Mimi Kaplan: Explains new Amherst recycling initiatives

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

You may have received a flier recently with your water bill explaining some new recycling initiatives in Amherst.

I am the waste reduction enforcement coordinator in Amherst, a two-year position funded primarily by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and I would like to fully explain those initiatives here as well. My job is to work with residents, haulers, property owners, property managers, and tenants to increase the rate of recycling and the quality of recyclables townwide.

Most of the trash disposed of in Amherst goes to landfills, and a small amount to incinerators. There are environmental costs to both of these methods of dealing with waste. Landfills emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and can also possibly leak pollutants into groundwater. Incinerators release pollutants into the atmosphere.

As landfills close in Massachusetts, haulers have to truck trash farther away, to New York and other states, which is both polluting and expensive.

So what can we do? We can decrease the amount of trash we produce in the first place by consuming less and using less packaging, and we can also recycle and compost. Recycling cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and metal containers takes these materials out of the waste stream, and allows recycled products to be made with less energy and use of natural resources.

Amherst residents have the choice of either contracting with a private hauler to collect their trash and recycling, or buying an annual sticker to take their trash and recycling to the transfer station. The transfer station also takes and recycles many materials (for a fee) that shouldn’t go in either the trash or recycling, such as block Styrofoam, mattresses, refrigerators and batteries.

Amherst does have recycling regulations. Haulers are required to provide recycling collection to customers, property owners must provide recycling services for tenants, and all residents must separate recyclables from trash and have no more than 5 percent recyclables in their trash. Haulers are also not supposed to collect trash that contains more than 5 percent recyclables. We are educating both the haulers and residents about these regulations and enforcing them in order to make sure they are effective.

We have found that many people are confused by what is and is not recyclable, and don’t fully understand the importance of not contaminating recyclables. The recyclables that are contaminated (such as cardboard and paper that is very wet or dirty) have no resale value and unfortunately have to be added to the trash that goes to landfills. If you’re wondering why your hauler hasn’t gone to single-stream recycling, that’s why — it’s harder to keep recyclables clean when containers are mixed with paper.

You might be tempted to put items in the recycling even if you’re not sure they can be recycled, but it’s better to check and leave them out if they can’t, or don’t use them in the first place. Some common items that people think can go in the recycling but cannot include plastic bags (but please bring them to a large grocery store or big box store that will recycle them), Styrofoam, any black plastic, frozen food boxes, hot drink cups, cold drink plastic cups and straws. That’s right, none of your Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts hot or cold cups can be recycled.

The flier that came in your water bill explains what can and cannot be put in the recycling. If you have more questions you can email me at kaplanm@amherstma.gov, or go to the town of Amherst recycling webpage at http://www.amherstma.gov/889/Recycling-Guidelines. You can also print this comprehensive list at http://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/35097.

Starting in late January, trash and recycling truck drivers and I will be tagging recycling bins that contain trash and non-recyclables, and trash carts that clearly have a lot of recycling in them. This will be based on observation, not by opening bags. The tags will explain what the problem is (for example, plastic bags in the recycling, or cardboard in the trash).

We expect to cover the entire town during this four-month public education period. After that point, haulers may reject loads in violation of regulations, or fines may have to be issued to property owners who are chronically failing to follow the regulations.

The end goal is to have more recycling and less trash, and also to have clean recyclables. Thank you for your cooperation with these efforts. With your help, Amherst can be a leader in reducing waste!

Mimi Kaplan is the waste reduction enforcement coordinator for the Amherst Department of Public Works.