The Melrose Recycling Committee is now “Zero Waste Melrose”

By George Stubbs and Jim Wilson, Co-chairs, Zero Waste Melrose

The Melrose Recycling Committee is changing its name to “Zero Waste Melrose.” The reasons for this change are important, and we’d like to explain why.

The world of waste management has changed dramatically since the Melrose Recycling Committee was established in the late 1980s. Back then, we believed recycling our wastes would be sufficient to create a circular economy that would significantly reduce our impact on the environment. Over the past three decades, however, our society has ramped up its consumption of material goods, to the point where that consumption is overwhelming the waste management system—both recycling and traditional disposal.

In response to this trend, the Recycling Committee began recently to rethink its mission regarding the service it provides to the community. The world is evolving, and so are we. Here in the second decade of the 21st Century, several factors have prompted us to use a wider lens in trying to understand what we need to accomplish. These factors include the following:

• A growing awareness of the negative impacts that irresponsible waste disposal practices have on public health and the environment—particularly single-use plastic products fouling our water ways, beaches, and oceans, harming marine life, and potentially causing harm up the food chain.
• The connection between climate change and waste, as many products—and their packaging—require fossil fuels to produce. Furthermore, the large amount of food that goes to waste presents a double threat, through the wasted energy-intensive processes used to produce food that isn’t consumed, and the breakdown of non-composted food waste into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
• Growing doubts, responsibly raised or not, about the efficacy of recycling, which is supposed by some to encourage consumption and by others to be insufficient to solve the problems we face.

So why “zero waste”? What does that concept mean to people? What kinds of goals does it suggest?

As recently as a couple of years ago, the term “zero waste” might have caught people off guard. It may still mean different things to different people today, but with so much media attention directed to the impacts of our wastes on society and the environment, people in many cities and states around the country—and their leaders—are increasingly focusing on some core ideas about where our society needs to go in terms of waste generation and waste management. Recycling, as necessary as it is, can’t do the whole job. We need to generate less, even as we take a broader approach to managing what we do generate. “Zero waste” is an aspirational goal, one that can yield benefits along the way. Being more diligent about reducing what we generate and reusing items we once thought had outlived their usefulness can bring immediate gains, for our pocketbooks and the environment.

Make no mistake: the mission of Zero Waste Melrose will remain what it always was for the Recycling Committee—to educate Melrose residents, visitors, and institutions about ways to reduce waste and increase recycling, with the ultimate goals of reducing our environmental impact, saving money, and keeping Melrose beautiful. Zero Waste Melrose believes firmly that recycling remains an essential part of the solution to our waste challenges, and we will continue to help Melrose residents “recycle right,” so that truckloads of recyclable materials aren’t deemed contaminated and sent to the incinerator—at increased cost to the city. But we will also do what we can to help the community consume smarter and divert wastes from the curbside altogether.

We can all do our part. As it has been for three decades, Zero Waste Melrose is here to help. To find out more about the organization, please visit our website. The look of the website—and the URL—will change at some point in the future, but for now, go to:


September Collection Event to Help with Hard-to-Recycle Items

Looking for a way to keep your plastic packaging and other hard-to-recycle items out of the waste stream? Bring them to an upcoming special recycling event for items that aren’t allowed in your curbside bins.

The Melrose Recycling Committee will have a booth at Sally Frank’s Farmers Market on September 26, where committee members will be collecting many types of personal care items and packaging, packaging for certain household products, and Hasbro toys and games. The committee will send the items to TerraCycle (, a global leader in the handling of hard-to-recycle waste. The committee is providing this service using the company’s free recycling programs.

Anything you can bring from the list below will keep non-biodegradable materials out of landfills and make our pilot project a success. Start saving now!

Personal Care Items and Packaging:

• All brands of contact lens blister packs; contact lenses (no cardboard packaging)
• All brands of blades and razors (including disposable units and replaceable-blade cartridge units), rigid plastic packaging, and flexible plastic bag packaging
• All brands of mouthwash bottles and caps, deodorant containers and caps, toothpaste tubes and caps, soap packaging, floss containers, toothbrushes (Remove excess product)

Specific Brands of Beauty Product Packaging:

• Burt’s Bees (Burt’s Bees branded personal care, lip care, and beauty care packaging; Remove all product)
• Eos (eos lip, lotion, and shave packaging; Remove as much of the remaining product as possible)
• Herbal Essenses (Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner bottles and caps, hair mist bottles and pumps, flexible plastic tubes and closures, and color and hair treatment packets; Remove as much of the remaining product as possible)
• Weleda (WELEDA SKIN FOOD® flexible plastic tubes and caps, rigid plastic tubs and lids, and aluminum tubes and caps; Remove all excess product)

