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Residents Cleaning Up Their Act When It Comes to Recycling

September 24, 2018

Fitchburg accepted a state grant to improve its recycling efforts. The grant will be used to place recycling kiosks, like the one in this photo, in all the districts' schools and parks. SUBMITTED photo Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Amanda Burke

aburke@sentinel andenterprise.com

FITCHBURG -- An audit has found city residents have started cleaning up their act on what items belong in recycling bins.

“We’re seeing an overall improvement, but it’s still a long way to go,” said Health Director Stephen Curry last Wednesday.

An audit taken earlier this month showed that about 30 percent of recycling bins contained trash, he said.

That’s a decrease from July, said Curry, when a separate audit found 56 percent of residential recycling bins citywide contained trash.

Curry wants to get that number below 20 percent, a target he hopes to hit when a grant-funded program to educate residents on what materials are recyclable end in November.

The effort came after the city was stuck with a $175,000 fee by its recycling contractor, Waste Management.

That fee had been included in the city’s contract with Waste Management since 1992, Curry has said, but was only enforced recently.

The city used multiple tactics to reduce contaminated recyclables, according to Curry.

Pickup drivers are peeking into recycling barrels and tagging those that contain prohibited items, like plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam.

Recycling collectors won’t pick up tagged barrels, he said.

Homeowners are then sent a letter warning they must remove the container within 12 hours.

They can remove the item or items of trash from the recycling and place the container curbside for the next round of pickups in two weeks, he said.

Homeowners can also retrieve a pass from the city to drop the barrel at a recycling center, said Curry.

The city placed bilingual billboards, posted alerts at movie theaters, in the newspaper and sent mailers to households.

On Tuesday, the city accepted a $38,500 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection’s Sustainable Materials Recovery Program.

The city received the grant for the past four years, according to Curry. This year, funding will be used to place sorting bins for recycling in all district schools, he said.

Getting students to properly recycle is a perennial problem, he said.

“It will help, because recycling as always been issue (in schools),” he said.

The remainder of the grant funded initiatives including the placement of recycling bins in all city parks, and the $7,000 annual fee associated with the ReCollect, according to Curry.

ReCollect allows residents to sign up for recycling alerts on their smartphone or landline, according to Curry.

Waste Management charges the city $40 to dispose of 1 ton of recycling, said Curry, a rate that is locked in until 2023.

But Curry said he fears the rate will rise when the city renews its contract in about five years.

China, which formerly accepted a large amount of the recycling produced worldwide, has stopped accepting plastic

“If we don’t fix the problem the problem now it’s going to get worse down the road,” he said.

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