How good is Southborough at recycling?

Happy Earth Day, everyone.

I spent some time hanging out at the Transfer Station yesterday (oh, the things I do for this blog), and I watched the trash going into the hopper. Among the usual assortment of white and black garbage bags, there was a broken-down easy chair, a lawn chair, a paint can, some scraps of wood.

And then there was the cardboard, the bits of paper, plastic water bottles, and a big plastic deli platter from the grocery store. All things that could have been recycled. Sure, some of it like the cardboard might have been too dirty to recycle, but surely not all of it.

Recycling rate on the rise, but still average
“A lot of people just don’t want to deal with recycling,” DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan said. “They just want to get in and get out.”

Plenty of Southborough residents do recycle. Anyone who’s been to the Transfer Station on a Saturday knows it can be hard to find a parking spot at the recycling center. Southborough’s recycling rate has increased steady over the past few years, reaching almost 32% in 2009.

But when you consider the statewide average for 2008 — the latest year for which I could find statistics — was 32%, it’s hard not to conclude we could do better. (Southborough’s recycling rate in 2008 was 28%.)

Galligan said they have tried to make recycling as easy as possible for residents. While you used to have to separate out things like plastic and glass, you can now throw them all in the same bin. Same with paper and cardboard. The town used to accept only types 1-3 plastic, but now all grades are accepted.

Galligan said it’s good to rinse the empty ketchup bottle or tuna can before tossing it in the recycling, but you don’t have to get it spotless. “If it’s hard, people won’t do it,” she said.

Good for the environment, good for your wallet
We all know recycling can help save the earth, but did you know it can also help save the town — and by extension you, the taxpayer — some cash?

When you recycle plastic, newspaper, glass and other items at the Transfer Station, Harvey Industries hauls it all away for free. It doesn’t cost the town a cent to dispose of recycling, save the manpower to operate the recycling center.

Compare that to the $77 per ton Galligan calculates it costs the town to dispose of trash. In 2009, residents threw away 3,075 tons of trash at the Transfer Station at a cost of more than $236K. Galligan said she expects the disposal rate for 2010 to rise.

The amount of trash flowing into the Transfer Station dropped significantly from 4,141 tons in 2008 to the 3,075 tons in 2009. That’s a good trend.

The more of that trash that gets recycled — or the more of it that isn’t generated in the first place — the more the town saves on disposal costs.

So, if you really want to save a teacher or help support the Library — or maybe free up some cash to help pay the town’s burgeoning legal costs (did I just go there?) — why not take a look at what’s in your trash the next time you head to the Transfer Station.

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Dean Dairy
13 years ago

On the other hand, some people think recycling is a bunch of B.S.

Here’s the “Recycling” episode of Penn & Teller’s show called “B.S.”, in three parts.

Very worthy of consideration and debate. But warning, some swear words in video:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Deb Moore
13 years ago

I was very glad a few years ago when we got to recycle all those other plastics. (#5, for instance, is prescription bottles, among other things, and they weren’t recyclable here when we moved in.) I always get a bit steamed when I see all the recyclables in the pit.

Marnie Hoolahan
13 years ago

There was a huge success story at Woodward school when the parent members of School Council introduced recycling into the cafeteria…trash was REDUCED by 75% in the first week…the results continue to be remarkable. Training our children can only have positive benefit on the future. If 7,8 and 9 years olds can figure this out can’t anyone at any age? It takes a little bit of discipline and voila….huge improvements in what enters landfills! Kudos to Jim Randall and Nurse Duggan who educated the kids and reinforced that recycling makes a difference!

13 years ago

Great Earth Day topic, Susan! And yes, I agree that we ought to be able to do better and hopefully more people will start recycling more stuff.

I have been glad to see the Transfer Station / Recycling center increase the ease and flexibility by allowing more co-mingled items and more types of plastic. One question -they used to not take things like plastic butter tubs not just because they were a higher number, but I think there was also some rule that they could only take things where the opening (or neck of the bottle) was smaller than the overall width of the container, like a Coke bottle. Was that ever really the case, and if so, has that been eliminated too, so that more plastic items can be recycled?

