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Single-Stream Recycling

Massachusetts Municipal Association - 2008 - Kenneth E. Pickard Municipal Innovation Award

Summary

When 60 communities in central Massachusetts jointly negotiated a new long-term contract with the operator of a regional waste disposal plant, Holden faced a rate increase of more than 50 percent. But thanks to a new single-stream recycling program operated by Casella Waste Systems, the town was able to make up for most of the added expense.

Description

When 60 communities in central Massachusetts jointly negotiated a new long-term contract with the operator of a regional waste disposal plant, Holden faced a rate increase of more than 50 percent. But thanks to a new single-stream recycling program operated by Casella Waste Systems, the town was able to make up for most of the added expense.

To avoid more than a modest rise in trash fees charged to Holden residents, it was necessary to dramatically increase the proportion of overall waste that was being recycled, from the previous rate of 13 percent to at least 30 percent.

Holden Town Manager Brian Bullock says many residents were skeptical of the town’s intentions at first, since it appeared that people were being asked to pay more for less: Their monthly trash fees were going up (from $13 to $15), while their 95-gallon trash toters were being replaced by ones about two-thirds that size.

“We had one woman stand up and say, ‘I’ve got a family of four kids. I can’t do it. I can’t fit it all into 65 gallons,’” Bullock recalls. “This was a very visceral issue for some people.”

The move to the smaller trash toters, according to Bullock, was a tactical decision, designed to give people additional incentive to recycle. And the recycling process was made much easier. The open plastic crates – and the sorting of paper, glass, metal and plastic – were replaced with a 95-gallon toter used for all materials.

The single-stream program, made possible by state-of-the-art sorting technology in Casella’s plant in Auburn, quickly exceeded Holden’s goal. In July, the first month of operation, the proportion of refuse being recycled rose from 13 percent to 35 percent. By the end of the year, according to the town, the figure had risen to nearly 38 percent.

Bullock says that on his first visit to the Casella plant, he expected to see dozens of workers scrambling to sort plastics and other recyclables. But he describes the process as highly automated: the plastics get flattened, then travel rapidly along a conveyor belt as scanners record the number on each bottle designating its type. A blast of air then blows the plastic into the appropriate bin.

“There probably were no more than 10 people in the entire building,” Bullock says.

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Tags: Civic/Public Participation, Finance, Government Performance and Management, Sustainability/Green Issues/Environment and Natural Resources





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