South Coast Recycling: A Mixed Bin

Region relies on dual- and single-stream recycling to better manage waste stream

By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — The good news is that the nation now recycles about 35 percent of its waste. The bad news is that some communities are still paying for disposal of their recyclable material.

But not in New Bedford, where curbside recycling has been bringing in about $100,000 annually.

The secret is retaining ownership of the material, according to Marissa Perez-Dormitzer, recycling coordinator for the Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District. That can make the difference between making money on the paper, cardboard, metal and plastic or paying to get rid of it, she said.

And while she doesn’t buy and sell the material directly, she knows the market. What makes recycled goods valuable is the same as any other commodity: a reliable, steady stream of consistently high-quality material.

It takes a lot of public education and promotion to maintain consistent quality, but the city’s population of 94,000 helps yield a steady stream of material, Perez-Dormitzer said.

New Bedford requires that households recycle, but doesn’t charge extra for curbside pickup. It also provides recycling collection to small- and medium-sized businesses for free. However, the city currently runs a dual-stream recycling service: paper and cardboard are kept separate from commingled plastic and metal. Perez-Dormitzer said that helps guarantee quality of the recycled paper and cardboard — or “fiber” — and it pays off.

“Paper brings in only $40 to $65 per ton,” said Perez-Dormitzer, “but we process so much of it. Scrap metal may get $100 to $200 per ton, but there’s less of it.”

Recycling pays
Recycling in the communities along the South Coast runs the gamut of paying full freight for disposal to making a tidy sum.

At one end of the spectrum is the town of Fairhaven. A suburban community of 15,500 people, the town pays for curbside pickup of both trash and recycled goods. In 2013, the cost of picking up 901 tons of recycled material came to $168,000, which included trucking costs. The benefit may not be financial, said Patricia Fowle, Fairhaven’s Board of Health director, but there’s that much less that goes to the regional incinerator or to a landfill.

In nearby Rochester, the town provides curbside pickup for recycling and brings the recycled goods to New Bedford Waste Services’ transfer station. It’s a break-even agreement: the town isn’t charged a disposal fee, but it also doesn’t derive any revenue from the recyclable materials. There also are transportation costs for curbside pickup and delivery to the transfer station.

Highway superintendent Jeff Aldridge agrees with Perez-Dormitzer that the value of paper and cardboard is higher with volume. But Rochester’s recycled-materials stream is seeing more metals and plastic these days, so the town’s agreement with New Bedford Waste Services works better for this small community of 5,300 residents.

On the plus side of the ledger is the town of Westport, with a pay-as-you-throw system in place since 1995. There’s no curbside pickup. Instead, residents pay $35 for a sticker that lets them dispose of solid waste at the town transfer station. There they pay $30 for a 10-punch card that allows them to dispose of a 33-gallon trash bag per punch. Recycling is free to residents with a sticker.

Last year, Westport’s 15,000 residents recycled 406 tons of cardboard, metal, plastic and mixed paper, according to Nancy Paquet of the Westport Board of Health. The town was paid $30,384 for those collected recyclables.

The town of Dartmouth also uses a pay-as-you-throw program called “Save Money and Reduce Trash” (SMART). Residents who use private haulers are referred to as the “non-SMART.”

SMART seems to have worked — 10,000 of the 11,237 Dartmouth households participate in the program by paying a flat fee of $80. The cost of household waste disposal is $1 per 15 pounds, making recycling a reasonable incentive.

The SMART program is a dual-stream curbside pickup that separates collection of fiber on alternating weeks from commingled plastics and metals, DPW director David Hickox said. This helps to maintain a consistently high quality of recycled fiber, he said.

Joining forces to reduce waste
New Bedford’s success is also due in part to its participation in the Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District, a quasi-public entity that markets recycled materials.

In 1979, New Bedford and Dartmouth formed the regional refuse district to manage the Crapo Hill Landfill in Dartmouth. The district has since grown to include two contracted communities — the towns of Oak Bluff and Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard — and private contracts with waste management disposal companies and private industries in the region.

The landfill still has 17 years left, give or take, according to district executive director Scott Alfonse. Recycling and other waste-reduction efforts will help increase the life of the landfill, he said.

And it pays, too. In fiscal 2013, New Bedford got back $78,000 for a total of 4,100 tons, according to Alfonse. Dartmouth received $49,000 for about 2,480 tons of recycled goods picked up curbside. These figures include recycled materials from public schools and municipal buildings.

This year that may change for New Bedford, as it switches to single-stream cart for recycling. Fiber quality will drop due to contamination, which means the city won’t get as much for its fiber. The advantage is a drop in solid waste volume, which the city expects will save it $100,000 annually in landfill disposal fees.

Alfonse noted that the switch to single-stream recycling also will save money in the long run. The future cost of disposing at the landfill is only going to go up with decreasing space, he said. Slowing that drop in capacity also will keep the member communities disposal costs lower longer.