One other suggestion on Earth Day – when you go to the Recycling Center at the Transfer Station, it’s best to shut off your car engine, from a fuel use and emissions perspective. I always find it ironic to see people recycling at the recycling center with their car idling. It doesn’t really save you any time to stop and start your car, and it is actually a myth that idling uses less gas than restarting your car. That may have been true for older car models that used carbuerators (spelling?), but as the information in the attached link from the California Consumer Energy Center shows, for modern fuel-injected cars, leaving your car idling for 10 seconds uses more gas than re-starting it. And idling for 2 minutes uses as much gas (and releases as many emissions) as driving a mile.

So keep recycling, and remember to turn off your car while you do it! Happy Earth Day!

13 years ago

One correction – I meant to say “it really doesn’t take any more time to stop and re-start your car…”

A. D. Miller
13 years ago

I think that the easy answer is of course we can do better. However, all you have to do is spend 5 minutes by the trash compacter to realize that a good portion of people who throw away “trash” in this town are also throwing away materials that could be recycled. Now someone could argue that maybe they just don’t know what can be recycled, but that is a cop out. People are lazy by nature and often aren’t going to go the extra mile to recycle certain things (just look at the number of empty soda cans and beer bottles in the co-mingled recycling if you want to prove to yourself that people are lazy). Until that changes our recycling rates aren’t going to go up by very much and we will continue to see empty shipping boxes, pizza boxes, glass, and plastic containers among other things go through the compacter when they should be going through the recycling center.

13 years ago
Reply to  A. D. Miller

I often put pizza boxes in the trash because they have oil on them. Am I wrong? Are they still okay for recycling?

A. D. Miller
13 years ago
Reply to  Mimi22

I usually just cut out the parts that have grease on them. Often there is no grease or the pizza comes on a small cardboard circle within the box. Throw away the circle and hopefully the rest of the box will have no grease on it. The biggest issue with grease is that it will form a layer of oil when they combine the recycled cardboard with water to make a slurry.

13 years ago
Reply to  A. D. Miller

Okay, how embarrassed am I that I didn’t think of that? Note to self – put the box cutter in the kitchen drawer!

13 years ago

why don’t they accept plastic bags in the recycle center?
used to be very convenient to fill them with other glass/plastic and then just toss the whole bag in…

13 years ago

I think part of the decrease in trash is due to more folks recycling and more items accepted. (I was told any plastic with a number in a triangle). However I think it is also due to stricter sticker rules and better enforcement. I used to see cars without stickers all the time – now I hardly ever do.

13 years ago

I have been throwing away all plastics since I moved to Southborough three years ago (not #1 & #2) because the instructions on the Southborough Guide to Recycling and Trash Disposal say that they are not recyclable. Perhaps an updated guide posted on the Transfer Station website would be a good first step in increasing the amount we recycle?

Annette Flaherty
13 years ago

@ southsider- Southborough (and other facilities) don’t accept plastic bags because they cause problems when they are incorrectly tossed into the single stream recycling mix and become tangled in the sorting machinery. When this happens the machines must be shut down to remove the bags. They also just don’t sort well since they’re so light.

If you must get plastic bags from the store, at least bring them back to the store for recycling. Try getting a reusable bin for your comingled- for me is easy to pitch in the cans and such during the week. Hopefully that helps because it is great that you’re recycling :)

@ Erin- Southborough originally only took #1 and #2 hard plastic, now they take #1-7. It is on the town website under DPW. Isn’t that on the hopper as well? I remember a handout at some point? It’s a good question.

13 years ago

@ Annette – I probably should be more observant, but I haven’t paid much attention to the signs on the hoppers. The document that I was referring to is located here: Scroll down for link that says, Click Here for Transfer Station Rules and Regulations.

I have started recycling all of my other plastics as of this week :)

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