Krystal Noiseux gives us a behind the scenes look into the world of recycling and recyclopedias in Rhode Island. Krystal is the Recycling Program Manager at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (and an old co-worker of mine).
1. What does Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) do?
RIRRC is dedicated to helping Rhode Islanders reduce, reuse, and recycle. We operate RI's Central Landfill, Materials Recycling Facility, Leaf & Yard Compost, and Construction & Demolition Debris Facility. Our mission is to provide safe, environmentally compliant, and affordable solid waste and recycling services for the Rhode Island community.
2. What is your position at RIRRC and what do you do day to day?
I serve as the Recycling Program Manager here, and my day-to-day work pretty much runs the gamut. I might start the morning answering questions residents have written in with, and then assist some of our municipal coordinators with their program reporting requirements. Then perhaps it’s off to give a facility tour and meet with a senior project mentee. I may spend some time updating our social network accounts and work on a composting project. Then I could be speaking with teachers, setting up school presentations, and developing content for our monthly newsletter. There’s never a dull moment!
3. What are the three most common questions you get from tour groups (and the answers!)?
1. What do you mean this isn’t “the dump?”
To those of us that work at RIRRC, dump is a four-letter word. We operate a sanitary landfill here, and there is a big difference! At one time, there were small dumps all over RI; these were literally open pits of trash, and nothing more. Sanitary landfills like ours, on the other hand, are environmental engineering marvels where a double liner system protects groundwater, where trash is covered every day, where closed sections are capped off and planted, where gas is collected and turned into energy... I could go on and on! You know the difference as soon as a guest has to ask, “Where’s the trash?”
2. What should I do with <insert your item here>?
These questions follow me everywhere I go. We know that even when there are basic rules to follow, everyone find themselves occasionally wondering if something can be recycled or not or if it is safe to put into the trash or not. That’s why we’ve created a Recyclopedia for RI, which serves as an ever-expanding A-Z list of materials, with proper reuse, recycling, and disposal instructions. After answering the question at hand, I tell residents to visit www.rirrc.org/AtoZ and if they can’t find what they are looking for, let us know so we’ll add it.
3. What happens when the
When our landfill reaches capacity there are three alternatives for our trash. We could (1) find another city or town in RI to build a landfill in (but no one is jumping at this), (2) ship it out of state (but it would be 2-3 times as expensive) or (3) incinerate (but this is currently prohibited by RI law). Moral of the story: We must continue to reduce, reuse, and recycle to the greatest extent possible. This maximizes the time we can keep the current preferred system in place, and also gives us additional time to plan for the future’s best option.
4. What are common mistakes/misconceptions with recycling (in Rhode Island)?
I’d say it’s the notion some people have that RI is “behind the curve” somehow. Rhode Island was the first state in the nation to pass mandatory recycling legislation back in 1986 and our program continues to be on par with great ones across the country. That being said, we don’t collect anything as recycling that we can’t market. Virtually any material has some recycling potential, but potential isn’t enough. There has to be a company out there who’s willing to buy it. We have to be able to produce the volume on the schedule they need. Our facility needs to have the ability to sort and process it. Finally, we need to be able to at least break even in the process. If something isn’t being collected in our program, it’s only because it doesn’t meet all these criteria… yet.
5. Are there things that you see in the trash that you think- why in the world do people not recycle this?
If I had to pick one item it would be plastic bags. Take a drive around the Central Landfill on a windy day, and you’ll be shocked that even our extensive litter fences and dedicated litter crew have a tough time keeping up with these aerodynamic shopping vessels. Forget even that you can get reusable grocery bags just about anywhere these days; in RI you can also recycle them in all large groceries, pharmacies, and big box retailers in the state. In fact, RI was the first state in the nation to provide comprehensive plastic bag recycling as well. We’re definitely capturing a lot of bags though the program, but it still is not enough.
6. Are there things that you see in the recycling that people think can be recycled, but can't? (you once told me about the freezer safe boxes....
Definitely: Greasy pizza boxes (contaminated), tissue paper (too weak to be recycled again), frozen food/fridge packs/coffee cups (all designed to not break down when wet, and therefore can’t be pulped for recycling), Styrofoam (virtually no market), and plastics other than bottle and jugs (small markets).
7. Where does Rhode Island's recycling go to? Can you trace the life cycle of some items, maybe?
Materials stay as close as two towns over in Rhode Island and go as far away as China. We know exactly where all of our materials go next, and what types of products they might end up in, but we only know what the finished product is for sure in a few instances. For example, our aluminum cans go to Alabama and become aluminum cans again. Plastic bags go to Virginia and become wood-alternative decking.
8. Are there any changes in the world of recycling that Rhode Islanders can look forward to?
Yes! As new plastics markets are emerging, we are in the process of retrofitting our Materials Recycling Facility into a single-stream facility with the optical sorting technology necessary to accurately sort more types of plastic. In about a year’s time this renovation is set to be complete, and RIRRC will launch a statewide education and outreach campaign to inform our residents of the changes.
9. What is the best part of your job?
Giving a tour to any Rhode Islander that is here for the first time. There is really nothing like it. Waste is such an out of sight, out of mind part of our lives, and I get to bring it into sight and into mind. Everyone that leaves here is floored by what we do. They can’t believe what has to happen in order for what they put out on the curb to be managed responsibly. Once the tour is over, you can’t tell them enough about what they can do when they get home to help extend the life of the landfill.
10. What is the best part of the tour that gets people excited?
It’s probably a tie between seeing the view from very top of the landfill (not the highest point in the state – this is an urban legend that won’t die!) and standing out on the platform inside the Materials Recycling Facility. I don’t have to say a word while we’re out there. Everyone is talking, and pointing, and gasping.
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