DPW 2019 Calendar Features Second Swap Day

Start saving your reusable items now. This year, you’ll have more opportunity to help them find a new home.

The Melrose Department of Public Works (DPW) has released its 2019 schedule for curbside trash and recycling collection and special events, and the schedule has an addition that should be exciting news for Melrose residents. During 2019, DPW will be offering not one but two Swap Day events—in the early fall, as it has done for the past several years, but also in the spring. The scheduling of the second Swap Day is to a great extent a response to public demand for additional opportunities to exchange usable household items rather than throw them out.

The 2019 Swap Days, organized by the Melrose Recycling Committee (MRC) with the support of DPW, are scheduled for June 15 and September 28. Both events will take place in the City Hall parking lot, as they have in years past. DPW and MRC will provide more detail on acceptable items as the dates approach.

Also on the 2019 calendar are two household hazardous waste collection events. As in recent years, the City of Melrose is collaborating with its neighbor, Stoneham, in these events. The first HHW collection day will be on Saturday, June 29, most likely at Stoneham High School. The second HHW collection day will on October 26 at the Melrose DPW Yard on Tremont Street. Both events will be open to the residents of both cities; the Melrose event is also likely to be open to residents of other towns, at a fee structure to be determined. Check back with the DPW (https://www.cityofmelrose.org/trash-recycling) or MRC (https://melrecyclingcommittee.wordpress.com/) to obtain information about collection hours, fee structures and a list of acceptable items as the dates approach.

The full schedule of recycling events is as follows:

• April 20: motor oil/gas/antifreeze drop-off
• May 18: paper shredding (with JRM, the city’s waste contractor)
• June 15: Spring Swap Day
• June 29: hazardous waste collection (Stoneham)
• September 21: motor oil/gas/antifreeze drop-off
• September 28: Fall Swap Day
• October 19: rigid plastics drop-off
• October 26: hazardous waste collection (Melrose)

During the Saturday events on April 20, May 18, September 21, and October 19, Melrose residents will be able to drop off tires (for a fee), electronic products (fee for TVs and monitors), and other items. These items, which are listed along with any associated fees on the calendar, can also be dropped off at the DPW Yard during the week. Tires and electronic products will not be acceptable for drop-off during the HHW collection events.

The DPW 2019 calendar also specifies the dates for curbside collection of yard waste and Christmas trees, as well as metal products (for which stickers must be purchased in advance).

The Melrose Recycling Committee, an all-volunteer organization, extends is deepest appreciation to the Melrose DPW for its dedication to curbside recycling, and to providing opportunities for Melrose residents to properly dispose of hard-to-recycle items that cannot go into the curbside bins. Our DPW is working hard to make recycling work well and bring benefits to the City of Melrose.


Taking on Single-Use Plastics in the Home

By Katie Turner Getty

With the support of the Melrose Recycling Committee, I’ve decided to embark on my own #SingleUsePlasticChallenge during which, every month in the new year, I will try to take steps toward reducing my reliance on single-use plastics. I plan to document my personal journey in the hopes that other Melrose residents will feel inspired to join me in minimizing our usage of single-use plastics.

This personal challenge was recently spurred when I looked into the trash container in my kitchen one day and saw a mound of discarded, non-recyclable single use plastic products such as sandwich bags, freezer bags, and plastic wrap. It’s been established for decades that plastic never biodegrades. Rather, many plastics merely break down into tinier and tinier particles, which then insidiously contaminate the environment.

Days passed, and I reflected upon how the heap of single-use plastic in my trash would end up in a landfill, eventually contaminating the ground and water. I also remembered, as an elementary school student way back in the 1980s, learning about the danger that plastic posed to the environment. Now, thirty years later at the dawn of 2019, I feel disheartened to realize how little progress we’ve made toward eliminating this environmental hazard.

I had also been ruminating over the recent release of the federal Climate Assessment report and feeling great anxiety about its dire outlook related to climate change. I felt an overpowering sense of hopelessness and despair for our collective future. Certainly I do not wield enough power to single-handedly reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. I desperately wanted to take action to protect our environment—but what could I, one powerless individual, do? The problems seemed so insurmountable: how could I make a difference?

