with these kinds of things. By the time they get to us, they’re no longer edible (cut up fruits & veggies have extremely short life span, not to mention the preservatives that are sprayed on them)
I brought in prescription medication to the police station and when I inquired where all this stuff goes, the response was “it gets burned”!! So one must wonder what happens to all other waste collected!

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