Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Purcell works with town solid waste committees to help them understand their options and educate their residents on how to recycle better. She estimates that 20 percent of her work week is giving presentations on waste reduction in meetings with concerned municipal officials and/or residents. “I am here to educate,” says Purcell. “But not to tell people what to do.” She has also been involved in helping towns find destinations for the recyclables that aren’t accepted by the state’s nine materials recovery facilities (or MERFs).
Take for instance boat shrink-wrap. The Woods Hole Sea Grant, a joint effort by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, AmeriCorps and Covanta, accepted and recycled 3.6 tons of shrink-wrap last spring in containers placed in the Bourne, Dennis, and Eastham transfer stations. A domestic manufacturer uses the wrap to make one of the materials in weather-resistant decking, which is also widely used on Cape Cod. Purcell explains that one of the biggest problems is that 15 contiguous towns and their respective transfer stations have slightly different policies when in comes to recycling, leaving some confusion as to who accepts what. Purcell often serves as a liaison between municipalities so they align more closely with their policies.
What’s more, only a few Cape Cod towns offer curbside pickup. Some Departments of Public Works do it themselves; other towns contract with larger companies.
Alan Robinson is a member of the solid waste advisory committee (or SWAC) in Falmouth, where the town had negotiated a five-year contract with Republic Services, a $10 billion company that operates across 41 states in the U.S., shortly before the National Sword policy went into effect. Falmouth has tried to educate its residents of the items that contaminate the recyclable loads and jam up Republic’s sorting machines. “We’re obligated to generate as clean a recycling stream as we can,” says Robinson.
Using volunteers who analyzed residents’ curbside recycling before pickup, Falmouth’s SWAC led a survey of residents to understand how contamination was originating. Of the more than 300 homes observed, “65 percent had it perfect,” explains Robinson. 18 percent of the failures were caused by a plastic bag. “People like to bag their recyclables, and that single plastic bag is not recyclable itself in our collected household recycling,” says Robinson. “Other frequent inappropriate plastics were plastic wraps and plastic packing pillows. Stop and Shop will take them as long as they are clean, along with their plastic bags. Otherwise, throw them away.”
Falmouth SWAC has a monthly column in the Falmouth Enterprise newspaper sharing recycling tips with the readership, and it has produced poster boards with information that are on display at the Falmouth Transfer Station. “The town is preparing to send out its first mailer in 20 years on recycling,” says Robinson. “It will go out with a water or tax bill.”
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection started an initiative in 2018 in response to National Sword called Recycle Smart, which is spreading awareness as to what can be recycled in household pickup and at transfer stations. On their website, they have a Recyclopedia where you can enter the name of an item to see if it is recyclable as well as videos, guides, and FAQs. While better education is vital, the going mantra nowadays is “When in doubt, throw it out.”
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