Commercial Waste Buries Central Landfill

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

JOHNSTON, R.I. — State law mandates that all Rhode Island businesses recycle, but commercial waste represents about 40 percent of what is buried annually in the Central Landfill.

Under the state’s commercial recycling law, all businesses with 50 or more employees that generate solid waste also are required to submit an annual recycling report and information about their waste streams to the state Department of Environmental Management by March 1.

In an effort to increase recycling in the business sector, DEM reinstated its commercial recycling program four years ago to help businesses comply with Rhode Island recycling laws and to help preserve capacity at the ever-shrinking state landfill in Johnston.

Budget cuts forced the closure of the program in 1999. It remained shuttered until engineer Alyson Silva was hired four years ago to run that office.

It’s not an easy job for one person to reduce the 320,000 or so tons of commercial waste buried each year in the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation-run landfill. It requires keen organizational skills and it takes considerable patience.

“We’re focusing our efforts on offices and financial institutions that produce a lot of paper waste,” said Silva, DEM’s recycling coordinator. “Forty percent of their waste is paper waste.”

DEM reinstated the mandatory filing of an annual commercial recycling report three years ago — the requirement had been suspended for several years. Silva has sent out countless letters to businesses throughout the state explaining Rhode Island’s commercial recycling law and notifying them that they must report their recycling efforts via an online system.

Silva said her office is paying particular attention to those businesses that have failed to file annual recycling reports. Enforcement options include warning letters, unscheduled inspections of recycling programs at randomly selected companies and fines.

There are about 1,500 Rhode Island businesses with 50 or more employees. The most-recent compliance rate for filing their annual recycling reports was nearly 63 percent. The 943 companies that filed a 2008 report by the March 1, 2009 deadline reported keeping a combined 196,177 tons of recyclable material out of the Central Landfill.

Seventeen materials must be segregated from the commercial waste stream, including cardboard, office paper, newspaper, cans, glass, laser toner cartridges and yard waste.

“A lot of businesses want to recycle, but it’s another expense … it often means taking up more space with bins and barrels, or getting an additional Dumpster,” said Marty Grimes, chairman of the Newport Energy & Environment Commission. “It’s easy to just throw the stuff in the trash.”

The Energy & Environment Commission is working with City-by-the-Sea businesses, Newport’s clean city program coordinator, Kristin Littlefield, and state officials to make commercial recycling more user-friendly and less expensive.

Littlefield said municipalities can enforce residential recycling, but don’t have the authority to make businesses recycle.

During her first year and a half on the job, Littlefield has received phone calls from about 30 businesses asking her how to start a recycling program. She said educating and training employees are keys to a successful commercial recycling program.

The contract many Rhode Island businesses sign with waste haulers includes the provision that the hauler also pick up recyclables. If such a clause doesn’t exist or if the hauler doesn’t provide that service, Silva said there are area companies that pick up recyclables.

In the past four years, Silva has visited 50 Rhode Island businesses. She tours the business, tells employees what can be recycled and recommends the best spots to place recycling bins.