How does one become MassRecycle's 2010 Recycler of the Year? For Hamilton resident Gretel Clark, it was a long road, filled with committee meetings, a trash hotline, and an unfailing devotion to reducing her town's trash.
About five years ago, as a member of the Hamilton-Wenham League of Women Voters, Clark studied the possibility of implementing a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program for the two communities. "The conclusion was that pay-as-you-throw makes sense both economically and environmentally- it doesn't matter where," says Clark. Joined by a staff member from the MA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Clark and the Hamilton Recycling Committee came up with a household waste reduction program proposal for the town. It wasn't exactly PAYT, but it was close, and the town adopted it.
Hamilton allowed each family to put out only one 35 gallon trash can a week for free (additional blue trash bags cost $1.75 each). Families could put out unlimited amounts of recycling. As with any change, at first there was a lot of complaining, but soon residents began to increase their recycling and found they had very little solid waste. "What's amazing to me is that my most vocal supporters now are the ones that had screamed loudest against it," Clark states. Clark and her team helped make the transition easier by offering free in-house recycling trainings and a trash hotline. "I've checked it just about every day for the past three years."
The story would be impressive if it stopped there, but Clark felt more could be done. Not using the blue bags was becoming a badge or pride in the town and the successful program was being used as a model by other towns. Clark and her team decided to see if they could push the program even further and start a curbside pick up for organic waste. With the support of a local hauler, New England Solid Waste, and Brick End Farm, the destination for the organics, the group conducted a two month pilot program in the winter of 2009.
The town purchased a pallet of compost bins and the recycling committee recruited 74 families to take part in the pilot. The hauler kept careful records of both the weekly participation rates and the weight of the compost they picked up. The group found that about half of the average family's trash was being composted. Spurred on by the pilot program's success, the group recruited 566 families from Hamilton and Wenham to pay $75 a year for a weekly organics pick up. In exchange, Brick End Farm offered participants as much finished compost as they wanted.
The program was not without its setbacks. They had counted on a $15,000 grant from the DEP for compost bins, but that did not materialize since it would have been funded by the failed Bottle Bill. Instead, they received $7,000 from the EPA, and Clark was left scrambling to raise the other $8,000 in one night- which she did.
These efforts have paid off. About 15% of Hamilton and Wenham families participate in the compost pick up. Hamilton's 34% recycling rate is the fourth highest in its region and is much higher than the region's average. But Clark is still not satisfied. "My husband and I did the math on what would happen to our solid waste if everybody composted. We realized that even without pay-as-you-throw, the recycling rate would be 60%." Clark's next goal is to make compost pick up free so that they can get to 60% or beyond.