Then one night I was packing my lunch to take to work with me the next day, as I usually do. I put a sandwich in a single-use plastic sandwich bag. But then I realized—I had an opportunity to take action. It was a small action, no doubt, but action nonetheless. I could choose to stop using the sandwich bags. I could stop contributing to the heap of plastic in my trash barrel by simply choosing not to use a baggie and, instead, putting my sandwich in a reusable container every day.

So I did. It was such a simple thing. I’m almost embarrassed to express how great it felt to take action. I was finally—albeit in a very small way—aligning my actions with my values. It felt amazing to consciously take on the responsibility to fight for our environment in a very tangible way. In my excitement at making a tiny difference, I started wondering what else I could do—and thus my own personal single-use plastic challenge was born.

Admittedly, starting the new year by simply using a reusable sandwich container instead of a baggie is a very small step. But it is something that everyone can do. I’m just a regular person with a busy schedule and an ordinary amount of environmental awareness. But I feel that, as climate change and environmental pressures continue to worsen, it’s incumbent on me as a citizen of the Earth to do better. My plan is to set realistic goals and then implement changes to my daily routines that will be sustainable over the long term, and I will encourage my family and friends to do the same.

I know that many people are much further along the path toward eliminating plastic consumption than I am. Others might have already come up with great solutions to reducing reliance upon single-use plastics. If so, I encourage you to help me and others learn by leaving some tips and tricks in the comments section of the Melrose Recycling Committee blog, or by sharing some tips on social media or to the Melrose Free Press and the Melrose Weekly News. My hope is that we as a community can all move together toward our common goal of mitigating the hazards of single-use plastics and protecting our environment.

DPW to Offer Holiday Packaging Disposal Option

By George Stubbs

Packaging, packaging, packaging—it’s that time of year when gifts are being ordered for exchange on Christmas day, and the piles of cardboard, wrapping paper, and plastics of many different varieties, especially Styrofoam, will start to pile up. With many people now shopping on line, there’s even more packaging to deal with, like air pillows and packing peanuts (we won’t go into what’s happening to our greenhouse gas emissions profile with all those delivery trucks on the road).

Disposing of all that packaging in our regular trash increases the amount of garbage that the city sends out for incineration, and thus increases costs to the city. Fortunately, many of us want to do the right thing and recycle that packaging. Unfortunately, a lot of it can’t go in the curbside bin, and we don’t always know what the alternatives might be. There are just so many different categories of packaging, and they’re changing all the time as the packaging industry comes up with new ways to protect products during transfer from the factory to the warehouse or retailer and on to the home.

The Melrose Department of Public Works (DPW) is helping out by holding a special collection event at the DPW Yard on Saturday, January 5, from 8 a.m. to noon. During this event, DPW will accept drop-off of the following items:

• Cardboard (clean and flattened)
• Gift wrapping and other paper
• Clothing and textiles
• Plastic bags (e.g., Macy’s; make sure they’re clean)
• Christmas trees (no wire, decorations, stands, or attached plastic bags; trees will also be picked up curbside in early January)
• Air bubble wrap (cleaned and air removed)
• Styrofoam (the kind that electronic products and appliances come in, not the kind that food comes in).
• Electronics (with a charge for TVs and monitors)
• Tires (additional cost)

Along with Christmas trees, you should consider de-wiring your wreaths (and removing other non-recyclable parts) and recycling them as well.

Other items present challenges, but not insurmountable ones. For example, the “air pillows”—the air-filled plastic-film cushions that many vendors use to prevent the breakage of fragile items during delivery—may pile up in advance of Christmas day, as you empty deliveries for repackaging as gifts. If you don’t want them hanging around until January 5, you have an alternative. You can puncture the bags to deflate them first and then, as with other plastic-film products, bring them to the collection bins at retailers like Shaw’s and Whole Foods. Don’t put them in your curbside bin.

Packing peanuts will not be accepted at the DPW Yard, and they present a little more challenge (and not just in fighting static electricity and getting them off your fingers and clothes). The good news is that packing peanuts can be brought back to local UPS stores, like the one on Middlesex Turnpike in Burlington (maybe save that drop-off as a side trip to the Burlington Mall). According to the phone app iRecycle, the Burlington UPS store accepts clean foam packaging of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Boxes and other packaging materials are welcome as well. Other local UPS stores—but not all—accept packing peanuts. Call ahead for information.

