Reduce and Recylce

Eco-Friendly Fire

Recycling: where to start? It’s everywhere these days. At home, we separate recyclables and carefully stuff them into the blue and green bins. Go to any local coffee shop and you will be met …

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Recycling: where to start? It’s everywhere these days. At home, we separate recyclables and carefully stuff them into the blue and green bins. Go to any local coffee shop and you will be met with a bewildering array of recycling options: cups here, lids here, wrappers here, those little stirrers, some of which are wood, other compostable, go here, and, in some cases, food scraps, used for composting, go here. Chances are your office is similar: recycling bins abound. In fact, it’s a bit bizarre not to see recycling bins these days.

Despite all of this, recycling has had a rough go of it in Providence. Recycling rates have been dismal. The average recycling rate, from 2007 to 2011, was a measly 13%. The statewide recycling rate during those years was 25%; in 2009, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the US national recycling average was 33.8%. The city’s lackadaisical recycling numbers were acknowledged in a little known sustainability plan, called Green Print, released in 2009 by the Cicilline administration: “Although Providence has had a recycling program for many years, participation and recycling rates are much lower than the city’s potential.”

It’s slowly improving. A closer look at the numbers indicates that recycling nearly doubled, from 10% in 2007 to 17% in 2011, which is arguably attributable to the implementation of the bewilderingly named Green Up Providence program. The main piece of the program was the “no bin, no barrel rule,” which required residents to set out recycling bins in order for trash to be picked up. At first, the program seemed a debacle: for weeks, certain streets accumulated trash as residents either forgot or refused to set out the recycling bins. After a while, the hubbub died down and the program was deemed a success. Nonetheless, the current recycling rate remains exceedingly low compared to state and national standards.

Why? No one really knows, but some fault is with a segment of the population that will never recycle. David Bordieri, the Waste Prevention Coordinator at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Center and manager of GreenZone, a partnership between the Department of Environmental Management and RIRRC that helps businesses recycle, says, “There are three types of people: those who always recycle, those who sometimes recycle, and those who never recycle.” Perhaps he’s on to something.

The Cost of (Not) Recycling
To those who sometimes or never recycle, perhaps it is important to lay out the reasons why recycling is critical. First, consider the Central Landfill, which, as a bird flies, lies a mere six miles from downtown Providence. We were unkindly reminded of this proximity late last year, when a mysterious odor settled over the area. On certain days, when the winds were just so, the smell was easily detectable in Providence and even East Providence. It has since been discovered that, lo and behold, the smell was attributable to the landfill, particularly a failure in the gas management system there. The RIRRC, which operates the landfill, has been sued.

The landfill serves as the repository for all of the state’s municipal waste. From 2007 to 2011, an average of about 362,000 tons of waste was dumped at the landfill; Providence is responsible for about 65,000 tons, or about 18% of the state total. As a result, the landfill is, well, filling up. In February 2011, the RIRRC, claiming that landfill space could run out in a handful of years, received a permit for additional landfill expansion, known as Phase VI, which, according to predictions, will provide disposal space up to 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. The landfill has five years of disposal space. That’s it. Clearly, recycling is key to prolonging the inevitable: an expensive

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