The state of Massachusetts aims to increase recycling and address the “recycling gap” by awarding more than $2.6 million in grants to cities, towns and solid waste districts. The recycling grants will be used to increase recycling and public awareness surrounding its environmental importance, said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.
The state will also launch a new website and initiative, dubbed Recycle Smart, to teach residents the importance of putting only those materials that processing plants are equipped to handle in recycling bins.
To date, 194 towns and cities are receiving $2.56 million in total payments to help municipalities pay for new recycling bins or carts, public education and outreach, collection of difficult-to-recycle items, ad recycling in municipal buildings, schools and public spaces.
Ultimately, by building stronger recycling programs, the state will reduce waste management costs, according to Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton.
Closing the Recycling Gap
Despite a huge rise in recycling rates over the past few years, there is a big difference between what is being recycled and what could be. “This is the recycling gap,” writes Recycle Now, the national recycling campaign for England that is supported and funded by the government.
Though more and more people are recycling, just 58% of plastic bottles are being recycled, according to the group’s website.
In order to be able to recycle more, and to make the recycling process work better, residents need to understand how to eliminate contamination. For materials recovery facilities (MRFs) to successfully recycle the materials it receives, it is necessary that only the correct materials are placed in recycling bins.
Materials that MRFs are not designed to handle, such as food trash or packaging that contains moisture, can ruin otherwise good recyclables, forcing the processors to treat the entire load as trash. Additionally, materials such as shopping bags, clothes and old garden hoses can get caught up in the MRF’s machinery, causing the machines to stop working and putting workers at risk of injury.
“Education about recycling is always important, but now it’s more critical than ever because of the harm that can be done by placing the wrong things in the recycling stream,” says State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “These grants will go a long way to fueling important communication at the local level to prevent that from happening.”
Other States May Learn from Tennessee Gap Analysis
A Recycling System Gap Analysis of the Memphis Region, published in January, 2017, by Tetra Pak, shared the results of a study of recycling across municipalities in the region, and offered a “path forward” with best practices the communities could use to improve recycling rates.
The best practices included description of a six-pronged approach to driving more materials recovery, suggesting collaboration of initiatives across collection, processing, policy, financing, and partnerships. Communication is also one of the key drivers.
Two key performance metrics collected during the gap analysis were tipping fees and total tons disposed. Communities surveyed that had some sort of access to curbside recycling programs on average disposed of less waste than those that did not have curbside recycling access, to the tune of about 1,800 lbs per capita per year. “Based on the average tipping fee of $25/ton, this represents about $23 per household per year that could be an opportunity cost for investment into a recycling program,” the report states. “This is one way to look at opportunity, and performing more recycling system gap analyses of city region waste sheds will have a real impact on recycling rates.”
Another way to close the recycling gap might be to increase focus on expanding market opportunities for recycled materials, Tetra Pak says.