Most gift wrapping, cards, and envelopes—including shiny paper and heavy cardstock—can be recycled, but not all of it. Wrapping and cards with glitter, foil, felt cutouts, metal charms, and ribbon count as trash, unfortunately.

With this guidance in hand, you should be able to properly dispose of most of the packing and other materials that are accumulating in your home during this season. May your holidays be full of joy—and environmentally friendly.

George Stubbs is co-chair of the Melrose Recycling Committee

Reducing Waste and Reducing GHG Emissions

By Sunil Sainis

Solid waste reduction has traditionally been motivated by a desire to minimize environmental pollution. In decades past, immediate concerns over local pollution shaped solid waste reduction efforts, and the success of these efforts spawned the global recycling industry. Today, recycled materials are part of the global supply chain for various products.

With the globalization of the economy, we have also seen a rise in awareness of the non-local costs of poor waste management. Extremely large scale pollution effects like the “garbage gyre” phenomena in our oceans are well documented, and these impacts are driving critical innovation in the solid waste management field.

The most pressing global pollution problem is greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report indicates, extremely high atmospheric GHG levels are likely to result in irreversible and abrupt climate change.

In the light of this, one is compelled to recognize the following two points:

1. Our GHG emissions are intimately linked with our lifestyles, which emphasize a “single-use” culture—i.e., use an item like a plastic bag once and throw it away. This single-use culture leads to staggering levels of waste.
2. Any recycling process we propose for reducing solid waste carries with it an associated GHG emission footprint, which may not be favorable to reducing the drivers of climate change.

The first point is relatively easier to comprehend. We simply need to identify key elements of our lifestyle that increase GHG emissions and solid waste. If one were to focus on these elements, then we could see significant progress towards the goal of 45% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 set by the IPCC.

The second point is much harder to grasp. At the conceptual level, one has to recognize that waste management is like any other industrial process. Every industrial process has some inputs, some outputs and a feedback loop. Every process is deliberately engineered or evolves to operate at an optimal cost (usually defined as a yield or an energy cost). Any attempt to change either the inputs or the feedback or the outputs results in the process walking away from its optimal state. In the case of recycling efforts (the feedback loop for solid waste), if one defines the cost in terms of GHG emissions, a similar departure from optimum will be observable.

To illustrate some of the challenges described above, consider the case of plastic bottles. People use these bottles as a cheap substitute for reusable glass or metal containers. Only a small fraction (6%) of these bottles are presently recycled, with the remainder ending up in solid waste. From a recycling perspective, eliminating the use of these bottles is ideal. There is a catch, however: the plastic recycled from these bottles is used to make blended textiles, toys, and other plastic containers. If people were to stop using these bottles, the associated recycling stream would disappear and that would lead to increased demand for virgin plastics from the industry that currently use recycled plastics. As virgin plastics typically have a much higher carbon footprint than recycled plastics, this shift does not bode well for reducing GHG emissions.

There are other environmental benefits to removing single-use plastic bottles from the waste stream besides their availability as a feedstock. Plastics in the ocean, affecting the food chain, is a major concern. But this example illustrates that some comprehensive thinking is in order when proposing to disrupt industrial processes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for its part, has looked into these issues in some detail and prepared a set of opportunities for GHG reduction through waste management. It has also offered some guidance in the form of WARMs (WAste Reduction Models) to help with understanding feedback loops in the current process. A careful study of these will be necessary to identify pathways for success in combined reduction of GHG and solid wastes.

Sunil Sainis is a member of the Melrose Recycling Committee and a device physicist by profession.

Compost Food Waste at the Melrose Farmers Market

At the Harvest Market on November 18 at Memorial Hall, Melrose residents will be able to drop off food scrap generated in their homes in a bin to be provided by Black Earth Compost, a Massachusetts-based composting services company. This offering, sponsored by the Melrose Recycling Committee (MRC) in collaboration with the Melrose Farmers’ Market, provides residents with an opportunity to divert food waste from their normal trash, and—for those who are already backyard composting—an opportunity to divert food scrap that shouldn’t go into the backyard composter.

