2011-11-10 / News

Council ponders ways to increase recycling

BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council this week took its first step towards a formal review of wide-ranging options to spark an increase in Jamestown’s recycling rate. The issue was the focus of a work session in which the town’s Recycling Committee brought forward recommendations for the first time since the panel’s first meeting on Dec. 16, 2009.

The work session, which was held on Nov. 7, included three committee members: Mike Testa, Norma Willis and Teresa Lablanc. Island Rubbish president Steve Tiexiera, who has attended all of the committee meetings, joined the work session as well.

The committee was established to examine the merits and feasibility of various measures to increase the recycling rate, which would pay dividends for several reasons – not least of which is the penalty Jamestown annually incurs for falling short of the state’s recycling mandates.

A substantial increase in the recycling rate would also qualify Jamestown for lower tipping fees at the Central Landfill in Johnston. It would enable the town to turn a profit on the recyclable material that the landfill sells in the open market.

Jamestown has long been stuck at a 25 percent recycling rate, which is causing the town to exceed the waste cap set by the Rhode Island Resource and Recovery Corporation for solid waste sent to the Central Landfill. At the end of fiscal year 2010-11, the exceedance led to a $14,300 penalty – all but wiping out the $15,100 that RIRRC paid the town for its share of the proceeds from the sale of recyclable material from Jamestown.

This fiscal year, Testa told the council, Jamestown’s solid waste shipments reached 48 percent of the cap by Oct. 31, which means that the town might end up paying as much as $20,000 in penalties for fiscal year 2011-12.

Meanwhile, the RIRRC keeps raising the recycling goal for each of the state’s municipalities in an effort to extend the life of the Central Landfill, which, Testa said, has about 12 years left before it’s full. Last year, the goal set for Jamestown was 32 percent; this year, it’s 35 percent. But it’s obvious that Jamestown won’t be anywhere near that goal at the end of fiscal year 2011-12, so the council plans to review the options to end the stagnation.

In all probability, the councilors will end up selecting an “education” option as the town’s first step. However, it’s also likely that education and outreach won’t increase recycling enough for the town to avoid RIRRC penalties, which means a future council may decide to consider the most effective – and controversial – option on the committee’s list of recommendations: pay-to-throw.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the council that, according to Environmental Protection Agency statistics, towns with pay-to-throw disposal programs have an average 40 percent recycling rate – and it’s easy enough to understand why. If a resident has to buy dedicated trash bags, or stickers for regular trash bags, they will have a financial incentive to keep their recyclables out of those bags.

However, Testa acknowledged that any pay-to-throw proposal would be “politically sensitive – if not impossible – to sell to the taxpayers.” At this point, moreover, it appears to be a tough sell among some of the councilors. That’s because the accuracy of the recycling rates measured by Middletown (41 percent) and Portsmouth (31 percent) may not reflect the recycling tonnage picked up by waste haulers from their curbside customers.

Councilor Bob Bowen, for example, questioned the Middletown and Portsmouth percentages. He also questioned the South Kingstown recycling rate, which was noted by Keiser as 41 percent. Keiser insisted, however, that the percentage was accurate, later saying that the Rose Hill transfer station used by South Kingstown residents has a scale to weigh the recyclables that residents bring in.

The Recycling Committee, however, has also recommended two other options besides education and financial incentives. One would be improvements to the Jamestown Transfer Station, and the other is a suite of methods to enhance the “metrics” used to estimate the town’s recycling rate.

Under the transfer station recommendation, Testa said, the town could add a cardboard compactor and a camera to film the disposal of such improper materials as paint cans and construction debris. The town could also provide recycling bins for green and blue recyclables, charge for large items brought to the transfer station, and provide an area for reusable items.

A major problem with this approach, Keiser said, is that “we have about one inch of wiggle room for the addition of any impermeable surfaces at the transfer station” because of stormwater management regulations.

Nevertheless, Testa said, cardboard could readily boost the town’s recycling tonnage because many people hate slicing up large pieces of cardboard for recycling – with Councilor Bill Murphy identifying himself as one such person – and some portion of those people end up pitching cardboard into the trash compactor. “I almost always see cardboard in the [compacting] bin,” Testa said.

The metrics enhancement, he explained, would involve such measures as seeking the addition of summer-resident populations to the formula used by RIRRC to calculate the annual waste cap for each municipality. (Keiser noted that there has been progress in that effort.) Testa added that the town should also add up the volume ing that Landworks should be provided with that “consensus” to start its analysis. By “consensus,” Bowen was presumably referring to the preferences expressed by each of the councilors during a previous meeting.

Because five separate lists of preferences (as opposed to a vote) may or may not be defined as “consensus,” Keiser said, “Why not have a work session to [formally] decide on an allocation of space for the RV campground? You don’t need Landworks to tell you that.”

Consequently, it looks like the council will schedule a work session to reach a consensus on the RV campground in advance of a meeting with Landworks. However, this is a change from the previous plan, which was to have been a discussion with Landworks about preferences – those of the councilors and possibly those of Jamestown residents – without the necessity for a consensus. Given the “adjustment” to the plan, it remains to be seen if this latest approach will be set in stone. And it also remains to be seen if any of the leading resident preferences to emerge during the Fort Getty charrette will, or will not, be submitted for Landworks analysis.

In a Fort Getty update unrelated to master plan implementation, Keiser said that Town Engineer Mike Gray and pavilion architect Andrew Yates are working with a manufacturer on the final truss details for the replacement pavilion. Keiser said he anticipates advertising a builder solicitation in early December. He also mentioned that the issue of an insurance payout for a “scour proof” foundation – which the insurance company has rejected – “is not dead.”

In other business, the council:

• Voted for a month-to-month extension of its contract with Island Rubbish for recyclables collection rather than a multi-year extension in order to provide the town with an opportunity to “design,” as Keiser put it, “a more cost-effective collection process” in anticipation of the singlestream recycling that the Central Landfill is expected to launch this spring.

• Learned that a time-stamped audio recording of the evening’s proceedings will the first to be posted on the town’s website.

• Accepted a letter from Town Clerk Cheryl Fernstrom, who had been asked to research the original dedication of the Col. John C. Rembijas pavilion in anticipation of the eventual dedication of its replacement. Fernstrom’s letter notes that Rembijas was a building contractor who was instrumental in the construction of the original building. The letter also notes, “Town Council and town clerk records reveal no resolution or official naming of the facility by the Town Council.” of compost sold to a local farmer because that material, while not recyclable, would be counted as a “diversion credit” in the RIRRC calculations.

In the short-term, however, education and outreach would be the most “doable” initiative, and it could include, Testa said, a regular column and periodic flyers in the Press; RIRRC meetings with residents; flyers and bulletins for Island Rubbish to distribute; envelope stuffers in all town’s mailings to residents; the addition of recycling to the curricula at the Lawn and Melrose schools; enhancements to the recycling page on the town’s website; realtor handouts to new residents; a town “hotline” for recycling questions; and the placement of recycling bins in high-traffi c areas throughout the town.

Testa noted that the committee has already taken a number of initial steps to increase recycling awareness and efficiency during its two years of service. Those steps include enhancements to the existing Fort Getty recycling program; the development of recycling signage for the transfer station; and a review of transfer station procedures. The committee also had the RIRRC deliver recycling presentations to the Lawn and Melrose students.

The council is expected to open its discussions on recycling enhancements at its Dec. 5 meeting.

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