Some items are obviously recyclable (newspapers, no. 1 and 2 plastic bottles), but others are questionable and often get tossed into the trash. Even the most dedicated recyclers often have questions, and the answers are not always easy to find.
The Town of West Hartford wants to encourage residents to keep as much material out of the waste stream as possible, and is beginning the new year with a reinvigorated focus on recycling.
Prior to the introduction of automated recycling West Hartford’s recycling rate was only 22 percent according to Environmental Services Manager David Gabriele from the West Hartford Public Works Department. It now averages about 33 percent of what is discarded. “We’re at a ‘feel good’ rate in town,” Gabriele said, but it could be much better.
The state has a target of diverting 58 percent of material from the solid waste disposal stream by 2024. It’s not a law, but a goal set in 2006 by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Solid Waste Management Plan. The federal EPA’s goal is to divert 50 percent from the stream by 2015.
The volume of recycling currently generated through West Hartford's residential and municipal collection (town-owned buildings) is approaching 8,000 tons on an annual basis. Gabriele and Public Works Director John Phillips hope to see that increase that to 9,000 tons in FY 2015, and are aiming to reach the 50 percent rate as soon as possible.
West Hartford pays about $91,000 per month in service costs for pick-up of recycling. The town receives a rebate from ReCommunity Recycling, under the contract signed in Nov. 2012, of between $7.50 and $15.00 per ton of recycled materials, depending on the market rates. Gabriele said the average has been about $12.00 since the contract began.
It costs the town – and therefore the taxpayers – when something that could be recycled is thrown away. If it’s recycled, not only are tipping fees reduced but West Hartford actually gets money back.
Gabriele and Phillips believe that the first step toward increasing recycling is providing residents with clear information about what can and can’t be recycled, as well as other pertinent information. The new recycling campaign will do just that. The cost of outreach and education is being paid through a grant that the town received from its waste disposal contractor, Covanta Energy Corporation.
As the new "recycling promoter" for the town, I know that there is so much misinformation among West Hartford residents about what can and can’t be recycled. I thought I personally was a really good recycler, but every time I meet with someone at Public Works and ask a question I realize that I have been throwing way too much into the trash.
I'm excited about this project because not only is recycling important for the environment, but it makes financial sense, too. But we need to do it correctly. My goal is to provide clear information and communicate with residents on a regular basis so that they are repeatedly reminded and motivated.
Town Council member Leon Davidoff, who is chairman of the Community Planning & Physical Services Committee, believes it’s really important for the town to increase its recycling rates and become a leader among towns in the region. “Here’s a way that the taxpayers can raise more income for themselves. It’s a win-win,” he said.
“I think we’ll succeed because West Hartford as a community is forward-thinking, progressive, and environmentally-conscious,” said Davidoff. “We just need to put a few more things in place to make it easier for people.”