Single-stream recycling triggers pile of questions in Westport
Updated 11:16 am, Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Disposing of recyclable materials in Westport for years has meant separating items into general categories: glass, metal, plastic and paper.
On July 1, however, the town joined nine other communities in the region by instituting a "single-stream" recycling collection, allowed virtually all recycled materials -- paper, cardboard, glass, metal and plastics -- to be placed into the same blue collection bin without the need for separating them.
The program is designed to simplify disposal and improve the rate of recycling.
But two weeks into the program, confusion and complaints have surfaced among both town residents and trash collectors.
Even though Westport and neighboring Fairfield were among the communities that adopted single-stream recycling on July 1, the two towns are implementing the program slightly differently.
In Fairfield, some residents questioned whether recyclables really are being recycled or are just being sent to the refuse processing plant, and haulers are concerned about recycling receptacles.
In Westport, it's primarily about the number of recycling pickups.
"There's confusion out there," admits Westport Public Works Director Steve Edwards.
Some Westport homeowners have complained that, under the new program, their garbage will be picked up only once a week, instead of twice, as it was in the past for the 40 percent of residents who opted for that method.
Edwards said there are six haulers licensed to make trash collections in Westport. All are private contractors who offered a two-tiered system -- pickup either once a week or twice a week. He said about 60 percent of the town chose the once-a-week option. Those who chose the twice weekly had garbage and recycling picked up both days.
The haulers will now make two runs to every household, but they will pick up only garbage one day and only recycling on the second day, Edwards said.
Resident Robert Frank said the changes should have been rolled out differently. "It seems haphazard. It's not phased in," said Frank, adding that new recycling bins and labels should have been provided in anticipation of the higher recycling volume.
"The idea of expanding our recycling efforts is admirable, but not if it is at the expense of regular garbage disposal," said Westport resident Lauren Cohen. "The stench in my garage is already overwhelming and I have flies when I never did before. I can't keep the garbage outside because animals get into it," she said.
"What I hear from two local refuse companies is that they are not allowed to pick garbage up more than one day a week per residence," Cohen said.
That is not exactly true, Edwards said. Town officials "don't preclude private haulers from going out," he said. "If you want to pay for it you can have the garbage hauler come every day."
Edwards said some people are complaining that town officials are dictating recycling and garbage changes. Actually, garbage haulers changed their collection practices because of the increased volume of recyclables that they now collect under the single-stream process, he said.
"In the past it used to be about 15 percent, volume-wise, of recyclables to the 85 percent for garage. Now, with the added commodities, it's almost 50-50, and that forces the hauler to rethink his route," Edwards said.
Before single-stream recycling began, Edwards said the haulers' trucks had a small compartment in the front for recyclable materials and a larger space in the back for garbage. "Now, with the increased commodities, they don't have enough room in that compartment in the front," he said. Based on the increased amount of recyclables -- "it's primarily cardboard in this town," he said -- the haulers changed their pickup schedules to use the full capacity of their trucks.
"That way they can use their entire truck for garbage pick up one day and then one day for recycling pick up they can (also) use their entire truck," Edwards said.
All the town has done is added to the list of commodities that can be recycled in an effort to support increased recycling, he said.
"We've negotiated a contract with our processing plant that allows us to take in a wider range of commodities (recyclable materials). Increasing the amount of recycling decreases the amount of solid waste garbage. The big cost is in garbage disposal. If I can take a ton out of disposal and put it over to recycling it's good for the town budget. It is a budget-friendly initiative, and it is also environmentally friendly," Edwards said.
The website of Malone's Refuse Service, a trash hauler with customers in Westport, points to savings realized by recycling more materials. "Because the Town of Westport pays for our refuse to be burned at the Waste to Energy plant in Bridgeport, the more we recycle the more we save as taxpayers," the website states.
Fairfield's Solid Waste and Recycling Commission held a special meeting Monday to discuss the new single-steam recycling program and confusion that has resulted. Single-stream recycling is for residents who have their trash collected by private haulers. There is a different recycling method for those residents who use the town's transfer station and recycling center on One Rod Highway.
Only four people attended the meeting, but the three haulers on hand said they are being inundated with telephone calls from residents asking about the new program.
"My customers are asking, `How do I know it's not going directly to the burn center. Is it being recycled? That's the number-one call we're getting. My customers want to take a field trip" to the processing plant, said James Garcia, owner of United Carting of Fairfield.
Stanley Topar, president of Big Little Sanitation of Bridgeport, said the issue is further complicated by the larger volume of recycling materials generated by the new initiative and confusion over what can and cannot be recycled.
"It's a real mess out there ... People are really, really on edge about this," said Topar, who told the commission his company has received about a thousand calls regarding the recycling changes.
Topar said he has more recycling to pick up now. But Sharon Pistilli, chairwoman of the commission, said haulers should be paying lower tipping fees because more recycling should translate into less garbage. Lower tipping fees keep taxes down, she said.
It's become more time-consuming for haulers because residents don't seem to know what belongs in recycling bins and what should go in garbage. For example, one hauler said, cardboard boxes can be recycled, but people are not taking out the Styrofoam in those boxes. Styrofoam is not a recyclable item in Fairfield. Cereal boxes can be recycled but not the plastic liner inside.
Commission member Sheila Sullivan said it's going to take time for residents to get up to speed, especially since the town is behind schedule in its marketing campaign.
Michael Zembruski, Fairfield's director of solid waste and recycling, said every household will get bulk brochures soon detailing what is and is not recyclable.
Officials have yet to tackle the issue of whether a new receptacle is needed for recycling and what type of receptacle would be acceptable to all the haulers, each of whom has different kinds of trucks, or whether the town can distribute a recycling sticker to place on full-size garbage cans, in effect, converting them to large recycling bins.
Topar said the town hasn't issued new bins in about 20 years and the existing bins are no longer sufficient. "We used to give the bins away," he said.
But Pistilli said the economic climate does not allow for the distribution of new bins.
"We do all have to work together to do things to benefit you (the haulers), benefit the town and benefit the environment," she said.
Pistilli said she recently distributed material about the recycling changes at Fairfield's train station and was encouraged by the number of people who stopped to ask questions. She said the town's population is educated and interested in being environmentally aware.
For information about Westport's new single-stream recycling program, call 203-341-1120 or visit the town's website, www.westportct.gov. In Fairfield, call the Solid Waste and Recycling Department at 203-256-3023 or visit the town's website at www.fairfieldct.org.