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The era of giant recycling bins in Boston might be coming to an end

Boston now pays more to have its recyclables hauled away than its trash, so its time to look at getting more creative with how it encourages residents to recycle, City Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) said today.

Single-stream recycling, in which residents just top off those large blue wheeled containers with pretty much everything, was wonderful for being convenient and getting people used to recycling, but it "doesn't work, because we are contaminating things and mixing things."

O'Malley, the council's chief environmental advocate said. Where China once accepted American recycling with relatively high amounts of "contaminants" - such as food scraps, it no longer does, and now Boston is paying $120 to $125 to have a ton of recycling collected, compared to about $95 for trash, he said. He noted that just nine years ago, the city was getting paid about $5 or $6 a ton for its recyclables.

The council agreed with O'Malley's request for a hearing to begin looking at possibly moving away from single-stream recycling to separate pickups for such things as textiles, which the city can currently have collected for free, because those are still worth money, food scraps, which can be composted for use by city gardeners, and glass. He added the city should also start looking at individual recycling of containers, such as coffee cups.

O'Malley emphasized that recycling remains a good thing - and he said that three-quarters of what Boston residents throw away as trash could be recycled - but that the city has to get smarter and cut costs. "We're fiscal stewards of the taxpayers' money," he said. "Right now we're not getting a great deal for our taxpayers."

Councilor Frank Baker (Dorchester) agreed, and said the city should look to invest in large "digesters" that could turn food scraps into compost. Not only would a city composting program save money, it would provide good jobs for local workers.

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Comments

"I remember the great blizzard of '15 when the blue bins were covered with snow."
"Shut up you old fart."

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Voting closed 23

O’Malley is a kind and decent man.

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South Korea knows how to handle recycling: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/south-korea-recycling-food-waste/

(Seoul's subway system is also awesome; maybe we should start taking notes.)

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Voting closed 15

Spent two weeks there for work last year. Unbelievable. It's like living in the utopian future that media sold you as a kid. If it weren't for the pollution from China, I'd probably move there. Hell, depending on this election, I might anyway. The language is even super easy and the writing system (hangul) was designed to be easy to learn.

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Voting closed 9

I saw thing about Taiwan and the totally different way they handle trash.

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When I lived in Roslindale in the mid 90's, they didn't yet have curbside recycling. If you wanted to recycle, you'd save all your stuff and bring it down to the city parking lot by the train station on alternate Saturdays. There would be a bunch of volunteers there and you'd put your SEPARATED items into the correct bin for plastic, paper or glass. They even let you take your bottles and smash them into this large glass-only dumpster (my favorite part.) Back then, they were very strict about things being clean. You even had to remove the metal foil around the neck of wine bottles. I don't think the general population can handle this extra work, thus requiring using single stream, which has now effectively failed.

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Voting closed 46

The gen pop can absolutely handle proper recycling protocol if it's in their financial interest to do it. Right now all consequences of waste are invisible to the end user.

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Europe splits the difference. They have communal trash and recycling dumpsters every block or so. It saves all the waste of having a truck stop at every house in the city.

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Single stream was the start of the recycle demise, contaminating the product whether the powers will admit it or not. Add that to depending on China for taking the waste final product instead of using it here was the perfect storm in the making. Coming soon iGadget clusterflux, too much dependence on a foreign power with too much economic activity, especially such critical stuff as controls and communication . I could mention busing fiasco, but that's a different proof in the pudding. O well , it's a brave new world out there!

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Get rid of the bottle bill, for starters. Recycling waste is more valuable with the coke cans and bottles mixed in.

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Voting closed 23

The city gives each household one large garbage, large recycling bin, and smaller compost bin. They pick up recycling and compost for free weekly and the garbage once every 2 weeks. If your garbage exceeds the capacity of your garbage bin, you have to buy an approved garbage bag at the local building supply stores (like Home Depot) - the cost of the bags includes the pickup/dumping costs you're adding to the system. The city wont pick up anything not in the approved bins or bags. So they incentivize you to recycle and compost as much as possible to avoid the additional garbage fees and make the tax payers aware that more garbage is a burden to the system that everyone shouldn't have bear. High participation rates throughout the city. It seems that the more people scream it can't be done here, there's examples of it working in other cities for a few years.

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Voting closed 12

Yes that HAS worked and is similar to what Brookline does now. However, if you push more people to recycle BUT they put out contaminated goods, the Chinese still won't take it and it costs the city more (according to Matt O'Malley) to get rid of it than if it was just trash. The system has been disrupted and until a new normal sets in, the old procedures just don't cut it.

(Perhaps this is an opportunity for new American businesses to accept and recycle this stuff. As the cost to dispose of "recycling" rises, it might make economic sense for companies here to process plastic and paper into saleable goods. Just a thought.)

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Research the "war" that almost broke out between Canada and the Philippines concerning recycling. Heck, just watch this video about how Canada's quest to recycle more lead to the whole fiasco.