Specific Brands of Household Product Packaging:

• Arm & Hammer and Oxiclean plastic pouches (A&H laundry detergent and baking soda pouches; Oxiclean laundry detergent paks pouches, stain fighter power paks pouches, and white revive laundry stain remover power paks pouches; Remove all excess product)
• Febreze Aerosol/Febreze Air Care (Empty Febreze aerosol containers; Febreze One bottles with trigger heads and refills; All brands of air freshener cartridges and plugs and their packaging — including flexible film packaging, All brands of air freshener trigger heads, but NOT the plastic bottles; Remove all excess product)
• Hasbro Toy Recycling Program (All Hasbro toys and games, including: board games, electronic toys & games, metal/plastic/wood toys & games, action figures, dolls, plush toys, etc.)

The Melrose Recycling Committee is planning to make the September 26 event the first in a series of opportunities for Melrose residents to recycle items that aren’t acceptable in their curbside bins. To keep track of these events and other Recycling Committee news, follow the committee on Facebook or visit its website at

For further information, contact Sheri Qualters,, or 781-795-5783.

Not a ban: Get the facts on the proposed plastic straw ordinance

By Jeana, McNeil, Melrose Recycling Committee

A recently proposed plastic straw reduction ordinance would prohibit restaurants and other stores from automatically providing a plastic straw to customers. It is not a ban on plastic straws. If a customer requests a straw, restaurants and stores in Melrose could provide a plastic straw. Non-plastic straws (paper, bamboo, etc.) could also be provided without restriction. The ordinance is intended to reduce the unnecessary use of plastic. The new law would prompt consumers to think about whether they need a plastic straw, rather than automatically receiving one.

By keeping plastic straws available upon request, the ordinance makes an important accommodation for those in the disabled community who may need or desire a straw, as well as allow others to have access if they wish. The choice of whether to offer straws (plastic or otherwise) will continue to be up to each restaurant or store–and the choice of whether to use a straw will still be up to the consumer.

Melrose would join other nearby cities and towns, including Swampscott, Chelmsford, Gloucester, Somerville, and Rockport, in the passage of local legislation intended to reduce the use of plastic straws.

Plastic straw ordinances and bylaws are increasingly prevalent in Massachusetts and nationally for several reasons. Plastic straws are not recyclable, and “contaminate” loads of good recyclable material. In addition, plastic straws contribute to plastic pollution in waterways as one of the top 10 most commonly found materials in coastal cleanups. Some cities have found the straws are a big factor in clogged sewer systems, which are costly to clear.

The United States consumes an estimated 170 million to 500 million plastic straws each day. Based on the lower estimate that the U.S. uses 170 million straws daily, Melrose residents use an estimated 14,000 plastic straws daily, on average.

The Recycling Committee doesn’t expect that Melrose residents will stop using plastic straws altogether. but it believes that we can easily use a lot fewer plastic straws than we do. It is an important step to reduce plastic pollution.

The Melrose Recycling Committee encourages residents to support the ordinance. Email the Board of Aldermen at and attend the hearing on August 19, 7pm, in the Aldermanic Chamber at City Hall.

Mayoral Candidates Forum on August 20 to Address Sustainability Issues

Melrose, MA—Sustainable Melrose, a coalition of groups focused on improving environmental and quality-of-life issues in Melrose, will sponsor a mayoral candidates’ forum on August 20 at 7:00 p.m. at the Melrose High School’s Learning Commons (360 Lynn Fells Parkway). All members of the public are invited to attend.

The “Melrose Mayoral Candidates Forum on Sustainability” is organized with the support of the League of Women Voters and is the only announced candidates’ forum prior to the September 17th runoff election. The focus of the forum will be the many opportunities for Melrose to improve its sustainability, environmental stewardship, and quality of life.

“Melrose has made great strides toward improving sustainability and quality of resident life, but much work remains to be done,” says Jeana McNeil, a member of the Melrose Recycling Committee and a participant in the Sustainable Melrose committee planning the forum. “The impacts of climate change are facing us now, recycling and waste management challenges are on the horizon, and decisions about zero-carbon energy use, open space preservation and access, and safe and livable streets for all residents are on the minds of thousands of Melrosians.

“Managing these changes successfully will be a major constituent demand,” McNeil adds. “We feel these issues raise important questions that more residents of the city need to be aware of, and that our future leadership must address.”

