In Franklin, trash and recyclables are sent to the incinerator together

  • A trash truck picks up bins marked trash and recycling along its route in Franklin on Friday, July 27, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

  • A trash truck picks up bins marked trash and recycling along its route in Franklin on Friday, July 27, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

  • A trash truck picks up bins marked “trash and recycling” along its route in Franklin on Friday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Trash cans with green lids marking recycling and gray lids indicating waste are seen in Franklin on Friday, July 27, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/28/2018 10:25:02 PM

The crunch in global markets that is shrinking recycling programs all over the state has shown up in Franklin in a surprising way: Curbside trash and curbside recycling are now being tossed into the same truck and taken to the same incinerator to be burned. 

Despite this change, made in response to a huge increase in the cost of getting rid of “single-stream” recycled material, the city hopes people will continue to separate their recyclables so they’ll be ready when true recycling starts again. 

“I know it’s a pain for residents to do it, but it would be harder for people to get out of the habit and then back in the habit again,” said City Manager Judie Milner. “We hear from our company that gets our recycling that they think that the market may turn around, so we’ve asked residents to continue with the program as if we’re recycling.”

Franklin residents who want to continue recycling can take their material to the town transfer station, something currently done by about 5 percent of city residents, although they’ll have to sort it into glass, plastic, cardboard, paper and other categories. That manual sorting, as compared to throwing everything into the same curbside bin, is key: Milner said Franklin can still dispose of well-sorted recyclables at less cost than sending it to the Wheelabrator trash-to-energy incinerator in Concord.

The problem for Franklin, as for communities throughout the country and much of the developed world, is that the cost of getting rid of mixed recyclables collected through single-stream programs has soared. The main problem is that China, for years the world’s market for single-stream recyclables, has stopped accepting most such material because it contains too much unacceptable material, such as food-tainted pizza boxes or types of plastic that can’t be recycled.

Many towns have already cut back on recycling because of costs. Several have stopped accepting glass in single-stream systems, because it can break and contaminate the entire recycling stream, while others have cracked down on people putting non-recyclable material in their bins, such as a push by Concord to remind people not to recycle plastic bags, which snarl the sorting machinery.

Franklin illustrates an emerging choice for New Hampshire towns and cities: Ask taxpayers to pay more to recycle items because it’s good for the environment, or cut costs by sending recycling along with garbage to the landfill or the incinerator.

“When we started this program, the recycling was actually paying for most of the program – we purchased trucks, the original barrels. We were getting paid around $20 a ton,” said Milner.

In contrast, she said, it now costs Franklin $68 per ton to get rid of trash but almost twice as much – $129 a ton – to get rid of mixed recyclables.

That extra budget-busting cost forced the city to give up on its environmental goals for at least the short term and burn the recyclables.

“It’s too bad because people are into the groove – we divert 35 percent of trash by weight,” she said. “We’re really hoping this market turns back around.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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