West Hartford's new contract with ReCommunity Recycling, which commenced on Nov. 16, 2012, is already generating cost savings and offering residents the opportunity to keep more items out of the trash stream.
At Tuesday night's West Hartford Town Council meeting, Town Manager Ron Van Winkle held up a prop – a Little Tikes truck that once belonged to his son. Although he was not prepared to discard that particular item, Van Winkle wanted to make the point that rigid plastics, including children's toys that might otherwise be thrown away, can now be recycled.
Environmental Services Manager and Recycling Coordinator David Gabriele said that since the change in vendor, West Hartford now has a greatly expanded opporuntity for recycling.
Gabriele said that ReCommunity is a very large recycling organization, a national organization, and they support a different market in each region. The company is in the process of putting together a West Hartford-specific list of acceptable items, and that will be posted on the town's website in the next week.
Last month it was announced that could be placed in the town's blue recycling bins.
The list of approved items (see PDF) has been expanded to include hard/rigid plastics, such as toys, buckets, etc. Any plastic item with the numbers 1 through 7, of any color, can be recycled now, Gabriele said.
"You can even recycle one of those Little Tikes playhouses, but it will have to be cut up. Rigid plastic can be recycled, but it will have to fit into the barrel," Gabriele said.
Paper clips, metal fasteners, rubber bands, spiral bindings can be left intact under the new contract. "All were not acceptable before, and it was one of the reasons why people were not putting things into the recycling bin," said Gabriele.
He said that when you open a package, which may include both plastic and cardboard, throw the whole thing into the recyling bin, not the trash. Bathrooms are a great source of recycling materials, said Gabriele. "Health care item containers, shaving cream cans hair spray cans – it's a lot of the small things that people don't capture."
There is also a list of unacceptable items (see the Dirty Dozen PDF) which could contaminate an entire load and send it off to the trash stream, increasing the town's costs. Some, like hazardous wastes, diapers, and liquids are fairly obvious, but when in doubt consult this list. Shredded paper, frozen food containers, and plastic lids from bottles and jars are some of of the prohibited items.
Removing recyclables from the waste stream not only helps the environment; it also saves the town money. "Our contract with ReCommunity calls for a flat rate of $7.50 per ton for recyclables, and we have a revenue share of up to 50 percent," said Gabriele. That final rate is based the market for the recyclable commodity. In November, the town earned $14.29 per ton; in December the rate was $12.69, Gabriele said. He thinks that December's rate may have been lower because more of the recyclable material was paper, which does not fetch as high a price as #1 and #2 plastics and aluminum.
Gabriele said that since the contract with ReCommunity began, in mid-November, West Hartford has delivered approximately 870 tons of recyclables to their facility. The rebate to date is $11,456. Plus, he said, that 870 tons taken out of the waste stream is valued at $50,920.
"Simply put for every ton we increase in diverting recyclable material from the waste stream, $58.75 is saved plus $10 to $15 (or more) is earned from the recyclable commodity markets. Less waste is making its way to a landfill or being burned. It's a win-win that starts at the point of generation – in our homes," said Director of Public Works John Phillips.
The town pays a flat fee of $89,000 on a monthly basis for recycling pick-up, so the more that can be recycled generates additional revenue as an offset, plus saves by keeping that material out of the waste stream. A recycling program is not optional; it's a mandate. "The more we can get into the recycling stream will keep our trash costs down and get our recycling revenue up," said Gabriele.
Since November, the town's recycling rate has increased from 26 percent to 30 percent. "It's a significant jump but we traditionally see a jump in the winter months," Gabriele said. He said if we can get get close to a 50 percent recycling level – which is the federal target for 2015 – the program will pay for itself. The state is targeting a 58 percent recycling rate by 2024.
Prior to November 2012, the town had been locked into the recycling agreement with the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) for several decades. Interestingly, Gabriele said, during the bid process they discovered that ReCommunity is actually the vendor for CRRA, but the list of acceptable recyclables was much more restrictive. "It's not clear why CRRA wasn't handling some of that material we can now include," said Gabriele.
"We are seeing some early success with our new agreement with ReCommunity. The more our community educates themselves on what to recycle, the more we see participation rates increase, the more we can earn from the sale of our recyclable materials," said Phillips.
Phillips said that his own recycling bin, for a family of five, is filled to overflowing every two weeks while just one little waste bag is in the green trash bin. "I strongly encourage each of us to be recyclable-conscious when buying our products at the store. Make sure they are packed with recyclable materials ... I know with little effort what can be accomplished."
"Some day we will see a weekly recyclable collection and a bi-weekly waste collection. Hope that day is sooner than later," said Phillips.
[Editor's note: The monthly recycling fee was incorrectly stated as $134,000 in an earlier version of this story. The monthly fee is $89,000. The fee from mid-November through the end of December was $134,000. –RN]