Recycle Q & A Recap – Part 1

Thank you to Mary Beth and to Wellington PTO members, Anna Churchill and Doug Koplow for generously participating in our Recycling Q & A – and, thank you to everyone who attended and submitted questions!

We received many questions, an great indicator of engagement and care for this particular subject. With so much to cover, I am posting the recap in a few parts.

How does Belmont measure up?
Part 1 of our Recycling Q&A Recap from March 5th

Sustainable Belmont hosted a Q&A with Mary Beth Calnan and Wellington PTO Members to discuss recycling issues in town, including the great efforts underway at the elementary schools. Participants were invited to submit questions and share ideas during the evening and in advance of the discussion. Many questions prompted by the idea of improving recycling rates were asked along the lines of: how about single-stream recycling? weekly collection? pay as you throw? switch trash with recycling frequency? incentive programs? stronger [any] enforcement?

Addressing each in turn, Mary Beth Calnan and Doug Koplow (recent chair of the Solid Waste / Recycling Committee and Wellington parent) spoke to the issues. Single-stream is not the utopia we might expect it to be: 1) it costs a fair amount to invest in the particular toters, 2) at the time of Belmont’s contract negotiation it wasn’t cost effective – largely due to the newness of single-stream and the small size of Belmont relative to other markets – and 3) our divided streams, particularly the separated paper has a good value on the recycling market  which could be to our advantage in a new contract negotiation. Weekly collection, another idea, would also fall in the realm of increasing costs. Certainly it would increase recycling rates, but whether it would offset the additional costs of the additional weeks would be the subject of analysis for the next Solid Waste/Recycling Committee, when the contract comes up for renewal.recycling-99223_150

As for positive incentive programs, Calnan reported a program in Everett that went awry by rewarding based on weight, such that bowling balls and bricks were tossed regularly to increase the rewards. Punitive programs are not favored, i.e., Belmont has the authority to issue tickets to non-compliant residents as neighboring communities do, but chooses not to. More indirect methods, such as barrel limits or pay-as-you-throw, are less punitive and a possibility, but such programs would have to be vetted via our democratic process.

Still, how do we increase the rates of recycling and reduce our costs for waste removal. First, know that both waste and recycled materials have a removal cost in the form of a hauling charge. But, waste (the incineration-bound kind) has an ADDED cost – a tipping fee of $70 / ton. That sounds really cheap, but in 2013 Belmont disposed of roughly 7,500 tons of trash. That translates into $525,000 in tipping charges.

In the same year, we diverted roughly 2,200 tons of recycled materials. That translates into $154,000 of avoided tipping fees due to recycling. Our complete diversion rate is about 40% – that is yard waste, recycling and other materials that never hit the highway to incineration. If we consider 40% of our total waste as an avoided tipping cost, we saved about $271,600 in 2013. That sounds great, but where else does 40% equal success, especially when it’s estimated that 80-90% of all our waste can be recovered in the form of recycling or composting? We could double our $$.

Clearly, it is in our financial interest to increase recycling compliance and reduce consumption overall. Yet, whatever policy is in place, we are still left with education, education, and more education. That is the hard truth as material-recovery technology changes and product designs change. We are fortunate now to have Calan, who is helping to create continuity and educate everyone along the way. As she puts it, people are funny about their trash, but why wouldn’t you do it? Recycle – it just makes sense!

*Note – we have corrected the previous version to reflect the error in tons and subsequent calculations. Apologies for the misrepresentation – thank you Mary Beth for bringing it to our attention! 3/12/2014