Springfield, Massachusetts, the fourth largest city in New England, has a good system for handling its residents' trash. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. But the city handles the trash for 60,000 households. Before I describe some of how it works, see if you know the answers to these few, only partly facetious questions.
1. What is a waste to energy facility?
a) a trash-burning plant b) a cold fusion plant c) a recycling center
2. Which set of items can be recycled?
a) Ribbons, egg cartons, plastic flower pots
b) Egg cartons, plastic hangers, newspaper
c) Styrofoam cups, pill bottles, paper towels
d) All of the above
e) None of the above
3. How should you dispose of car oil, pesticides and wax polish?
a) Store them in your cellar
b) Pore them down the drain a bit at a time
c) Bring them to Bondi's Island on special Hazardous Waste days
4. Organic material makes up what percentage of our household's trash?
a) 10 b) 20 c) 30
5. How many of Springfield's households have purchased compost bins?
a) 800 b) 1800 c) 8000
6. How much finished compost comes from Bondi's island to the city's park. For residents' use?
a) 6 tons b) 60 tons c) 600 tons
7. How much compost can one bin make in a year?
a) 200 lbs b) 500 pounds c) ¼ ton
8. Our recyclables are processed in
a) Springfield b) Fall River c) somewhere in the Midwest.
The things we throw away fall roughly into three categories: recyclables, non-recyclables and organic. The majority of our non-recyclables go into the city-provided trash barrel, which are picked up once a week; blue bins for paper, glass and plastic are picked up every other week. Organic materials such as leaves and grass clippings must be put into rugged paper bags (not provided for free) and are picked up on "recycle week." For this service we pay a controversial fee of $90 a year, although the city will start considering a "pay-as-you-throw" system later this year. Detailed information is at the City's Department of Public Works website.
Most non-recyclable trash (and there's a surprising amount of it) will wind up being burned in a "waste to energy" facility on Bondi's Island, the city's waste facility. The organic material will be composted and distributed for free or sold. Hazardous materials can be brought to Bondi's Island on certain days. Recyclables head over to the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility, which processes recyclable material for 78 Western Mass communities.
If the City of Springfield starts charging us for what we throw away, some of our perspectives-- and habits-- may change. We might start leaning away from the overpackaged product to something more streamlined or even refillable. We might remember to say, quickly, "I don't need a bag, that's OK." We might write on both sides of the paper. We might re-use instead of throwing it away.
The Department of Public Works sells black, discrete recycle bins for $25. Although the city does a good job recycling organic material, if we compost at home we can include food scraps that otherwise would wind up with the non-recyclables. And making soil is magic.
Springfield is in toug.ch times, but I don't think the homeowners in this city would be half so angry about the new $90 trash fee if we had been brought into the process of deciding how we were going to meet our needs and pay for it. I also know that we who live here have certainly not done enough thinking about our water, our soil and our waste. But times are changing.
Answers: 1.a), 2 e), 3. c), 4 c), 5 b), 6 c). 7 c), 8 a)
Photo from Virginia Speigel, Barbage Day Project