Falmouth residents do a "good job" managing their recycling.
"The town does better than average, much better than average, in recycling percentage and contamination rates," Chris Macera of Republic Services told the Falmouth Board of Selectmen at its Monday, October 7, meeting. "It is something to be proud of. The town does a good job, not to say you can't improve, because there is always room for improvement."
When asked how the town can improve its recycling rate and reduce its contamination, Mr. Macera said it is important for residents to realize what cannot be recycled. He said the three most common offenders are plastic bags, tanglers and food waste.
"Plastic bags are probably the worst of the worst," he said. "One, they are not recyclable, and two, they jam up the equipment at the recycling center."
Mr. Macera said if recyclables are stored in a plastic bag, the entire bag risks being rejected by the recycling center, even it all the contents within are recyclable. Though plastic bags cause problems, people can recycle their items in paper bags.
Similar to plastic bags, "tanglers" cause problems for the equipment.
"Tanglers wreak havoc on the machines: hangars, hoses and ropes," Mr. Macera said.
Selectmen Chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said people might not realize the problems those items can cause.
"I think people recycling coat hangars all the time," Ms. English Braga said. "They see it as plastic or metal, and think it is recyclable."
Mr. Macera recommended those interested in learning more about recycling, and what can and cannot be recycled, visit recyclingsimplified.com. The website includes Republic Services's newly launched K-12 recycling curriculum, which is available to teachers at no charge.
The idea of a recycling curriculum in Falmouth Public Schools was discussed previously at a Falmouth Board of Selectmen meeting. Sandra L. Faiman-Silva of Davis Road, Falmouth, recommended such a curriculum following the Solid Waste Advisory Committee's report to the board on August 19.
"We just had somebody raise that exact issue, about really starting with kids," Ms. English Braga said. "That was the model for anti-smoking: you start with kids, who shame their parents. You make a lot of progress pretty quickly."
Mr. Macera said Republic Services could do more to educate the public about recycling, specifically citing their sticker program. The company has stickers to place on recycling bins containing inappropriate items, such as plastic bags or Styrofoam.
"We probably should do it more," he said. "We do do it, but sometimes I think it falls on our supervisors or drivers to do it a bit more. Generally what happens is we put a lot of attention to it and do it, and it falls off a little bit before we do it again."
He added that these stickers are intended to be an educational tool, and not to shame residents for mistakes made when recycling.
Republic Services runs six solid waste trucks and three recycling trucks a day in Falmouth. Mr. Macera said the company collects approximately 900 tons of solid waste and 300 tons of recycling per month. This equates to approximately 125,000 units of trash and recycling per month, a figure that increases during the summer.
The town's contract with Republic Services expires on June 30, 2022. Selectwoman Susan L. Moran asked what sort of cost increases the town could expect.
"In terms of Falmouth, the biggest one is the commodities," Mr. Macera said. "A couple years back, the recycling market collapsed. That is not a Falmouth issue, that is not a Massachusetts issue, it is a national and global issue."
He said commodities used to subsidize curbside pickup, as waste collection companies used to paid for recyclables.
"There was such a value to it, but it has eroded," Mr. Macera said. "Three years ago, it was probably around $20 or $25 a ton cost. Today, the cost is approaching triple digits. It is close to $100 a ton."
Selectman Douglas H. Jones asked if switching away from single-stream recycling would reduce the cost.
"The quick answer is no, as the facilities are built around single stream," Mr. Macera said. "The reality of it is collecting dual stream costs more money, and you'll see more cost at the curb."
Board members also asked if reducing food waste would result in lower costs. Mr. Macera said it would have be a dramatic decrease that impacts their operations and time.
"I don't think it would be that dramatic," he said. "We're still going to be going down every street, stopping at every house."
Town Manager Julian M. Suso said the town is also discussing the possibility for switching to automated collection instead of manual collection. In automated collection, the operator uses a robotic system to lift solid waste containers and dump them in the truck.
"Old school trash collection, manual collection is really a thing of the past," Mr. Macera said, noting that the switch to automated collection pays for itself over time.
The board of selectmen asked if such a switch would happen all at once or in phases. Mr. Macera said towns that switch to automated pickup do so all at once.
"I've never seen it where we divided a town," he said.
The potential switch could be discussed further during contract negotiation.