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A greener Bridgeport increases recycling

Written by Westfair Online
Published: September 12, 2013

Take a look at Mayor Bill Finch’s vision for Bridgeport and you might think you’ve put on a pair of green-colored glasses.

Since launching the BGreen2020 initiative, the mayor has introduced several new sustainability practices. And while change does take time, at least one of the programs is already showing a dramatic improvement: recycling.

In just two years, recycling tonnage has increased 67 percent.

“We’re changing the mindset of a wasteful economy and making it more efficient and profitable,” Finch said. “Our goal is to have everyone recycle.”

In the last year, ending in August, Bridgeport residents recycled 5,336 tons of material, which is the equivalent of nearly 890 P.T. Barnum elephants. To contrast, in 2011 residents recycled about 3,203 tons, which is roughly 356 fewer elephants.

In a poorer community, where recycling rates are typically lower, the higher rates are welcomed news, Finch said. More recycling not only means a greener community, but it also means fewer trash collection fees. So far the city has saved nearly $400,000 in avoidance fees and new revenue through regional incentive programs.

“Admittedly, Bridgeport had lower rates than other towns and now we’re trying to catch up,” Finch said. “We have to work a little harder to get our numbers up. But I look at it as an opportunity to show wealthier towns that if we can do it, they should be doing a lot better than us.”

To increase recycling efforts, the city employed several tactics. Most successful has been the city’s switch to a single-stream recycling system and partnering with Recyclebank, a rewards program for residents.

Single-stream recycling refers to automatic sorting efforts once trash is collected at a waste-management facility. Using magnets, fans and other sorting machinery, the city is able to automatically sort recycled material by paper, plastic, metal and glass. Now residents at home no longer have to hand sort the materials, making it more efficient and easier to try recycling.

But beyond system upgrades, Finch also said the city’s door-to-door education initiatives and rewards program have encouraged residents to recycle more. Since launching the Mayor’s Conservation Corps in 2009, groups of young adults have knocked on more than 30,000 doors in Bridgeport, educating citizens about greener lifestyles. One-on-one, residents are taught what’s recyclable, how to recycle and how to earn points for recycling, redeemable at stores such as Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Connecticut Science Center and Foot Locker.

Since 2011, the program has awarded more than $47,000 worth of points.

Mentioning the different material it takes to make a pencil — wood, graphite, metal — and all the different steps it takes to transport raw materials, Finch said recycling helps cut down on the amount of steps and energy it takes to produce even the simplest products.

“There’s 10 steps to every product; the most energy intensive are in the earlier stages (like) mining and extraction,” he said. “If you can eliminate those steps in the beginning of the cycle, you cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, from our standpoint, it’s highly economical.”

Moving forward, Finch said the city hopes to start collecting recycling totes once a week, instead of every other week. He also would like to see more recycling enforcement in city apartments.

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