Food waste constitutes a major portion of our weekly waste generation—upwards of 30%, according to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others. Food waste is also heavy, adding to waste disposal costs for the City of Melrose, which is charged by the ton for waste disposal services. Getting food scrap out of the waste stream not only saves money for Melrose, it helps the environment by putting that waste to good use, in the production of compost.

Easy home storage

For those residents who already compost in their backyards, the offering at the Harvest Market will allow you to dispose of items like dairy products, bones, meat, seafood, and animal greases and fats, which shouldn’t go into backyard composters because of the animal attraction problem. Food scrap can be collected in large yogurt containers or other covered plastic containers, paper bags, plastic bags, and milk cartons. To reduce odors, store these containers in the freezer or refrigerator. A layer of shredded newspaper at the bottom of your storage container also helps.

Keep in mind that, when you drop off the food scrap at the Harvest Market, you must empty the container and reuse it or dispose of it in some other way. Plastic bags can be cleaned and brought to the plastic bag recycling bins at retailers like Shaw’s and Whole Foods. Milk cartons and yogurt containers can be rinsed and put in your curbside recycling bin. Paper bags are compostable.

Consider curbside composting!

The Harvest Market will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 18, at Memorial Hall on 590 Main Street in Melrose. Black Earth will remove the food scrap after the event and bring it to its facility in Manchester by the Sea, where it turns food waste into a compost product.

Black Earth also provides curbside composting pickup services in several communities, and it is looking for expressions of interest from Melrose residents so that it can build up the collection route densities that can keep costs down. MRC volunteers will be able to provide more information about this service at the Harvest Market and will take names and contact information from people who are interested. Alternatively, contact MRC through its website or the company directly at https://blackearthcompost.com/. Here’s a link to a video explaining the service: https://youtu.be/MlvKgywcwYg.

Celebrating its 25th season, the Melrose Farmers’ Market provides all Melrose-area residents with the opportunity to buy and learn about nutritious, locally grown and produced foods. The market promotes local farms, organizations and businesses and builds community while contributing to a sustainable future.

Materials to Help You Recycle Right

Contamination of our recyclables is a growing problem. That is, many of us place materials in our curbside bins that we all think should be recycled. In reality, however, these materials–plastic bags, hoses, other “tanglers,” for example–don’t belong in our curbside bins.

It’s not that they can’t be recycled. It’s just that JRM, Melrose’s waste management and recycling contractor, is not equipped to do so. Indeed, single-use plastic bags get tangled at the collection and sorting facility, forcing shutdowns while works conduct the dangerous operation of removing the offending items.

Fortunately, you can recycle single-use bags at retailers like Shaw’s and Whole Foods. Other items that shouldn’t go into our curbside bins may be recycled if some innovator comes forward with a process to break down the product and reassemble it into something new.

Such innovators exist. New Jersey-based Terracycle, for example, works with institutions like our own Roosevelt Elementary School to take hard-to-recycle items like juice packs and the plastic centers of spent Scotch tape dispensers and direct them to new-product processes.

We could use more innovators like Terracycle. In the meantime, however, we all have to be very careful about what we put in our curbside recycling bins. The problem isn’t simply that certain items can harm the processes at recycling centers. If the collector decides that a given truckload of recyclables is too contaminated with improperly recycled items, it can designate the whole load as trash and send it off to a landfill or an incinerator (the latter in our case). Since Melrose pays for disposal by the ton, that means higher waste disposal costs for our city. None of us wants that.

To help with the vexing problem of understanding what can and what can’t go into our recycling bins, JRM has published a couple of handy flyers that you can print out and put in a convenient place, like on your refrigerator. One is the JRM Single Stream Recycling Guide poster; the other is the company’s  “Do’s and Don’ts of Recycling!” poster. Both can be very helpful.

As we reported on this blog last month, the state of Massachusetts is getting into the act with a Recycle Smart program that is designed to help Massachusetts cities and towns, well, recycle smarter. The program, dubbed RecycleSmartMA, has generated its own helpful Recycle-Smart-Infographic, which you can also print out.

