Recycling increases, but big chunk of business waste goes unsorted
Recycling on a state and city level has increased since the state implemented a mixed recycling system and the city imposed its no recycling cart, no trash collection policy.
But even with a reduced waste stream, the landfill has a finite life and Rhode Island Resource Recovery is in the process of preparing for the sixth and final phase of the Johnston facility.
“In 25 years, where’s it going to go? That’s the big question,” said Carol Bjartmarz. A public outreach worker for the agency, Bjartmarz was the featured speaker at the Aug. 23 Warwick Rotary Club meeting. She said that groundwork for the “trash lasagna” that will top off at 250 feet is being prepared now in anticipation that the fifth phase of the operation will close in another two to three years.
While seemingly a problem for another generation, Bjartmarz found she was without answers about how businesses and non-profits, that have trash commercially removed, could also recycle and prolong the life of the landfill. She said there is no business recycling program at this time.
There is an incentive for municipalities to recycle. Recyclables are dumped for free and, depending on profits from recyclables, receive a proportionate share at the end of the year. Warwick received $190,000 last year, Bjartmarz said, but also saved $32 per truck tipping fees.
Aware of this, Lara D’Antuono, executive director of the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs, said she and some of the kids at the clubs take home paper and plastics to ensure they are recycled.
Bjartmarz said commercial haulers dump their trucks where some of the more obvious recyclables are removed but it isn’t done by the $17 million retrofitted sorting facility, where materials are separated by high power magnets, photo receptors and blowers before being be crushed and baled.
In a subsequent interview, Krystal Noiseux, recycling program manager, said about 50 percent of all material brought to RIRRC is commercial. Of the remaining tonnage from cities and towns, 32.8 percent are recyclables. The Warwick rate is 46 percent, however, which includes metals and yard waste that are not brought to resource recovery. Warwick does a separate collection of yard waste that is composted behind the Mickey Stevens Sports Complex.
Noiseux could not say what percentage of commercial trash is recycled other than it is “very small,” nor could she answer what percentage of commercially generated recyclables are ending up in the landfill.
“We haven’t done a commercial waste audit,” she said.
While businesses are required to recycle by law, it is not generally offered by commercial haulers and becomes an added expense to the business. Noiseux said the new mixed recycling program may prove beneficial to businesses as it could reduce the number of collections, and thus costs.
Noiseux said that the Department of Environmental Management is responsible for enforcement of the business recycling legislation.
Could municipalities collect recyclables from businesses?
Noiseux says that is happening on a limited basis.
That wouldn’t be practical in Warwick, according to the city’s recycling coordinator, Christopher Beneduce. “It would be great to do that, but we don’t have the manpower or the vehicles,” he said.
Regardless, Mayor Scott Avedisian, who served on the RIRRC board, said the city couldn’t collect commercial recyclables “until DEM makes a change in their regulations.” He said, as a board member, efforts were made to change the regulations, but nothing ever became of it.
“Commercial can’t be a part of the recycling program,” he said.
The city has expanded the residential program to include recyclables generated by municipal offices and schools.
Although she did not offer specifics, Bjartmarz told the Rotary Club that the “Recycle Together RI” program of mixed recyclables is “doing really well,” and that recycling rates have increased by 20 to 40 percent. “We’re on our way,” she said.
Beneduce reported a 114-ton increase in recyclables for July, the first full month of the program in Warwick. Collections went from 753 tons for July 2011 to 867 this year. One would assume that there would be a corresponding decline in trash collections, but there wasn’t. Last July the city collected 2,261 tons of trash as compared to 2,282 this year.
A possible explanation is that there were four full weeks plus an additional Monday and Tuesday in this July, for a total of 22 collection days. There was one less collection day in July 2011.
“The amount of the collections is excellent, we’re going in the right direction,” said Beneduce. He said he believes even higher rates can be achieved through education through the schools and the calendar mailed to residents by the city every year. The calendar was first published as a means of informing residents whether it was a green or blue cart week. Now that either cart can be used, one or the other must be placed at the curb for trash to be collected.
The city plans to continue publishing the calendar.
Beneduce pointed out that it includes information such as hours for the “igloo” in the city yard on Sandy Lane, where people can dump used motor oil between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Also, the city’s recycling center, located behind the sports complex, receives hard plastics, metals and electronics Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In her talk to Rotarians, Bjartmarz said, “We all need to go on a trash diet.”
As for what should not go into recycling, she listed pizza boxes because of the oil and cheese [rip off the top of the box and recycling that is recommended], boxes made for frozen foods contain coatings that make recycling problematic, Styrofoam and wire hangers are a bane to sorting machinery. And speaking of banes, plastic bags are on the top of her list. Even with screens and netting, the bags take to the wind and end up in trees and neighborhoods far from the landfill.
Both Bjartmarz and Noiseux said residential composting of food scraps would significantly reduce the waste ending up at the landfill.
“That’s a high chunk [of the residential waste stream],” said Noiseux. But an approach to recycling commercial trash remains an issue.
“There’s no economic benefit. There’s got to be a way,” said Dan Scanlon Jr., who said he has the larger sections of cardboard pulled from the waste generated by his company anyway.