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Recycling organic material a next step

Hamilton and Wenham are pioneers in paring waste stream, saving money

By David Rattigan
Globe Correspondent / April 29, 2012
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In Hamilton and Wenham, people are seeing their pizza crusts, apple cores, and banana peels in a whole new light.

The organic curbside recycling program went townwide in both communities this month, with residents placing organic waste in one 13-gallon container, their recyclables in another, and other solid waste placed in trash containers or pay-as-you-throw bags.

The communities are the first to do so east of the Mississippi River, just as they were when it started as a four-neighborhood pilot program in Hamilton in 2009, then expanded to 600 homes in two towns for 2010-2011, according to Michael Lombardo, town manager in Hamilton.

By removing the organic matter from the waste stream, the towns are seeking to save money by reducing the cost of waste disposal. The tipping fee for solid waste is $70 per ton, while the tipping fee for organic waste is $40 per ton.

As other communities adopt their own organic curbside recycling programs, it could provide another financial benefit.

Hamilton recently received a report on the feasibility of putting an anaerobic digestion facility on the former landfill site, near the Manchester-by-the-Sea town line. The report from consultant CMD Smith was encouraging, Lombardo said.

A commercial anaerobic digester breaks down organic material and creates compost more rapidly than a typical compost pile, creating bio-gas that generates power while also mitigating the smell. A digester on that site could possibly process not only the Hamilton and Wenham organic waste but also that of other commercial enterprises and municipalities, providing financial payback in addition to real estate taxes.

“We believe we’re going to take it to the next level with the state, to test the market and see if vendors are interested in putting in a proposal,’’ Lombardo said. “We have some internal work to do with our boards and committees, and townsfolk to buy into the concept, but we think it is going to demonstrate that it’s viable, and are very excited about it.’’

Noting that the state master plan calls for commercial waste to be free of organic materials in the near future, Lombardo said, “We feel within the next five years, residential trash is going to be mandated to be free of compost material. We’re trying to get a jump on that, and make sure we’re in a position to comply.”

Of its own curbside pickup program, the town has identified approximately $80,000 to $100,000 in first-year savings for Hamilton alone, though if residents embrace the program it could jump as high as $120,000 to $150,000, Lombardo said.

The disposal programs in Hamilton and Wenham are slightly different. Recyclable glass, cans, plastic, and paper is put out weekly in both communities, as is organic recycling material, but in Hamilton the trash is picked up at no cost only every other week, while Wenham has continued weekly trash pickup. Hamilton households can leave trash out on off weeks, but only in a pay-as-you-throw blue plastic bag.

The intention of every-other-week trash pickup is to further encourage recycling.

“We’re curious to see the comparison,’’ between a community with a weekly free trash pickup and one with a biweekly free pickup, said Lombardo.

Studies have shown that when people pay more attention to recycling, overall trash tonnage is reduced, he noted.

During the days of the pilot programs, participants would pay roughly $100 for the privilege of separating their organic waste from their recyclables and other solid waste. The enticement for the individuals was free compost, although some were simply more interested in making their community more environmentally friendly, and possibly reducing their future real estate taxes in future years.

The Hamilton-Wenham program became a model for a program that started in 2011 in neighboring Ipswich, and will likely spur some others as well. Hamilton administrates the program.

Gretel Clark, a member of the town’s recycling committee who spearheaded the program, said she has talked with others in Beverly, Lynnfield, North Attleborough, Falmouth, and the Cape Ann League of Women Voters (the idea came out of a League study in Hamilton-Wenham). She recently did an interview with a writer from a Michigan-based trash and recycling periodical, and has spoken at recycling conferences to groups of 50 to 60 people.

“There’s usually a lot of excitement at those, especially with it coming out of a citizens group,’’ she said.

Judy Sedgewick, recycling coordinator in Ipswich, said that with Clark’s help, she modeled that town’s organic curbside recycling program after the Hamilton-Wenham, program, including employing the same partners to haul the waste and to compost it - Roy Ferreira Jr. of Rowley-based New England Solid Waste and Peter Britton of Hamilton’s Brick Ends Farm. “They’ve both been tremendously supportive,’’ Clark said.

That program started with 110 households in November 2011 and is now up to 178 households, and accepting more. Sedgewick estimated that the town has diverted 50 tons of organic waste in the first six months of the program.

“They’ve made it easy for us,’’ Sedgewick said. “Implementing something like this is always difficult - the biggest thing is to get the word out - but we’ve just followed their lead.’’

David Rattigan can be reached at drattigan.globe@gmail.com.

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