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in a tight city with streetside pickup? We would just dump our extra bag in front of someone else's house.

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The last town I lived in, wouldn't pick up your trash unless you had recycling out. A neighbor just had to start recycling because their trash wasn't picked up. Why they never recycled is beyond me.

Melrose has the compost bins - that's a great idea if you don't have your own.

As a kid, mom always kept the compostable food items for her garden. Coffee, eggshells, veggie pieces never made it to the trash.

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Voting closed 6

Make recycling inconvenient enough and people will stop doing it and might even start illegal dumping.

The city already has a massive vermin problem in some neighborhoods on top of trash pickers making a mess of things. Mandatory composting sounds like a epidemic waiting to happen.

There has to be a more efficient way of handling single stream recycling that makes financial sense. Maybe the city needs to process its own recycling rather than outsourcing the job.

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Voting closed 15

Time to charge for trash too like other cities do. People here put all kinds of crap out there for pickup instead of thinking about reuse or re-gifting to someone else. Plenty of local Facebook groups exist for the latter. First barrel free maybe and charge for everything after it. Only barrels with a City sticker get picked up like how it works for yard refuse.

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Voting closed 5

What would happen to all those giant bins? I doubt they can be recycled under the current guidelines. Do they end up in a landfill? That in itself could undo a lot of the value of all the years we’ve been using them.

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Insert George Carlin joke about trying to throw away an old garbage can here.

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I put one out upside-down (so holes in the bottom were obvious) and taped on a big "TRASH, PLEASE TAKE" note, it was not a problem. But don't get me started about airplane food.

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Look on the bright side, you can always use paper bags for breathing exercises.

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We're going to fill them with concrete and sand to build a seawall around the waterfront to hold back the king tides.

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Voting closed 12

All the glass bottles and jars into sand to mix intact the concrete first. Bam looks oks like at least 50% of the problem is solved already.

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I mean, I'm not washing items to the point of sterility... but I thought you were supposed to give things at least a cursory cleaning before putting them in the recycle bin. And as such I have always done so. Are people actually throwing completely dirty things in the bins? That's gross.

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Voting closed 17

A relative (not at my house) recycles dog food cans without rinsing them out. NASTY!

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People just move it from table to recycle. All kinds of stuff mixed in.

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I recently participated in a trash/recycling audit at my (large) place of work. Volunteers (me included) spent a couple of hours digging through our bins and logging/weighing how much trash and compost was in the recycling, and how much recyclable material was in the trash. It was astonishing. Most of our recycling bins were completely disgusting and contaminated with liquids and foods and other nasty stuff. Even in a place where you think people are educated and want to do the right thing, they don't. I think a large part of it is the education though. For example, I had no idea until really recently that "paper" coffee cups were not recyclable. I mean, simple stuff like that. But overall, food contamination is really messing up our recycling. Let me also suggest https://recyclesmartma.org/. There is a handy "recyclopedia" where you can plug in the item into a search and find out if it's recyclable in Mass, with reasons and everything!

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It has to be done right. The big push the City of Boston has been making over the past decade, even after the Chinese pushback, has been very ill advised. The City needs to get back to the basics and get people to recycle the right things. Throwing every paper, plastic, or metal thing in the big blue bin sounds great in theory, but it is really bad in the long run.

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Cities, or better yet, states, need to impose a burden on the seller/producer based on the level of waste for their products and packaging that incentivizes reduction.
The boost in waste costs has come on the heels of an eruption of amazon delivery boxes, amazon and other grocery deliveries, a huge box no matter how small the item, and insane levels of plastic bottle waste in a throw away society.

Dealing with this only at the trash stage is too late.

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Let's be honest.

Bostonians are not going to expend extra energy to go through the hassle of doing more than what they currently do.

Had Boston started with South Korea's system decades ago, different story, but many people in Boston would be irked by the amount of work that takes.

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Boston residents can't do recycling correctly. I can't see anything other than a minority of residents doing the right thing with food compost.

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I felt great about recycling until I was home on trash day and saw my carefully sorted and washed recycling bin being dumped into the same truck with household trash. The sanitation engineer confided in me that even when separate trucks are used, the material is often combined later, out of public view. Speaking of "feel good measures," do we have a ticket count yet for the new 25 mph speed limit? Was even one ticket issued for going under 40 mph since the highly touted lower speed limit? I would say that it's sad that the people believe O'Malley but he probably believes himself. How many people will fight traffic to Frontage Road for garden compost when the local hardware store sells it for $2 or $3 a bag?

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One of my little pet peeves is lack of clear information on the separation scheme in semi-public spaces - like food courts/cafeterias at schools and hospitals.
I've eaten at places where you go over to the bins afterwards and they're labeled landfill/compost/recycle (or some other three-choice setup) and they're not clear about what goes in which bin. Or worse yet: they do have the friendly posters that show examples of everything that might be on your tray and which bin to put in in - and the cafeteria serves food in packaging that doesn't match any of the examples on the list!!!

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Voting closed 7