Waste, Recycling Contract Expires, Prompting Negotiations

By Maxim Tamarov

The future of trash and recycling collection in the Town of Winthrop is in flux.

On Tuesday, the town’s contract with Capitol Waste & Recycling, LLC expired, leaving officials scrambling to extend the relationship for a year more while they figure out next steps.

Starting with fiscal year 2013, the cost of collection services increased 2.25 percent annually. For fiscal year 2020, Winthrop paid about $1.24 million for Capitol Waste’s services. The renegotiated contract will cost the town about $1.5 million, according to Town Manager Austin Faison. The proposed contract will include the disposal fees associated with recycling materials. This would increase the contract by approximately $200,000. Recycling, in recent years, has become less lucrative.

“Recycling was actually a value add for [Capitol Waste] because they could make money off of it and now it’s not,” said Zero Waste Committee member Charles Southworth. “Now it costs us a bunch more money for recycling. We’re going to eat that.”

The recycling industry was “flipped on its head” when China implemented a policy in 2018 banning the import of most recyclable material. According to research published in the journal Science Advances, China had imported 45 percent of plastic waste between the years 1992 and 2018. Since Winthrop’s recycling contract is seven years old, the landscape looked very different when the collaboration with Capitol Waste began.

Capitol Waste, Southworth explained, is not going to give Winthrop a good deal on collecting something that it cannot sell. But recycling is ecologically beneficial and not something that the town can easily back out of.

Zero Waste Committee notes show that confusion over the state of recycling in town stemmed from a single incident during a snow emergency, when Capitol Waste picked up recycling in a truck marked for trash. The issue was resolved by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), but since then, Capitol has reported that the rate of recycling contamination has gone up. It may indicate Winthrop residents are dubious of recycling efforts, but recycling is in fact still happening and still being collected in the signature blue and yellow toters.

According to Brooke Nash, DEP Municipal Waste Reduction Program branch chief, Winthrop’s recyclables are delivered to a nearby material recovery facility. The facility sorts the recyclables, bales them and ships them to market.

Across the country, the AP reported, nascent recycling operations have been taking over for China. In Winthrop, there are some options being explored as well, especially for items not regularly recycled such as textiles and flatware.

The Zero Waste Committee recommended a partnership with Simple Recycling at a recent Town Council meeting, which, much like the compost option with Black Earth Composting, would collect unwanted clothing on trash day free of charge.

Materials collected by Simple Recycling are graded and sorted by quality and condition, according to the company’s website. Top quality materials are resold at local thrift outlets. Mid and low quality items are exported and processed for raw material, respectively. The company already operates in Revere, Brookline, Somerville and many other locations across the country.

Partnering with Simple Recycling, according to Southworth, will also qualify Winthrop for grants.

Winthrop is eligible to apply for DEP grants through the Sustainable Materials Recovery Program, which supports local recycling, composting, reuse, source reduction, program development, and enforcement activities that increase diversion and reduce disposal.

Southworth said he remains optimistic that something can be worked out.

“The town has options,” he said, “so hopefully we will be able to execute on some of them.”

Maxim Tamarov is a freelance reporter covering coronavirus and environmental issues for the Winthrop Sun Transcript. Send comments or story ideas to [email protected]

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