Judith Durant, a resident of the Highlands, shared this report on recycling from Monday’s Highlands’ Neighborhood Association meeting:
Monday night I attended the Highlands Neighborhood Association monthly meeting, mainly to hear Gunther Wellenstein, Solid Waste/Recycling Coordinator. Mr. Wellenstein is making the rounds to neighborhood meetings to explain changes that have taken place in what is okay to recycle in Massachusetts and what is not. I’d assumed I had that under control—I’ve been an avid recycler for many years now, diligently washing out yogurt and other food containers, breaking down cardboard boxes, squashing orange juice cartons, rinsing plastic bottles and putting their caps back on before placing these items in the recycling bin. A comment from a friend who heard Mr. Wellenstein at her recent Belvidere neighborhood meeting told me that I was wrong. Things changed in July 2018.
While we can still help the environment by recycling cans, bottles and jars, paper and cardboard, and plastic containers, there are many items within these categories that are no longer accepted at recycling facilities in Massachusetts. For example, I was under the impression that one could recycle aerosol cans with other cans as long as they were completely empty. These cans are recyclable, but not in Massachusetts.
A visit to the lowellma.gov site offers a link to Solid Waste and Recycling under Departments. There is no obvious link to a current list of what is and what is not accepted. Typing “recycle” into the search slot at the top of the page turned up 174 pages of links to documents. With 10 links per page, the first page includes five links to job postings for a Single Stream Recycling Compliance Technician (these are dated December 2017 and June 2018.) The next five links are: 2014 Single Stream Recycling Calendar; Single Stream Recycling Map; January 2014 Blue-Green Calendar; 2015 Single Stream Recycling Calendar; 2015 Single Stream Recycling Calendar Version 2.
Top of the second page reveals the Prohibiting Single-Use Plastic Bags ordinance (good); two job listings for a part-time SW-R technician; a status report from 2015; a status report from 2014; a link to extensive information on hazardous waste; another listing for a part-time technician; a status report from 2012; and two identical links to Master Plan 7 – Environmental Resilience/Sustainable Lowell 2025, which was adopted in March 2013. Sustainable Lowell 2025 is a bold and aspirational plan. Some of the plan has been implemented, but we still have a long way to go.
I continued to scroll through the pages of links. At the top of the fifth page I see it: Reduce Reuse Recycle Guide! Oops—it’s a Lowell Sun publication dated April 19, 2009. The same link appears as the eighth entry on that page. Page 7 reveals two links to the same list of recyclable paper, which includes items that are now restricted, plus a flyer that boasts “Cartons Are Recyclable!” They’re not.
Okay. Clearly, I’m doing this wrong. Into the Advanced Search slot I type “Current list of recyclable items.” This produces 247 pages of results! At the top of the list are the same two links to the outdated list of recyclable paper mentioned above, and links to Textile Recycling, Move Out Guides, and on and on.
I was lucky enough to receive one of two handouts at last night’s meeting, the Massachusetts Universal Recycling List, which tells me to stop putting ice cream containers, shredded paper (which I’d been placing in a paper bag and then into the bin), and food and beverage cartons, among other things, out for recycling. I have no idea what was on the other handout.
While I am clearly happy to have this information so I can stop unknowingly participating in Lowell’s being fined thousands and thousands of dollars for contaminated recycling waste, there’s got to be a more efficient way to get this information out there. Our neighborhood meeting had approximately 20 attendees. And the 20 of us just learned of a policy that was adopted in July 2018.
How about when we click on Solid Waste/Recycling under Departments we see a big, bold link to IMPORTANT CHANGES TO RECYCLING POLICY AS OF JULY 2018. Or something like that. And do we really need to keep a live link to every document that was ever posted about recycling?