Photo: An example of recycling barrels from Cambridge.
In the past, whenever the topic of trash and recycling was on the Board of Selectmen’s agenda, it was likely the board’s second-floor meeting room at Town Hall would be overflowing with interested residents. So with the future of recycling collection as the only item before the Selectmen on Monday, Feb. 12, the board decided to move the meeting into the cavernous Town Hall auditorium anticipating a good number to attend.
But times have changed in the past few months as the special meeting began with only four citizens in attendance and that was cut in half by the end of the 80 minutes of deliberation and discussion.
Whatever the reason for the lack of interest in what was once a hot topic in town, at the end of the meeting, the Selectmen unanimously approved the recommendation of the Belmont Department of Public Works that by the fall all recyclables – paper, plastic, glass, metal cans and cardboard – will be collected biweekly using a 96-gallon wheeled barrel that will be issued to every household in Belmont.
And like the weekly trash collection, recyclables will be collected curbside by a truck using an automated “arm”.
“This is a major sea change for the town,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo.
The move to an automated system was out of necessity and economics, according to DPW Director Jay Marcotte. From radical changes in what type and condition recyclables will be accepted by China – which for the past two decades has been called “the world’s garbage dump” – to the sudden collapse in the secondary materials market, haulers and recycling facilities are streamlining their operations to remain in business.
One area that new efficient methods are taking place is with recyclables, where Belmont’s long-standing dual stream recycling – paper in one bin and everything else in another – is being replaced with the one-barrel system as recycling facilities will no longer maintain two separate staging area at its plants.
“There’s not debate, it will be single stream” recycling going forward into the future, said Marcotte.
Marcotte pointed out that over a decade, the cost of the automated pickup will fall below the current-used manual method (in which person throws the recycles into the back of a truck) as the cost of approximately 10,100 barrels is paid off. In the initial fiscal year, 2019, the manual pickup would cost $688,200 compared to $716,850 under the automated system, while in fiscal 2024, which would be the option year with a five-year contract, automated costs dip to $747,400 while the manual method would soar to $817,300.
In addition, the automated system with the large containers have several advantages over the manual mode, according to Recycling Coordinator Mary Beth Calnan including less liter – windy days wreak havoc with the uncovered bins as papers and other recyclables are blown around neighborhoods – the covers keep the material dry lessening contamination, and the barrels will prevent rodents and squirrels from rummaging through the recyclables.
And why did Belmont select the sizeable 96-gallon barrel for recycling? “It’s the industry standard,” said Marcotte.
While agreeing to the change in the coming contract – Marcotte said the town is very close to signing a five year agreement with one of the three firms that submitted acceptable proposals – the Selectmen advised the DPW to conduct an extensive public outreach on the recyclables especially targeting older residents so they will be comfortable with the changes coming, including providing smaller recycling barrel options as the DPW is doing with garbage collection containers.
Marcotte said while the new garbage and recycling collection contract begin on July 1, the new containers will not be delivered to residents for about two months so the current system will continue until that time.
Paolillo said he believes household recycling rates through town will increase as residents have a single container to store their recycables.