CHATHAM — If you take the time to separate out your plastics and tin cans before pitching out the trash, you might think you’re pretty well schooled in recycling. Turns out, most people need a periodic refresher about what and how to recycle. To that end, the town has received a state grant of up to $7,500 to improve the town’s “Recycling IQ.”
“We were one of the first communities on the Cape to get this,” DPW Director Tom Temple said. The Recycling IQ Kit grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and will be used for educational outreach to help users of the transfer station to a better job sorting their recyclables.
“While we’ve come a long way over the last 10 to 15 years, people tend to think, if this is plastic, it tends go to into the plastic” recyclables bin, Temple said. “But there’s different grades of plastic.” If the loads of recyclables are contaminated with too many non-recyclable items, it will be more expensive and more difficult for the town to pass on those loads to recyclers.
In offering the educational grants, state officials hope to make recyclables from the state more attractive to the world’s commodity markets. The money will pay for better signs, advertising materials, and a part-time worker who will help people during peak hours by guiding them to the right bins to use for certain items, and helping them identify which items can’t be recycled and need to go in the trash.
Under this round of grants, the cities of Dartmouth, Lowell, Lynn and New Bedford each received $40,000, Halifax was awarded $20,000, and Chatham received $7,500. The grants are funded through a state surcharge on waste-to-energy companies.
“Cities and towns lead the way when it comes to recycling, so we are proud to offer this new program to help reduce their recycling costs,” Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said in a news release. “The Recycling IQ Kit is designed for communities to easily provide feedback and information so residents better understand what can go into the recycling cart.”
“Massachusetts residents are eager to recycle, but at times, recycling can be confusing and putting unwanted items in a recycling container can increase costs,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “The Recycling IQ Kit will help residents make good recycling decisions to reduce trash costs and create greater recycling value.”
In addition to the funds for educational materials, the town will receive up to 40 hours of technical assistance from a DEP recycling expert.
Temple said while Chatham’s residential waste stream is generally fairly clean, with only about 5 percent contamination on average, that rate rises to 15 or 20 percent in the summertime.
“You can have all your residents trained here, but then you have out-of-towners,” who are present for only two weeks or a month each year, Temple said. The improved outreach efforts, which will likely include A-frame signs and pamphlets, are especially aimed at reaching summer visitors, he said.
While the effort is not directly related to the recent discussions about the transfer station accepting single-stream recyclables from commercial trash haulers, the underlying motivator is the same. Overseas companies that purchase recyclables from the U.S. and other countries have raised their standards for the purity of those loads, leaving little market for loads that are even slightly contaminated.
One of the educational efforts in the Recycling IQ program urges people not to put recycled plastics in plastic bags for disposal. Though they are plastic, those bags are typically not recyclable and can cause a load to be rejected.
“We do pretty good compared to most communities,” Temple said. “But we can do better, and our goal is not to be penalized when we go to these facilities” to dispose of loads, he said. The town can be forced to pay double or triple the usual tipping fee when bringing contaminated loads to a recycler, so better sorting can have immediate financial benefits, he said.