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How Worcester is Saving Millions on Recycling

Saturday, April 21, 2012


The city saves millions every year thanks to their incentive to recycle.

One third of the trash coming out of Worcester is being recycled, keeping thousands of tons of garbage out of the landfill and saving the city millions of dollars.

Recycling in Worcester has been on the increase thanks to the city’s garbage plan that includes making residents pay for trash bags. While some may see this as a hassle, the offset expense has helped save the city and the environment.

According to the Department of Public Works and Parks (DPW&P), 1,721 tons of trash and 752 tons of recyclables were collected in March 2012 alone, making a curbside diversion rate of 30.4%.

“The savings is in the seven figures,” said DPW&P Commissioner Bob Moylan. “Generally speaking, the more the city recycles, the less that we have to collect at curbside to be disposed of at the waste to energy plant.”

The Reason

The rising recycling in Worcester is particially due to the rising cost of trash bags, a system put into place about two decades ago. While this initial change marked a huge turning point in the city’s spending on trash collection, Moylan says that they are still seeing yearly increases in cost-cutting.

“The real monumental change in numbers and in attitude was 20 years ago, but what we see now is small incremental changes all in the right direction,” he said. “As the price of the bag goes up, typically the amount of diversion rate will increase. People get re-accustomed to the fact that the bag will cost a certain amount, the more they will recycle, and the more money they save.”

The Benefit

Payment for trash bags initially saved the city 50% of what it was spending on trash collection.

“When we introduced that program we were used to picking up 45,000 tons of garbage a year. The year after that – the first full year we implemented the program, we cut tonnage in half to 22,000 tons,” Moylan said. “In today’s economy, if we had the old system, we would be picking up the same amount plus or minus, times $75 per ton. With the program now, we only have to multiply it by $22, you can and see the savings.”

So, why aren’t cities and towns doing this everywhere? According to Moylan, it comes down to courage. “You don’t see it in a lot of other cities because it takes a lot of political courage.”

Environmental Savings

Besides budget benefits, Moylan highlighted the immense ecological impact that the collection has.

“In addition, of course, is the matter of being green and environmentally progressive which has its own inherent benefits,” he said.

Gwen Walsh, MPA student at Clark, has been studying litter and trash in the city and has interviewed residents about the reasons behind their recycling. According to these attitude surveys and other research she’s done, people fall into three categories:

“Some recycle because they feel they’re supposed to, some want people to see them recycling, and some do it to benefit the environment,” she said. Walsh was involved in surveyed 60 people on the street at different places throughout Main South at grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores. “Some responses we got were that people feel they don’t think they city is active about the system. A lot of people don’t like the system, but it’s because they don’t understand it. People can save money recycling.”

“One woman we interviewed lives with her husband and five kids. Between them, they recycle so much they only use one trash bag every two weeks due to mindfulness and composting,” Walsh said. According to the DPW&P, about one third of trash put out is compostable. They highly recommend residents to use this practice to cut down on trash.

Walsh comes from a town in Connecticut which like many others provides residents with unnecessarily large trash receptacles.

“It’s way more waste than anyone’s household should be putting out a week. That definitely encourages people to thoughtlessly throw things away. To avoid this, Massachusetts is looking into expanding the yellow bag system to 50% of towns in mass,” she said.

A Necessary Incentive

Behind this recycling process that saves the city so much is the incentive – residents pay for trash bags and can recycle for free.

“For people who are not wealthy, the bags can be expensive, but if you’re financially stable and don’t see any other reason to recycle, it’ll only cost you 75 cents a bag,” Walsh said.

“There’s a built-in incentive for people to recycle,” Moylan said. “The more people recycle, the less we have to pay to have the garbage picked up. This lets us pay a flat rate not based on tonnage and saves us in terms of budget.” 


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