Bow’s decision to trash recycling was made without public input

  • A container of trash is lifted up into a Pinard Waste System truck in front of a home on Heidi Lane in Bow on Wednesday, April 19, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Driver Jeremy Houle (left) and Tony Belanger, director of operations at Pinard Waste System, look over the recyclables at a house on Heidi Lane in Bow on Wednesday, April 19, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 5/10/2019 5:02:29 PM

The decision to incinerate all the paper, bottles and cans from Bow’s blue single-stream recycling containers was made without the input of the committee that is charged with promoting and encouraging recycling in town.

“We found out three months ago that there was permission given by the town manager to Pinard to do that,” said Recycling and Solid Waste Committee member Danielle Ruane. “That wasn’t something we were privy to.”

As the cost to recycle exceeded that of trash disposal by about $30 per ton, Pinard Waste Management of Manchester received authorization from Bow’s select board last fall to begin disposing recyclables as trash until the rate drops. Since trash and recycling were both being taken to the incinerator, Pinard began using one truck instead of two.

Since the select board oversees the spending of taxpayer dollars, the decision fell directly under the select board’s purview, Town Manager David Stack said.

“It was more a financial decision as we were negotiating, so I don’t think at that point they (the committee) were told of this but they knew we were negotiating a contract,” he said.

The change is saving the town about $3,000 a month, Stack said. That averages out to about $1 a month for each household in town.

Stack informed the select board of the decision to trash recycling at a meeting Oct. 23. The change wasn’t posted on an agenda, no vote was taken and the public’s opinion wasn’t solicited.

At its monthly meeting on Tuesday, recycling committee members had one piece of correspondence to address, which came from a Bow resident expressing “dismay” at the news that the town had suspended its recycling program.

“We were all dismayed,” said Sherri Cheney, who was elected chairwoman of the committee at the same meeting.

Members of the committee, which advises the select board, are exploring options to resuscitate any portion of the town’s recycling program as negotiations begin on a new contract with Pinard Waste Systems.

“Our mission is to salvage some sort of recycling and promote alternatives,” Cheney said.

The town has used Pinard to haul its trash and recyclables for several years, Stack said. The town’s current five-year contract runs out at the end of June, and how recyclables are handled is expected to be a significant part of the negotiation on its next deal.

The recycling committee will offer its recommendations on a new contract, and members hope they will be notified when changes to the system are made in the future.

Bow isn’t alone in its struggle over what to do with its recycling.

The market for these materials was shaken when China, which has historically bought most of the country’s recyclables, began imposing restrictions on the loads it would accept, cutting down on the volume of contaminated loads that come from single-stream services.

This change has been felt by contractors in waste management. According to Bow’s recycling committee, it cost Pinard $20 per ton to dispose of recyclables at a facility in Allenstown in July 2017. Less than a year later, the rate has jumped to $100 per ton. Meanwhile, trash disposal costs $69.05 per ton.

“It was kind of forced economically and made sense cost-wise,” Stack said, describing the decision to incinernate the town’s recycling as a “stop-gap” while the town negotiates a new contract.

The committee plans to meet again May 20 with a representative from Pinard to discuss recycling options. It will then make its recommendation to the select board, which is authorized to negotiate and award the contract.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the market for recyclable materials, members of the committee said they’d like a short-term contract this time around, perhaps one year, which would allow the town to put the contract out to bid and possibly switch to another company.

Other options the town is looking at include extending the current contract and allowing Pinard to dispose of recyclables as trash until the market evens out, or modifying the single-stream system to a dual-stream where materials are sorted in separate containers to limit contamination.

As the cost to process recyclables rises, many communities in the area are being forced to decide whether to stop recycling or pay the higher price to continue.

Residents in Canterbury showed major support for a petition warrant article at town meeting in March that requires the town to continue recycling “all available materials,” no matter the cost.

Franklin, meanwhile, took the same approach as Bow by discontinuing its recycling programs altogether.

Until Bow sets its new course, the recycling committee is encouraging residents to try cutting down on waste. Taj Pietkiewicz, a committee member, said he will continue to keep the “three R’s” in mind, even if “recycling” isn’t an option.

“You can still reduce and reuse,” he said.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321, or on Twitter @NickStoico.)

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