Did you know you can toss old spiral-bound notebooks and three-ring binders into your recycling bin, along with plastic bottles, newspapers and Ziplock bags?
Since Darien implemented single stream recycling in May of 2012, the list of acceptable items has grown to include everything from egg cartons and take-out containers to CDs, produce bags and Teflon cookware.
The Transfer Station Advisory Committee has been working for the past three months trying to learn more about dump operations, and also educate the public on recycling initiatives. Eventually, the committee hopes to propose changes to the dump that would make it operate more efficiently and effectively, while ensuring the town’s goals of being an environmental steward are maintained, according to Dot Kelly, the committee’s chairman.
Allison Stolar heads the committee’s transfer station subcommittee, and said the group’s goal is a massive undertaking.
“This beast is tremendous,” Stolar said. “We’re trying to basically get off the largest educational campaign that Darien’s ever seen; at least in terms of the environment.”
At the top of the group’s list is promoting the single stream recycling program, which allows residents to place all paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass containers into a single receptacle, instead of having to sort things. Recyclables must, however, be loose, empty and only lightly soiled.
Loose, meaning not in a trash bag; and empty, meaning things like yogurt cups and coffee cups should be at least rinsed out. Kelly said that things like plastic peanut butter jars should be thoroughly cleaned, or else it should be thrown away.
If items are soiled, they can potentially contaminate other clean recyclables, Kelly said, which then have to also be thrown out.
“Different contaminants are worse than others,” Kelly told The Darien Times. “We would like to give [the haulers] what they want. It would make our material more valuable to them.”
Some items are required by state law to be recycled — all types of cardboard boxes, magazines, newspapers, office paper, aluminum cans, food containers, glass bottles and jars, and No. 1 and No. 2 plastics.
Other towns that have implemented single stream recycling, such as Stamford, Greenwich and Westport, have seen significant decreases in municipal solid waste, which results in cost savings, Kelly said.
“Increasing single stream volume will help reduce our subsidy of the recycling center because we get a modest revenue for single stream, and save the cost of disposal of [municipal solid waste] at the trash-to-energy plant, for a savings of about $100 per ton,” Kelly told the Representative Town Meeting on Monday. “Thus besides the improved environmental benefit from recycling over burning, there is an economic benefit as well.”
The transfer station does not charge private haulers to dump recyclables, and Darien then gets paid $15 a ton by City Carting, the Stamford company that manages Darien’s garbage. City Carting then finds a market for the recyclable products, selling many plastics to China where they are then made into other plastic items, according to the Department of Public Works.
Kelly said the revenue generated through recycling is about $40,000 annually. The town budgeted to spend about $1.2 million for waste management this fiscal year. An older contract with City Carting shows that the company charges roughly $330,000 per year to manage the dump, and also charges about $24,000 annually as a recycling drop-off fee. The town also budgeted to pull in $250,000 this year through disposal permits for private haulers.
Some members of the transfer station committee have expressed an interest in the town becoming its own broker, to generate revenue by selling recyclables as commodities instead of utilizing City Carting as a middleman. Kelly said this would require a large investment of time, labor and resources, and would also require more volume of recyclables to make it worthwhile.
Because of space constraints, the town pays for some leaves and grass to be taken to Snow’s Farm in Easton where it is turned into compost and sold to the public. Darien also composts some leaves and grass at the transfer station and the resulting dirt is available free for residents.
Darien also does not have a town-funded garbage hauling program. Roughly 50% of residents pay one of five haulers to take their garbage from their home. However, during the committee’s investigation, they found that for economic reasons, a large number of haulers are actually taking municipal solid waste directly to a commercial processor or to the Wheelabrator facility in Bridgeport, where it is burned and converted into electricity.
Darien charges a tipping fee to private haulers of $94 per ton, so many haulers might find it cheaper to take the garbage directly to a landfill or incinerator, Kelly said. All household trash that’s not recycled and which gets taken to the Darien dump ends up incinerated at Wheelabrator. If City Carting decided to landfill Darien garbage, it would first need permission from the town, Kelly said, referencing a presentation by Jayme Stevenson, first selectman.
Ash from the incinerated trash is taken to a 186-acre, 9 million cubic-yard landfill in Putnam. Darien’s garbage accounts for about two days of Wheelabrator operations annually, according to Stolar. It’s estimated that incineration reduces the volume of garbage by about 75%, said Connie Melvin, committee member who heads the education wing.
The committee is also trying to re-brand the dump by calling it the recycling center, because even the non-recyclables are used to generate electricity. Kelly presented a report to the RTM on Monday, Jan. 28, describing the path her team has laid out.
Soon the town will begin using one of its two compactors for recycling, which will streamline hauling.
“This is a huge operational advance for single stream management at the recycling center,” Kelly said.
Starting on Monday, April 22, which is Earth Day, residential haulers will be shifting their schedules so that they will be generally picking up one day for garbage and one day for recyclables. There will be more information about this transition from your haulers, Kelly said.
“The third prong of our work is to engage with our business community to help them utilize single stream recycling to comply with the state recycling requirements and to dramatically reduce the amount of commercial waste that is thrown out,” Kelly said.
Melvin, who also is president of the Darien Environmental Group, said there are four key prongs to improve waste management: refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle.
As the group focuses on promoting single stream recycling through education programs and improved communication, eventually the committee will provide the town with a suggestion on altering the fee structure for the transfer station. A town-funded hauling system is not off the table, but the committee has expressed interest in working with private haulers first to determine the best solution for Darien’s trash handling.
More info: Email Kelly at [email protected] or call 203-324-6996