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City takes steps toward raising recycling rate

Written by Luther Turmelle, New Haven Register
Published: January 2, 2010

Supporters of efforts to reduce the stream of garbage that Connecticut residents produce will be watching New Haven closely this spring as the city trashes its old solid waste collection plan in favor of one that is more focused on recycling.

Starting some time in early March and continuing through the next two months, the city will be rolling out 34,000 new garbage containers that hold only 45 gallons, about half the size of the current trash cans, said John Prokop, New Haven’s Public Works director. The current 96-gallon garbage cans won’t go to waste; instead, Prokop said they will be converted into recyclable containers.

“We’re of the opinion that with the introduction of this, we can move 30 to 40 percent of the tonnage of what we’re now throwing out to recyclables,” Prokop said of the switchover.

Estimates are that switching over, combined with a change that will allow residents to throw all types of recyclables into a single bin, will increase New Haven’s recycling rate from its current level of 10 percent to 27 percent. By comparison, according to state Department of Environmental Protection figures released in October, just 24 percent of what Connecticut throws out is recycled; the majority of the refuse is processed at in-state resource recovery facilities.

The changes that will be implemented in New Haven are being followed with interest at the state level because Connecticut isn’t coming anywhere near meeting the recycling goals that state environmental officials have set. Connecticut’s solid waste management plan, which was updated in 2006, calls for recycling as much as 58 percent of all the solid waste that is produced.

That has prompted the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to champion “pay-as-you-throw” programs.

Currently available in about two dozen communities statewide, the theory behind pay-as-you-throw is that there is an increased incentive to recycle as much as possible because residents are charged for each bag of garbage they produce.

“From the experiences of other cities around the country and around the world, we do know that pay-as-you-throw programs can work,” said Paul Nonnenmacher, a spokesman for the Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority, which operates trash-to-energy facilities in Wallingford, Hartford and Preston. “The challenge is in implementing them. There are a lot of moving parts involved with these programs.”

The program that New Haven is switching to is not considered a pure pay-to-throw program, although Prokop said an element of that concept could find its way into what the city is doing.

City aldermen voted in November to sign a 10-year agreement with New York-based RecycleBank.

The company will finance the $1.55 million transition to single-stream recycling and manage an incentive program under which residents will be eligible for discounts and gift certificates to local businesses and grocery stores based on how much they recycle.

Prokop said that if residents find that one of the new 45-gallon garbage cans isn’t enough to hold their weekly waste, that’s where a pay-to-throw charge could possibly come in.

One reason DEP officials are interested in New Haven’s changeover is because right now, only communities like Coventry, Mansfield, Granby and Wilton have some form of pay-as-you throw programs. Most of the towns that have implemented pay-as-you-throw programs did so a decade ago or more, meaning that the DEP’s efforts to encourage additional communities has fallen on deaf ears.

“You can’t just wave a magic wand and do this because we’re so balkanized,” Dennis Schain, a DEP spokesman said of efforts to increase recycling statewide, either through single stream recycling or pay-as-you-throw programs.

Even those Connecticut communities that have adopted some kind of pay-as-you-throw programs are experiencing some growing pains of late.

Coventry has used a pay-as-you-throw program since 1995, according to Tim Webb, the town’s director of Public Works.

“We are probably the Number One community of our size in the state when it comes to recycling,” Webb said of the town, which has 11.504 residents according to the 2000 census. “We have some residents who only have enough trash to put out every other week.”

But now town officials are considering returning to a flat fee for trash removal, Webb said, because trash haulers want to go to single stream recycling.

“The contractors want to go with automated collection,” he said, referring to highly automated garbage trucks operated solely by the driver. “The kind of automation that single stream allows is hurting pay-as-you-throw because the haulers don’t want these guys to have to deal with all the issues that go with it.”

Mansfield’s pay-as-you-throw program has been in place since 1990 and currently offers five service levels to choose from. Ginny Walton, the town’s recycling coordinator, said the pay-as-you-throw options range from purchasing one 13-gallon bag per week at a cost of $11.75 per month to four, 35-gallon cans for a $34 per month charge.

But the town efforts to boost recycling through the program have been hampered with the increase in University of Connecticut students living in off-campus apartments in the 20 years since pay-as-you-throw started, Walton said.

“When we started, our (townwide) recycling rate was at 40 percent,” she said. “Now our single-family home residential rate is at 37 or 38 percent, but the recycling rate from our apartments is about 11 percent.”

Given the current statewide recycling levels, a rate of 38 percent would represent progress. But so far, they are unwilling to make pay-as-you-throw programs mandatory statewide or even to mandate uniformity for all municipal recycling programs.

Diane Duva, assistant director of DEP’s waste engineering and enforcement division, said the experience that officials in Massachusetts have had with pay-as-you-throw programs shows that making the programs mandatory isn’t necessarily the way to go.

“Massachusetts has over 140 towns that have pay-as-you-throw, but they didn’t mandate it,” Duva said. “They made a resource decision and have five people at the Massachusetts DEP who are dedicated toward encouraging those programs.”

 

Click here to read the story at the New Haven Register

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