Bob Deluca sat behind his desk. He looked relaxed in a white sport shirt, with his bronzed arms in easy reach of the phone.
But the phone was silent – extraordinarily silent.
“There’s been a lot less calls for sure,” said the city’s director of sanitation and recycling.
Deluca should know. Two weeks ago, the ringing didn’t stop. He couldn’t answer all the calls, more than 400 a day.
On a typical day, sanitation might get 60 to 75 calls, mostly from people looking to make a heavy pickup. That’s a pickup of something other than what fits in the gray cart such as furniture.
But two weeks ago, angry people were calling to report that their gray trash carts hadn’t been emptied. It wasn’t a mistake; city collection crews deliberately passed them by.
That was the first run under the city’s new policy that requires residents to place a recycling cart alongside the trash if they want the trash hauled away. Many people followed the requirement but got ahead of the system and removed the recycling cart from street side as soon as it was emptied, before the sanitation truck arrived. When the truck got there, the evidence of recycling was missing. People seem to know better now and are avoiding the impulse. Also, Deluca reports crews are seeing recycling carts in front of some houses where they have never been before. That’s exactly the purpose of the policy – to increase recycling. Warwick has one of the higher trash recycling rates in the state, more than 25 percent. When yard waste is added to the calculation, the rate is better than 50 percent. Yard waste goes to the city composting station, behind Mickey Stevens Sports Complex.
Deluca estimates the increase in people recycling is about 10 percent, although a clearer picture will emerge in a couple of weeks, after the city completes the first month of the program. As part of the program, which Rhode Island Resource Recovery initiated after installing $16 million of new sorting equipment, it allows recyclables to be mixed in one bin and the varieties of plastics that are recyclable have been expanded.
Deluca says people have caught on to mixing recyclables, although there are some who still separate paper, bottles, cans and plastic and place blue and green carts on the curb. He suggests they fill one bin or the other, regardless of the bin’s color. Unless both carts are full of mixed recyclables, he asks people not to do that. Fill one barrel at a time and put that out, he said. Using both carts means trucks must make twice the collections and that delays everything.
Deluca also offered some other advice: Carts should be four feet apart, so that the hydraulic arm that lifts the cart can make the catch without knocking over the cart beside it. What about leaving all the carts at the curb all the time as one angry resident suggested last week (after retrieving his recycling cart before his trash cart was emptied)? The answer is, they can’t be left on the street. They have to be behind the front property line, Deluca said. The only time the ordinance has been enforced is when neighbors complained, he added, and said a knock on the door and an explanation usually suffices – although Deluca recalls one case that went as far as municipal court.
Deluca still gets a few calls from people who claim they don’t have anything to recycle. He’s also hearing from people who want the city to collect one of the recycling carts, the blue or the green.
Deluca is reluctant to retrieve any recyclable carts.
“I’m afraid any overflow after it [one cart] is full will get put in the garbage [instead of the other bin],” he said.
As for people who think or claim they don’t have any recyclables, Deluca shakes his head. “If they are generating trash, then they must also have recyclables,” he reasoned, and then paused to answer the ringing phone. “We’ll be a day late,” he said. “There won’t be any collections on July 4th.”
You might say conditions are back to normal, if there is such a thing, at sanitation and recycling.