By: Dennis Hohenberger
Article Credit: MassLive
HOLYOKE — Legislative action is needed on the growing recycling crisis hitting Western Massachusetts communities and the nation, Mayor Alex B. Morse said Monday at a forum on the subject held at the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center.
Officials from Holyoke, Agawam, Chicopee, Northampton, Pittsfield and West Springfield attended the summit, which included discussions led by the Conservation Law Foundation.
Morse said the forum offered a broader look at the recycling industry and possible solutions to reducing materials that wind up in the trash stream.
“This was important for mayors, local leaders, and state elected officials to see that there are core issues,” Morse said. “We need to change the dynamics and the incentives for the producers of plastics and nonrecyclable materials in the first place, rather than having the burden placed on local taxpayers and cities and towns.”
Holyoke operates on a dual-stream model, which keeps paper and cardboard separate from bottles, cans and containers.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) entered into an agreement with Waste Management Recycle America, which calls for Holyoke and 69 other communities to pay for processing recyclable materials.
The contract calls for the company to operate the Springfield Recycling Facility, where the city’s recyclables are brought and separated.
Instead of earning revenue from recyclables, Holyoke and the other municipalities would pay tipping fees under the contract. The agreement begins July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.
Holyoke estimates a $160,000 annual fee tipping fee or tonnage collected. The recycling commodities market bottomed out in recent years, not helped by China’s refusal to accept waste from the U.S. and other countries for processing.
Morse said Massachusetts lacks the “political fortitude” to pass a revised “bottle bill” that would expand the types of containers collected. The legislature remains “beholden” to the beverage industry, he said.
“It’s completely irresponsible, and our local taxpayers are feeling it. This false argument that the costs are going to be borne on consumers — the costs are already on consumers and taxpayers,” he said. “We’re already paying for disposing of trash and recycling.”
Morse said producers must take greater responsibility in the way products are packaged.
“We make people feel bad about using a plastic straw, yet we should be putting that blame and burden on the producers of straws,” he said. “We need to shift the narrative. There are things we can do to educate residents about composting, and plastics that are recyclable — and this plastic isn’t.”
Like Holyoke, Northampton operates on the dual-stream model and signed onto the MassDEP agreement. Mayor David Narkewicz said the city is still analyzing costs associated with the new contract.
“There’s still potential in the contract for incentives. This is a commodity so I don’t know what the final costs may be to us,” he said. “We’re not going to walk away from recycling.”
Narkewicz — who has long championed recycling, including testifying in 2011 to expand the practice in Massachusetts — said Northampton remains a regional leader in recycling. The city has an active ReUse Committee that oversees collection activities, operates a zero-waste center and holds appliance repairs clinics.
“I’ve been advocating for this concept instead of a waste stream that ends up on the doorsteps of cities and towns,” he said.
Narkewicz said waste reduction should lie with manufacturers who need to create better and eco-friendly packaging. “That’s the paradigm shift we need to take ultimately,” he said.
Narkewicz said he hopes China’s move will act as a catalyst for government and industry to act, and not leave municipalities scrambling to contend with the ongoing trash and recycling situation.
“We’re already stretched thin and don’t have the capacity to cover some of the other unfunded mandates that we face,” he said.