The Falmouth Department of Public Works has hired Mary Bunker Ryther for the newly created position of Recycling/Solid Waste Coordinator.
This part-time position includes such duties as “education and public outreach to encourage people to recycle more” with the purpose to “reduce the amount of waste going into the waste stream,” Ms. Ryther said.
Alan Robinson, chairman of the Falmouth Solid Waste Advisory Committee, said the coordinator position is a “big step in the right direction.”
“We’re fortunate to have curbside collection contracted by the town to handle our recyclables and our trash, but there are still a number of solid waste and recycling challenges. The DPW staff is focused on other responsibilities, and there’s only so much a volunteer committee like SWAC can do to help foster a better overall town-wide program of solid waste management,” Mr. Robinson said.
This position is not only about helping the environment; it also includes cost savings for the town through waste stream reduction.
“The town pays for municipal solid waste disposal by the ton, so it’s a matter of reducing the tonnage that we pay to have disposed of, so anything that we can take out of that waste stream and particularly the heavy things and the plentiful things, will reduce the amount of money we pay,” Ms. Ryther said.
The SWAC requested this position a decade ago.
“The world has caught up with the Solid Waste Advisory Committee and the need for recycling and reduction,” Ms. Ryther said. “The key here is reduction in the amount of waste that we are paying to dump in the landfill, so it’s important that people understand that this should be a money-saving activity for all of us.”
This includes food waste, which Ms. Ryther describes as one of the biggest contributors to municipal solid waste.
“Food waste is the heaviest thing that your household puts in the trash, so people can compost their food waste at home, if they can, and at this point they can pay a service to do it as well,” she said.
Food waste makes up 14.6 percent of the solid waste that gets sent to landfills, according to EPA.gov.
Mr. Robinson added, “Food waste could make up close to 30 percent of our Falmouth curbside trash.”
The majority of what goes into municipal waste is “recyclable things,” Ms. Ryther said.
That assertion is backed up by EPA.gov, which lists paper as making up 27 percent and glass as 4.5 percent of the waste stream among other recyclable items that end up in landfills.
The pandemic has also had a large impact on solid waste, Ms. Ryther said: “The pandemic has really thrown a wrench in the works by creating huge amounts of additional waste through, for instance, all the people who are eating take-out since restaurants had to stop serving in person to a large degree. I don’t know how that has affected the larger numbers of solid waste, but I imagine that it’s gone up.”
She went on to include such items as extra wipes, masks, plastic bags and a return, in some cases, to single-use items during the pandemic, “so there were a lot of costs, and I’m not sure if anybody has tallied up those costs.”
Mr. Robinson added that the pandemic has definitely “added to the residential curbside trash stream in Falmouth and because people are cooking at home more, food waste has probably increased.”
Citing data provided by the Falmouth DPW, Mr. Robinson said, “The 12-month, pandemic-influenced increase in curbside residential trash and recycling tonnage is 13.6 percent for trash and 19.6 percent for recycling.” He did point out that a “contributing factor is that many second homeowners occupied their Falmouth homes more than usual during the pandemic year.”
Ms. Ryther brings a wealth of experience to her new position. While working in architecture, she was trained in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a program for certifying people and buildings to be more energy efficient. She later went on to start a composting business called Compost With Me. She sold the routes before taking her new position with the town.
Mr. Robinson added that Ms. Ryther “is a great communicator and listener who’s been in the trenches more than any of us. People talk about getting their hands dirty; there are none of us who’ve gotten our hands dirty like Mary has in the last eight years. She’s so well-qualified for this position.”