Mayors and state officials gathered in a circle around a recycling bin yesterday, counting down from three before throwing in air fresheners, yogurt containers, milk cartons and fistfuls of plastics that Rhode Islanders have been tossing in the trash for years.
Officials at the state’s landfill, run by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), believe the single stream program will result in recycling rates increasing by as much as 20 to 40 percent.
“The key change we’re making is we’re going to accept more materials. We’re also making it easier,” said Michael OConnell, executive director of Resource Recovery.
The single stream system takes effect Monday in Warwick. No longer will people be required to separate paper products from bottles, cans and plastics. They can use either their green or blue cart, but under a new policy they must put out a recycling cart in order for their trash to be picked up. The policy is aimed at increasing recycling while creating an even flow of material instead of people saving recyclables until they have a full cart.
RIRRC hosted a press conference Wednesday morning to show off the state’s new Materials Recycling Facility. Rhode Islanders can now throw all of their recyclables into one container, either the green or blue bin, whether it’s plastic, newspaper, glass or aluminum. The plastic number designation and triangles found on the bottom of plastics are no longer important. If it’s plastic, you can recycle it. Added to the list of eligible items to recycle are peanut butter jars, butter tubs, ice cream containers, plastic take out containers, iced coffee cups and plastic egg cartons, among other things.
Processing the mixed recycling bins is more challenging, but is possible with a Bollegraaf Single Stream System installed by the Van Dyk Baler Corporation, which has been working in Rhode Island since 1989, when they installed their first baler at the Central Landfill. The system took roughly seven months to install, and was phased into use while the existing balers were still in operation.
“It is easier on the hauling side; it is easier on the residents. On the processing side, it’s more difficult,” said Van Dyk founder and president Pieter Van Dyk.
Van Dyk said there are only a dozen single stream operations in the United States, and it is the trend Europeans are just now picking up on. As he continues to work with states here, and countries abroad, he plans to use Rhode Island as an example of what single stream systems can accomplish.
“This is, right now, the best single stream facility in America, but also in the world,” he said.
While the system was designed to process 50 tons per hour, it is already exceeding expectations, and processing 55 tons per hour.
“Rhode Island can be very proud of it,” he said.
OConnell called it the “perfect project,” and said the transition has been a smooth one. He thanked RIRRC staffers Brian Dubis, Sarah Kite and Krystal Noiseux for their work on the project.
“This project, believe it or not, is on budget, ahead of schedule and it’s performing as designed,” he said.
Without those key players, RIRRC Board Chairman Michael Quinn said the project would not have been possible. He is pleased to see that the Central Landfill is making headlines for something positive.
“We’re here because we want to do this better, because we want to make this work,” he said. “This is a huge milestone.”
RIRRC invested $16.9 million into the new system, but expects the state will save in the long run. Governor Lincoln Chafee pointed out that municipalities pay $32 per ton of trash, but recycling at the Materials Recycling Facility is free, so the financial impact will be lessened the more cities and towns recycle.
RIRRC said Wednesday that the new system should pay for itself within five years.
“Every ton that can be reduced, that’s money for the property taxpayer,” he said.
Van Dyk expects those reductions to come to fruition soon.
“In the end, Rhode Island bought the system because you can make money with it. That money goes back to the municipalities, and consequently, to the residents,” he said.
Compared to Europe, Chafee says the United States is behind on recycling. Rhode Island’s average recycling rates are in the 20 percent range, and he would like to see that above 50 percent.
Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts believes that kind of return is possible. She joked that she’s the type of person who will drive around with “#5 plastic” in her car, looking for a place to recycle it. She can’t wait for Monday to throw all of her plastics into the same bin.
“You’re going to see an incredible increase,” she said. “It gives us an easy way to recycle and make a difference.”
The other benefit, OConnell pointed out, is for the environment.
“Because it’s easier, we’ll get more recyclables, less trash,” he said. “Because it’s easier, it’s good for the environment.”