Recycling is a tough business right now. Commodity prices are down, and China, which used to take a very high amount of our recyclables, has established new purity standards for those materials, and U.S.-based vendors are facing severe challenges in meeting those standards. Much less of our “secondary materials” are going to China (apparently, our waste management companies are sending a lot of recyclables to other Southeast Asia countries, which are also starting to say, “hey, wait minute,” as this article at the Naked Capitalism blog points out).

So removing the contamination from our recycling may not solve all the problems that the U.S. recycling industries faces, but it is something we have to do if we are to keep recycling alive. Fortunately, we’re getting help in making it easier.


Recycling Right: Massachusetts Steps Up

by George Stubbs

The Melrose Recycling Committee was delighted to see a lot of traffic at its booth at the Victorian Fair on Sunday, September 9, in Melrose’s downtown area. Visitors to the booth had many questions–some about the future of recycling in the city, the state, and the country, but mostly about what they can or can’t recycle, whether in their curbside bins or through other options.

The committee members were able to answer many of these questions and in every case, referred people to the MRC website–especially the Recyclopedia page (see the “what to recycle” link above).

It’s hard for people to keep up with the instructions on what does and does not go into the curbside bin. Most visitors to the MRC booth at the fair appeared to be aware that plastic bags should not go into the bins, and they understood why (the bags jam up the machinery at the recycling facility of our city’s contractor, JRM). But questions about other items abound.

And that’s the challenge–for the Melrose Recycling Committee, the city’s Department of Public Works, and municipalities everywhere. Contamination of the recyclables stream–the inclusion of items that do not belong in the curbside bins–is a big headache for the recycling industry, and as a result, for the municipalities they serve. If the waste contractor sees too much contamination in any given truckload, it will treat the whole truckload as waste and dispose of it as such. This raises waste disposal costs for cities like Melrose, which pays for such services by the ton of waste generated.

China is often cited as part of the problem. To be sure, China once was the destination of a very large volume of the recyclables–or “secondary materials,” as the industry refers to them–that were generated in this country. Recently, however, China has imposed stringent contamination limits on imports of secondary materials, and these limits are strict enough to prompt U.S. waste companies to discontinue their exports; it costs too much to meet those standards. So the stuff is piling up within our borders, and the economics around recycling have become very challenging.

The China part of the story has some nuances. In establishing the new contamination standards, the Chinese government may have been acting less out of environmental virtue and more out of market protection. The Chinese accepted secondary materials from the United States because China had established the necessary production infrastructure to turn secondary materials into new products and then sell those products back to the United States and other countries. China’s growing affluence, however, means that the Chinese people are generating more recyclables on their own. China no longer needs or wants our recyclables.

Whatever role China may be playing in the U.S. recycling crisis, there is a sad factor of our own making. America, which boasts that its capitalist system is the best engine of innovation in the world, has failed to innovate adequately in the area of secondary materials processing. We simply do not have enough processing capacity to turn all our recyclables into new products. There are U.S. innovators out there, but not enough of them.

Cleaning up the recyclables stream will not be a sufficient condition, then, for solving the U.S. recycling crisis. But it is a necessary condition: we have to keep contamination levels low in order to make recycling economically viable.

Recognizing these problems, the state of Massachusetts has recently launched the Recycle Smart initiative, which will use $2.56 million from the state’s Sustainable Materials Recovery Program to help our cities and towns promote good recycling practices. A recent article in Commonwealth Magazine describes the initiative, under which 194 Massachusetts cities and towns will receive funding ranging from $2,800 to $97,500 “to pay for new recycling bins or carts, public education and outreach, the collection of difficult-to-recycle items, and recycling in municipal buildings, schools, and public spaces.” Another 53 municipalities will receive funds ranging from $500 to $2,000 to help those communities make “modest but critical investments” in existing recycling programs or new, low-cost initiatives, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). Supporting materials, including a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page, are available at a new Recycle Smart website established by MassDEP.

In the meantime, here’s JRM’s guide to what should and should not go into our curbside recycling bins. Remember, the Melrose Recycling Committee and our DPW would like you to recycle right–but recycle.