The coalition of Sustainable Melrose groups includes the following non-partisan civic organizations, representing a broad cross-section of thousands of Melrose residents: the Melrose Energy Commission; the Melrose Pedestrian & Bicycle Advisory Committee; the Melrose Recycling Committee; the Melrose Conservation Commission; the Friends of the Fells Middlesex Fells Reservation; the Ell Pond Improvement Council; Community Garden; Melrose Native; the Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church’s Green Sanctuary Program; and Sally Frank’s Farmers’ Market.

For this event, Sustainable Melrose is adopting the format used by the League of Women Voters-Melrose in their traditional candidates’ forums. A moderator will present five or six questions to the candidates, and each candidate will have two minutes to answer each question. The candidates will not have the opportunity to respond to the other candidates, but each will be able to present a short concluding statement at the end of the session on the topics presented.

The “Melrose Mayoral Candidates Forum on Sustainability” will also be videotaped for re-broadcast on MMTV. The event is free and open to the public. However, pre-registration is appreciated and can be done via this link:

Recycling Committee to Sponsor Talk: “Loving Less Plastic”

The Melrose Recycling Committee (MRC) announces that it will sponsor a talk and discussion this summer addressing opportunities for people and organizations to reduce the volume of plastic products they use in their households and business operations. The event will take place at the Milano Senior Center on July 10 at 7 p.m.

The featured speaker for the July 10 event will be Cambridge-based artist Freedom Baird, who was a contributor to MRC’s “Less Plastic is Fantastic” speaker series in 2017. During the July 10 event, Ms. Baird will once again address the issue of plastic waste in a talk titled “Loving Less Plastic.”

The event comes at a time when increased attention is being paid to the problems of plastic waste in the environment, and especially our oceans, where plastics break down into by-products that are showing up in the food chain, with yet-to-be-determined but potentially harmful health impacts. Plastic wastes generated by Americans—notably packaging and single-use items like water bottles—are also finding their way to third world countries, where they are often burned in open, uncontrolled settings and cause significant air pollution. Canada and the European Union have recently taken major steps to limit or ban the production of single-use plastic products.

“With this talk and discussion we’ll take a look at how organizations and institutions can embrace sustainability in every aspect of their operations, consider ways to love less plastic in our day-to-day lives, and take a look at some present-day artists who are working with themes of plastic, consumerism, and sustainability,” says Ms. Baird.

“Beyond the discussion of recycling or reusing, we can look creatively at reducing petroleum-based plastic and consider the impact of the materials we use in our daily lives,” says Robin Snyder-Drummond, the MRC volunteer who is organizing the event. “We’re glad Freedom Baird will return; the 2017 talk was very well received, and we still have discussions about it with Melrosians.”

A practicing artist with training in drawing, sculpture, metal-smithing, and other areas, Ms. Baird also serves as a consultant to the faculty of Tufts University in Somerville, specializing in the area of educational technologies. She has served as a consultant to and instructor for several other organizations, such as the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston’s Children’s Hospital, and Cambridge Community Television. In 2016, she received a Master of Fine Arts degree in interdisciplinary art from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

The Milano Senior Center is located at 201 West Foster Street in Melrose.

First of Two 2019 Swap Days in Melrose to be Held on June 15

The first of two Swap Days in 2019 will take place on June 15 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the municipal parking lot behind Memorial Hall and the Fire Station on Main Street. The event is run by the Melrose Recycling Committee in partnership with the Melrose Department of Public Works.

Swap Day is a community reuse event that provides an opportunity to save reusable items from being discarded and give them a new life and a new home. You don’t have to bring something to take something. And if you do leave something, don’t feel that you have to take something away. If you are looking to “de-clutter,” this is a good opportunity to give new life to items that may no longer have a place in your home but that have not outlived their usefulness. If you are moving in to Melrose, or just need certain items, here’s an opportunity to find what you are looking for while sticking to a tight budget.

All items must be clean, only gently used and able to be carried by one person. All items will be inspected and approved before entering the event. Please enter the parking lot in between Memorial Hall and the Fire Station and follow the directions of the staff on site.

Items not swapped will be donated to charitable organizations to the maximum extent possible.

There is one important operational change in this year’s Swap Day: Items will not be accepted for drop-off after 11 a.m. This is to reduce the volume of items that have to be picked up afterwards. Charitable organizations don’t necessarily take all of the different types of items that could be left over, and they face more restrictions than in the recent past. This means that some leftover items might have to be tossed in the trash—something we all would like to avoid!

Although there may be some changes to the lists of acceptable and unacceptable items, for now, please follow the guidelines presented here and set aside items accordingly.

