Officials to look for recycling blunders; offending bins will be tagged

By Angie Hilsman | Jul 12, 2017
Photo by: Angie Hilsman Different colored lids indicate which container is for recycled bottles and which is for cardboard.

Next month, residents may notice their recycling hasn't been picked up, but it won't be because they forgot to roll out the bin.

On August 7, town employees will begin an eight-week curbside engagement program on four of Dartmouth's 10 collection routes, said Jason Hale, vice president of communications for The Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit that is working with the town to improve the recycling system.

The program's main component: leaving behind bins that have plastic bags in them.

Waste collectors will peek inside recycling bins for Dartmouth's biggest recycling offense — plastic bags, plastic wrap (usually seen around multipacks of water, paper towels, etc.), and bagged recyclables.

"The goal is to increase recycling, but also to clean up what is in the recycling cart," explained Marissa Perez-Dormitzer, recycling coordinator of the Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District.

Ninety percent of Dartmouth's 10,859 residential homes recycle through the town's Save Money and Reduce Trash (SMART) program, said Perez-Dormitzer. How it works is residents are provided two black, 65-gallon, wheeled recycling containers at no cost to them. The gray-lidded container is for bottles and cans; the black-lidded one is for paper and cardboard. A special truck — equipped with an arm that fits the containers — lifts and empties containers on collection day.

Last year, 2,740 tons of recycling was collected from Dartmouth residencies through this program, said Perez-Dormitzer.

From there, the collection is brought to a recycling center, but items like greasy pizza boxes, chains and hoses, and plastic wrap gum up the system, which can result in additional cost, worker safety issues, and more items in the trash, explained Hale.

In April, Hale's team started with DPW and the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop town-specific newspaper ads, mailers, social media, and signage to educate residents on the do's and don'ts of recycling. In Dartmouth, literature is also being created in Portuguese, a first for the nonprofit.

"Plastic bags and plastic wrap are the most problematic items found in the curbside recycling. At the recycling facility, the loose bags and wrap get stuck in the machinery. The bagged recyclables may end up as trash," said Perez-Dormitzer.

After finding a recycling mishap, workers will leave a 4x11-inch "Oops" tag on the recycling bin, with the contents still inside, explained Hale.

"The vast majority of people, they get one tag and they clean things up. They're not being malicious. They're just unaware," he said. Retail plastic bags can instead be returned to grocery stores; look for the collection bin.

This “tipping and tagging” — tipping the lids of recycling carts during collection, and tagging the carts that contained contaminants — combined with DPW staff training resulted in a 30-percent drop in contamination on targeted routes when it was unrolled in Massachusetts last year. The program also cut contaminants at drop-off sites in half, according to The Recycling Partnership.

"Last year, we were really hands on, testing different approaches and different theories [in Lowell, West Springfield, Needham, and Holden]. This year, we've figured it out. We know how to address the issue," said Hale.

The program unrolled in New Bedford this month, and will start in Dartmouth next, said Perez-Dormitzer. The Recycling Partnership is also working with Newburyport, Groton, Lynn, and Abington this year. However, recycling programming has already been developed through the nonprofit for more than 420 cities and town nationwide, according to The Recycling Partnership.

"Massachusetts is doing quite a good job at recycling," said Hale. "[Dartmouth has] a top-notch staff and top-notch support. They have some issues with materials, and really wanted to tighten it up."

He added that as the nonprofit works with various Massachusetts communities, it is building a knowledge base that can be shared.

"In 2018, The Recycling Partnership doesn't need to come into Massachusetts. They have the tools and training knowledge," Hale said.

The program is funded through MassDEP, but the nonprofit is maintained through funding from private companies including Coca-Cola, Heineken, and Target, according to The Recycling Partnership's website.

Hale said that recycling creates more jobs, protects the environment, and keeps trash out of landfills. About 100,000 tons of solid waste from Dartmouth and New Bedford go to Crapo Hill Landfill each year, according to the regional refuse district website.

For more information on recycling and to learn where to dispose of medications, paints, computer monitors, and other items, visit town.dartmouth.ma.us.

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