Jamestown may adopt ‘pay-as-you-throw’ trash disposal
A “pay-as-you-throw” system was one of the many topics addressed during the second meeting of the committee, which will explore ways to increase the town’s recycling rate.
The Dec. 16 meeting was attended by two representatives of the R.I. Resource Recovery Corporation, a quasi-public agency responsible for managing the state’s solid waste and recyclables. The RIRRC operates the Central Landfill in Johnston, where the agency also sorts and manages recyclables at its materials recovery facility.
Sarah Kite, the RIRRC director of recycling services, presented data on the recycling rates for all Rhode Island towns. According to the data, 26.3 percent of all the waste hauled out of Jamestown in fiscal year 2008-09 was recyclable material. Although the rate is higher than it was in previous years, it falls short of the 30% recycling rate mandated by state law – not to mention the 35% mandate that becomes effective in 2012.
Meeting, and exceeding, that 30% mandate would save Jamestown money. That’s because the town pays a commercial, instead of municipal, tipping fee for every ton of waste exceeding a cap for solid-waste disposal that the RIRRC sets for each town. The standard municipal rate is $32 per ton; the rate for municipalities exceeding their caps is $46 per ton.
Additionally, every town recycling more than 35% of its waste receives a $3-per-ton rebate for every ton of waste sent to the landfill during a fiscal year, effectively reducing the municipal tipping fee to $29 per ton. Keeping recyclables out of the bags that 40% of Jamestown households bring to the transfer station will help the town avoid paying the higher fee – and potentially save many thousands of dollars per year.
Requiring residents to purchase special bags for the trash they bring to the transfer station will discourage them from using the bags for materials they could just as easily put in their blue and green bins. Other towns with a “pay-as-you-throw” system require residents to buy stickers while allowing them to use any bags they like, which raises the question: Why force residents to buy special bags instead of stickers?
Because a sticker system invites counterfeiting, Kite observed. Moreover, the use of stickers would require someone at the transfer station to “police” all the bags that residents bring for disposal, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said.
Consequently, he said, colored bags that are easily identifi able from a distance would be preferable to stickers. However, the town also wants to encourage residents who pay for curbside pick-up to recycle as well. An effective way to do that, said Kite, is the “no bin, no barrel” rule, under which trash haulers are prohibited from curbside pick-ups whenever blue and green bins with recyclables aren’t present.
“It’s a good way to ensure that everyone is recycling,” she said. “I set up a ‘no bin, no barrel’ program in Smithfield, and we raised the percentage of people recycling ‘most of the time’ to 75%. The solid waste disposal costs of the town decreased by 18 to 24%, and they saved $50,000 within the first three months.”
How many recyclables are ending up in Jamestown’s solid waste stream?
Steven Tiexiera, president of Island Rubbish – whose company is the sole waste hauler for the island – told the committee that “quite a few people throw away recyclables, but it’s not an extraordinary amount.”
He also noted that “there were quite a few people who put yard waste in their trash bags last summer.” Yard waste is not recyclable.
During FY 2008-09, Jamestown exceeded its solid waste cap, which is 2,196 tons per year, by 185 tons – with each of those tons costing the town $46 instead of $32 in tipping fees. The $46 fee is the lowest of the commercial tipping fees charged by the RIRRC.
Keiser told the committee that he has formally asked the RIRRC to increase its population tally for Jamestown from 6,000 to 6,400 (as an annual average) in its cap calculations. The adjustment, he said, would account for the summertime increase in Jamestown’s population and raise its cap. Because the current tally fails to reflect the seasonal population increase, Keiser said, “Our cap is 150 tons below what is should be.”
Under the requested adjustment, the town would have paid $1,610 to landfill 35 tons of overthe cap waste; as it was, the town spent $8,510 to dispose of 185 tons of over-the-cap waste.
Meanwhile, there is another goal that the state has set for its towns; namely, the diversion rate. This is the rate at which a town diverts from the Central Landfill all types of materials – those that can be recycled, and those that cannot. Currently, the state has a diversion goal of 30.5%; in 2011, it will become a 50% mandate.
In an interview, Kite stressed that the diversion goal, and the future diversion mandate, should not be confused with recycling mandates.
“When we’re calculating the caps,” she said, “we apply the overall diversion reduction, which includes recyclables and all the other stuff that never goes to the landfill. For example, if it’s yard waste, it may go to a composting facility. If it’s scrap metal, it may be sold. Other things that count towards the diversion rate are books, tires, clothing and mattresses. But everything that’s recycled counts towards the diversion rate as well.”
The purpose of recycling and diversion is extending the life of the Central Landfill. However, recycling has also returned money to municipalities. At the end of FY 2008, the materials recovery facility was a profitable operation that shared its earnings with the towns. The RIRRC has previously funded, among other things, recycling calendars (like the one distributed to Jamestown residents); portions of the salaries for local recycling coordinators; discounts on recycling bins and leaf-and-yard-waste bags.
But things have changed.
“At the end of that ‘08 fiscal year, our sales of recycled materials produced $12.5 million in revenue, and we were able to distribute $2.3 million from our profits,” she said. “The next year, the prices for paper, plastic and metal all crashed. Our revenue fell by 50% and we didn’t have any profits at all – only enough for our operating expenses. This year, we expect to bring in $7.5 million, which is more than the $6 million in revenue we brought in the previous year, but there still won’t be any profits to share.”
The revenue reduction is also affecting RIRRC plans to install an optical sorting system – a project that will cost millions of dollars. With this system, “light box” scanners will instantly detect plastics – such as those in toys, yogurt containers and “clamshell” containers – which are currently not accepted at the recycling facility because “it’s just not possible for human beings to grab all those materials off the conveyor belt without slowing down the belts below a threshold where the system won’t work anymore,” Kite said.
Each ‘light box’ will cost $250,000, she added.
“We will have to install quite a few of them, along with an entirely new conveyor belt system; cages to collect the materials that are ‘puffed off’ the waste stream; and new balers to squish the materials into cubes. There’s a whole host of machinery involved and we will be paying for all of it ourselves because we don’t receive any state subsidies,” she said. “Currently, the law says we have to have the optical sorting system in place by January 2011. But the supplemental budget plan from the governor has pushed that date back to June 2014. That will hopefully allow us some time to raise the capital to make the necessary changes.”
The recycling committee will hold its next meeting on Jan. 13. Public Works Director Steve Goslee will be on hand to provide additional input for the panel.