Acceptable items including the following:

Clothes and textiles, which in addition to shirts, pants, blouses, etc., may include purses, bags, jewelry, scarves, coats, gloves, hats, backpacks, totes, shoes, and sandals.

Books, CDs, DVDs: Books can include textbooks. CDs and DVDs should be in their original labelled cases and not scratched. Be advised that there are fewer outlets for books than in the past.

Sports equipment, including balls, bats, rackets, and roller blades.

School/office supplies, including notebooks, pens, pencils, markers, staplers, scissors, file folders, and craft items.

Household items such as small furniture (nothing upholstered) and home décor. This can include kitchen items such as dishware, pots, and pans; small electronics such as blenders and toasters (in working condition); small furniture such as tables and chairs (not upholstered, as noted); and artwork and décor, such as pictures and picture frames, baskets, vases, and clocks.

Small electronics, such as DVD players, radios, phones, and computer accessories. NO TVs and monitors. Those can be dropped off at the DPW City Yard during the week and during Saturday events.

For a complete list of items, visit

Items that are NOT acceptable include:
* Large appliances and metal goods
* Upholstered furniture
* Large electronics such as TVs and monitors (as noted)
* Rugs
* Stuffed toys and pillows.

The Melrose Recycling Committee would like to emphasize that this is not intended as an event for operators of consignment shops to re-stock their shelves. Swap Day is designed as an event allowing people to de-clutter or to find items that they need or want for their homes.

The second Swap Day of 2019 will take place on September 28.

Around the Continent: A Mixed Bag for Recycling Programs

By George Stubbs

Due primarily to market dynamics, municipal recycling programs around North America have been experiencing some upheaval over the past couple of years. This disruption in many jurisdictions has inspired some over-heated media reports about the demise of recycling—reports describing chaos, gloom, and doom in the recycling industry, and ridiculously identifying recycling as a cause of our waste problems rather than as an important part of a comprehensive solution. I have addressed this hysteria in previous blog posts.

On whether the recycling industry is “doomed”: There have been some rollbacks of programs in some municipalities, but the news is not all bad. Some municipalities are getting programs back on their feet. Meanwhile, there have been new investments in secondary materials processing capacity, as I also covered in previous blogs, and which have continued to proceed apace since my last post.

What follows is a brief roundup of some recent developments in municipal recycling programs around North America, drawn from reporting in the April 2019 issue of Resource Recycling magazine, a valuable source of information about what’s really happening in the recycling industry. The news is mixed, but there are encouraging developments. On the downside are program rollbacks reflecting changes in the viability of local or regional markets for secondary materials. On the upside are campaigns to clean up the recycling stream—as Melrose has done. Other developments include program expansions and efforts to identify new classes of waste that should be diverted from landfills and incinerators.

Bossier Parish, Louisiana: Restarted its drop-off recycling program for paper and cardboard, omitting plastic due to a lack of buyers.

Bowling Green, Kentucky: Purchased a mobile recycling trailer that will be available for public events in the city.

Burnham, Maine: Cut all funding for the city’s recycling program, which formerly received $5,000 per year. Officials cited rising recycling costs and pointed to a cheaper energy-recovery disposal option.

Indian River County, Florida: Launched an outreach campaign instructing residents not to place plastic bags in their curbside recycling bins. The campaign also includes an expansion of local drop-off options.

Little Rock, Arkansas: Stopped collecting glass in the curbside recycling program after the city’s hauler removed the material from its accepted list, citing glass contamination problems at the MRF [materials recovery facility].

Monongalia County, West Virginia: Stopped accepting plastic bags at its drop-off recycling center and began requiring cardboard boxes to be flattened, pointing to market changes necessitating a cleaner output product.

Opelika, Alabama: Launched an outreach campaign to reduce contamination in the city’s curbside recycling stream, after the city found that more than 60 percent of curbside carts contained contamination earlier this year.

Presque Isle County, Michigan: Resumed cardboard and plastic recycling service on a regular schedule after previously limiting collection due to market challenges.

Roseburg, Oregon: Will no longer collect glass in its curbside recycling program but will begin accepting plastic containers again, citing challenges in downstream buyers.

Sullivan County, New York: Stopped accepting plastic recyclables and multiple drop-off locations around the county, after a local MRF operator shut down operations.

Tofino, British Columbia: Is gearing up to ban plastic bags and straws as well as charge a minimum retail price for paper bags and other reusable options.

Many thanks for the update, Resource Recycling! We hope to catch up with you again next month!