BY JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff
JOHNSTON, R.I. — It's been considered a political third rail for years, but on July 1, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, the operator of the state's Central Landfill, will be raising tipping fees for the first time since 1992.
The tipping fee, or the cost to dispose of trash at the landfill, was locked in at $32 a ton and, according to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), was no longer sufficient to cover the cost of managing the landfill.
The fee will be raised to $39.50 a ton in July and will increase again to $47 a ton in July 2018.
Based on data available, RIRRC has estimated that the increase will cost an average of $1.05 per household per month.
While the fee increase was implemented primarily to address a shortfall in funding, it may also indirectly help extend the life of the landfill by boosting recycling rates, according to Brian Card, director of operations and engineering at RIRRC.
"Municipalities do not pay tipping-fees to bring recyclables to our Materials Recycling Facility, so there are clear financial incentives for them to focus local efforts on increased waste reduction and diversion," Card wrote in an e-mail to ecoRI News.
With the new fee in place, Providence, the state's largest municipality, expects its trash disposal fees to rise by $400,000 this fiscal year, according to the city's sustainability director, Leah Bamberger.
Bamberger sees the fee increase as an opportunity to boost the city's recycling rates. Based on numbers gathered between 2008 and 2015, only 12 percent, on average, of Providence's curbside waste was recycled. The national average recycling rate, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is nearly 34 percent.
Moreover, in 2015, 11,887 tons of Providence's recycling loads were rejected because of contamination resulting from improper recycling. Those rejected loads cost the city $64,250.
"We're motivated not just by the (tipping-fee) increase but also we have the lowest recycling rate in the state, so this is something we've been working on," Bamberger said in a recent phone interview with ecoRI News. "There's a huge opportunity for saving even without that increase, but the increase makes it more important that we tackle this issue."
To reduce contamination and boost recycling, the city last year piloted education and enforcement programs in Washington Park, where half of all the city's recycling loads were being rejected at the landfill.
As part of the program, environmental enforcement officers went out before the trash and recycling collection and analyzed residents' recycling bins. They issued 680 warnings for recycling violations and left behind educational materials. The next week they issued 96 tickets. Four weeks later, 61 tickets were issued.
There have been no contaminated loads from that route since the pilot was completed last year, according to Bamberger. She said the city plans to scale the successful Washington Park initiative to include other city neighborhoods.