Mixed up over recyclables
Not one, but two…and no more than that.
That’s the new rule for trash day, and, if it doesn’t make sense to you, you are not alone.
This is the first week that the city has implemented the collection of mixed recyclables. You no longer need to wonder if it’s a green week for paper and cardboard or a blue one for cans bottles and plastics. That’s right; you can use either cart and no longer need to separate paper and plastic.
That should make life easier.
So far it hasn’t, says David Picozzi, acting director of the Department of Public Works.
With two days of the new system under his belt, Picozzi found a number of residents aren’t up to speed on the new system or the added requirement that, if people want their trash picked up, they had best recycle. Under the policy, the city won’t dump the gray cart used for trash unless a blue or green recyclable bin is beside it at curbside.
The aim of the directive is to increase recycling. For every pound the city doesn’t have to dump, it saves tipping fees at the state landfill. Meanwhile, for every added pound of recyclables – which it doesn’t have to pay to dispose of – it earns discounts.
“There’s going to be a learning curve here,” Picozzi said.Crews have found that a number of people aren’t aware of the two carts or nothing rule. Picozzi said the city has been “tagging” carts to let people know of the regulation.
There’s a concern, however, that recyclers might still separate and feel compelled to put both recycle carts out, which would result in more pick-ups of partially filled bins. That’s not as much a concern as how much recyclables the city would be faced with collecting.
That may sound counter-intuitive, since the city is looking to increase recycling.
Picozzi isn’t worried by an increase. His fear is that people might save up their recyclables over several weeks, causing unpredictable spikes in collections, delays and requiring trucks to make more than one trip a day to Johnston.
For those people who have been following the changes, there’s yet another issue: two different colored containers from the time when they did have to separate paper and plastics that can now be used for both paper and plastic, regardless of the color of the container.
“One of the biggest problems we’re having is that people want to return one of their carts,” he said.
That makes sense. With the cart being emptied every week, many people don’t see the need for two. The problem is, if the city were to take back either the green or blue cart, it doesn’t have any place to put them.
“We can’t hang on to them. Where are we going to store 30,000 carts?”
“What about selling or giving them to another municipality?” Picozzi was asked.
If economic times were better, he thinks that could be feasible. But, he said, municipalities aren’t looking into automating their collections as Warwick has done because of the high up-front cost. They would have to store them, as well. For now, the city thinks homeowners should keep the containers and use them as needed. What they don’t want people to do is to wait until both bins are full before putting out their recyclables. What they are looking for is a consistent flow of recyclables as opposed to occasionally light or occasionally heavy amounts.
The mixing of recyclables would seem to be a step backward from the system where residents culled material at a savings in time and cost for Rhode Island Resource Recovery. That’s not the case. A spokeswoman for Resource Recovery said the newly installed $16.9 million sorting system actually works better with a mix of material. The system has eliminated a lot of handpicking with those people being transferred into positions of quality control and catching the occasional item the screens and magnets have missed. No layoffs resulted from the upgrade in equipment that is projected to pay for itself over five years.
Nonetheless, the change has its problems.
“We had a great system, now there’s nothing but problems,” Picozzi said.
One of those problems is the mailer sent out by Resource Recovery shows cardboard boxes filled with recyclables. The city’s automated system can’t pick up the boxes. Everything must be in a cart.
“People are putting them out,” said Picozzi.
He is hopeful that once residents get a second mailing from Resource Recovery, aimed specifically at Warwick, people will have a better understanding of what’s expected. Meanwhile, Picozzi doesn’t want to deviate from the plan, fearing that if city crews do that people will expect it every time.