Rhode Island, we have a problem.
Nobody’s Perfect. When it comes to recycling, we all make mistakes sometimes, and that’s OK. Our state-of-the-art sorting system is designed to handle mistakes, but lately we’ve been getting A LOT of trash mixed with recycling. When trash levels in the recycling get too high and/or items that are very dangerous to our workers and our equipment wind up in the recycling, an entire load of recycling can be rejected and sent to the landfill. This is a shame, for three reasons. Trash in recycling wastes money, endangers workers and is wasteful.
Trash in Recycling Wastes Your Money
Depending on your city or town, trash and recycling removal is either paid for by you directly or through taxes. One part of the cost is the disposal fee paid when trash is delivered to RI’s Central Landfill. While recycling is accepted for free, trash is buried for a fee. In addition, the sale of quality recyclables often results in a profit, and that profit is shared with your city or town each year. Entire loads of recycling can be rejected when trash levels in the recycling are too high and/or recycling contains items that are very dangerous to our workers and our equipment. That means excessive trash in your recycling cart can cause your neighbors’ recycling to be landfilled — and at a high cost. Every time a load of recyclables is rejected, it costs your city/town $250 plus $32 for every ton. It’s like burying money we can never get back.
Trash in Recycling Endangers Workers
While our award-winning, state-of-the art Materials Recycling Facility uses mechanics and optics to help us sort your paper from your cardboard from your containers, PEOPLE also work on our lines, sorting things by hand. That means your fellow Rhode Islanders have to touch your recycling. Whether it’s diapers, needles, scrap metal, propane tanks, paint, or not-quite-empty aerosol cans —items like these mixed in with recycling can and have injured our workers. In addition to putting workers at risk, things like wires, chains, hangers, cable and ropes wrap around equipment and shut the entire facility down. This happens every day.
Trash in Recycling is Wasteful
All of RI’s cities and towns send their recycling to RI’s Materials Recycling Facility, and 38 of 39 send their trash to RI’s Central Landfill. At current trash disposal rates, the Central Landfill will reach capacity in 2038. Alternatives to landfill disposal, such as shipping our trash out-of-state or building a waste-to-energy facility, are very expensive. Reserving precious landfill space for materials that are non-recyclable is the common sense thing to do. When loads carrying recyclables have to be buried in the landfill, this takes up space unnecessarily. The Central Landfill is a resource that belongs to all Rhode Islanders, including future generations. Burying recycling does none of us any good. When recyclables are buried, we forever lose the opportunity to give those materials a second life — wasting the natural resources and energy that went into making the products in the first place. We can do better, RI.