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Abington Ramps Up Recycling with Pilot Program

This article originally appeared in The Boston Globe — South on July 21, 2017.

The town of Abington has paired up with a national recycling organization to reduce contamination in the town’s single-stream recycling carts.

The Recycling Partnership, based in Virginia, met with town and state Department of Environmental Protection officials in March to discuss improving the quality of recycling. Residents, recycling haulers, and recycling plant operators also attended the talks.

“Recycling works best with consistency of methods, how you describe the dos and don’ts, and how you talk about your program,” Jason Hale, a spokesman for the recycling nonprofit, said recently in an interview. “Those are really the keys of success. Convenience of service and consistency.”

According to Hale, certain items, such as plastic bags, are considered contaminants in the recycling stream and are problematic to mechanical processors, often gumming up the machinery. Food and liquid, clothing and linen, and bigger items can also cause the recycling equipment to shut down.

The pilot program in Abington is slated to start in August and end in October. Abington health officials will tag carts left out for pickup in the early morning, coordinating with the recycling haulers on the selected routes. Recycling carts found with contaminants will receive an “Oops!” tag, which will include a list of errors that residents can resolve to resume recycling collection the following week.

Households can continue to put recyclables, including cans, cartons, glass, paper, and plastic, into one bin for collection.

Abington isn’t the only Massachusetts municipality trying to cut down on contamination. Dartmouth, Groton, Lynn, New Bedford, and Newburyport will also ratchet up their efforts this year with the advocacy group’s help.

“The Recycling Partnership team has been in the trenches with city and town officials as we work to reduce waste contamination throughout Massachusetts,” said Brooke Nash, branch chief of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Municipal Waste Reduction Program.

The nonprofit also provides a form for the recycling haulers and plant operators to grade the loads coming in from the routes, to determine any noticeable improvements.

“Everywhere we’ve done this, we see 30 to 60 percent of carts on the first week get tags,” said Hale. “That number drops precipitously down to between 5 to 10 percent. By tracking those people, the data will show that some will take one tag where others took two or three. It will show how long it took to correct the issues.”

At the heart of this pilot is the education of residents on the curbside recycling program. “Residents in Abington are doing a bang-up job in recycling, but we can always get better,” said Hale.