You Say Trash, I Say Opportunity

How the Massachusetts waste ban should be a money maker { }

Incinerator floor filled with trash…and recyclables


Did you know that in Massachusetts certain items are banned from your trash?  In 1990, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) deemed certain items that should not be put into the trash either because they are hazardous or they are easily recyclable.  The recyclables ones are:

  • Ferrous & non-ferrous metals
  • Glass & metal containers
  • Leaves & yard waste
  • Recyclable paper, cardboard & paperboard
  • Single resin narrow-necked plastics (plastics #1 and #2)
  • White goods (large appliances)

Metal, glass, paper, plastic.  All commonly recyclable in Massachusetts.

Here’s the legal-ease:

“No person shall dispose, transfer for disposal, or contract for disposal of the restricted material except in accordance with the restriction established in the table. No landfill, transfer facility or combustion facility shall accept the restricted material except to handle, recycle or compost the material in accordance with a plan submitted pursuant to 310 CMR 19.017(5) and approved by the Department.”

I highlighted the word person in the above statement. Notice that this is generic. It applies to everyone, not just big businesses or just residents. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E!


What happens if these items are found in the trash?

If enforced, a fine can be issued in the amount of $100 to $25,000 for each day of violation. I spoke to our regional MassDEP representative who said that if they are able – they go after everyone – the person/company that threw out the recyclables, company who hauled it away, the municipality, and the landfill or incinerator that accepted it.

Even with these bans in place, recyclable material is still being thrown away.  According to a study conducted at a local incinerator in 2010, waste entering this facility still had:

  • 27.3% paper
  • 11.6% plastic
  • 5.7% metal
  • 1.8% glass

In theory, another 45% of the trash being tossed in these MA towns could have been recycled.  Almost half!  As you can see from the picture I took at this very facility, there is a lot of cardboard and paper being tossed.  Can you find the Christmas tree?


Why do municipalities want to increase recycling?

Although there are many who want to make a positive impact on the environment, usually the bottom line is money and compliance to the above ordinance.

I took a look at Westford’s disposal costs for 2012.

Recycling cost $240,000  for 2816 tons  => $85 per ton

Solid Waste cost $1,173,352  for 8168 tons  => $143 per ton

Granted recycling is picked up every other week in Westford so the cost of the trucks is ½ what it would be for trash pickup.  For recycling, however, that is where the cost ends.   We can recycle as much as we want without this pickup cost changing.  The recycler is then able to take this resource, yes resource, separate it and resell it for a profit.  In reality, the per ton cost ($85) will go down if we recycle more.  Not so for trash.

For trash disposal, we not only pay for the trucks to pickup, but we pay an additional fee to the incinerator for each ton of trash disposed  (a tipping fee as it is known in the industry).     The total cost of solid waste is split about equally between pickup and disposal in this particular scenario.  With approximately 45% of this 8168 tons of trash containing recyclables, there is a real money saving opportunity here.  About $250,000!

Many people don’t even know about the waste ban.  Why would they?  You never hear of enforcement, businesses routinely neglect recycling because it costs extra, initially; even some cities and towns don’t force their own employees (including schools) to recycle!  It drives me crazy.  I would love to see more education and enforcement.


Why isn’t there more recycling? 

I’d love to know!  Many municipalities in MA have moved to a PAY-AS-YOU-THROW (PAYT) system.  You pay for all or a portion of the trash you throw out.  In these situations, recycling is usually free.  In those towns/cities, recycling rates have sky rocketed and trash rates have plummeted!  Recycling rates in Massachusetts vary from area to area.  Usually in direct proportion to how much residents are asked to pay for their trash.  The lowest trash rates being in those towns/cities where residents pay for all of their trash.

Normally, I am not one to support this type of negative reinforcement, but I am beginning to think that unless there is some immediate detrimental effect, people do not change their habits.  And the results are pretty impressive.


Talk about a quick money maker! Take a few MassDEP employees a few days a month to go around and educate on the waste ban.  Then round two: fine businesses, residents, haulers, incinerators and landfills still allowing recyclables into the trash.  I’m sure the word would spread pretty quickly!  This could boost the recycling industry and lower business’ and municipal disposal costs.  I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but still….  what an opportunity!


What are the recycling rules where you are?


This post has been shared at Simply Natural Saturdays, Green Living Thursdays

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4 Responses to You Say Trash, I Say Opportunity

  1. Tiffany (NatureMom) July 23, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    If the cost savings is that significant it is hard to understand why they don’t push harder for recycling. Great article!

    • Kristina July 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      Thanks Tiffany. The savings are definitely there, unfortunately, to get there is the problem. It relies heavily on people changing habits which is a tough sell. Recently in our town we started “enforcing” our mandatory recycling policy. If you don’t have your recycling bin on the appropriate week, your trash is not collected. Pretty tame compared to a lot of towns around us that have residents pay for some portion of trash collection. The backlash wasn’t too severe here but we definitely saw the anger some people felt because they were being “forced to recycle” in their words. In other areas, it could be a nightmare of a battle.

  2. Deborah Davis August 29, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    This article was really eye opening. I live in NYC and we have the same issues.The city has been sending out mailings to each business or residence illustrating what to recycle and how, but I feel that there is still a huge gap in understanding and execution by most citizens.

    • Kristina September 7, 2013 at 8:13 am #

      YES! I work with our Recycling Commission and we struggle, constantly, with how to get this education to people. Sometimes I feel like we need some compelling reason to make people pay attention, if they aren’t passionate already. If there isn’t a benefit, or a consequence, do people still pay attention? We have had more people compliance since we started enforcing our town’s mandatory recycling policy – if you aren’t recycling, your trash does not get picked up.

      Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments Deborah. I am enjoying your blog!

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