SPRINGFIELD >> We are missing opportunities to improve recycling in Berkshire County. House Bill 646 at the Massachusetts State House — An Act to improve recycling in the Commonwealth — would allow us to seize those opportunities.
House Bill 646 ushers in a modern, comprehensive recycling approach that addresses the full range of recyclable plastics, metal, glass, cardboard and paper. It does away with the decades-old deposit law that targets only beer and soda containers — just two percent of the waste stream — and shifts funding and some high-value recycled materials to cities and towns.
Improving recycling and energy efficiency are priorities for us at Big Y and that's why we support this forward-thinking piece of legislation. We recycle all of our cardboard, paper, containers, shrink wrap and more, we are nearing 100 percent composting in our stores, have invested in LED lighting and solar power, and provide plastic bag recycling and free electric vehicle charging stations.
When it comes to municipal recycling, it is clear that many Berkshire County residents lack access to innovations that have made recycling more effective, convenient and efficient in other Massachusetts communities, and some have very limited or no access to effective recycling programs.
Elsewhere in the commonwealth, communities have seen significant success with single-stream recycling, which reduces or eliminates the need to sort recyclables, and parallel recycling, in which residents who get trash picked up get their recyclables picked up as well.
Long term, communities in the Berkshires could save money by switching to more progressive recycling programs. But getting there requires initial investments: drop-off centers need to be reconfigured, signage changed, educational materials developed, and, for collection, households have to be provided with covered, wheeled carts and haulers' trucks need to be retrofitted to handle them. Better recycling costs money up-front.
House Bill 646 allows cities and towns to apply for grants to update their recycling programs, and to install recycling receptacles in parks and other public spaces. The grants will come from a $135 million fund, created largely by fees levied on beverage distributors, who will pay a one-cent per container fee for three years.
A similar law in Delaware has shown tremendous results. Since implementing universal recycling and eliminating deposits in 2010, Delaware's recycling rate has increased from 33 percent to 42 percent, and in an eight year timespan, its annual trash disposal decreased from 1.2 million to 720,000 tons.
Landfills filling up
Recycling reform will not only improve our environment and keep communities beautiful, but waste disposal costs make it financially imperative. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection predicted that between 2014 and 2020, half of the state's landfills will close, and 60 percent of our landfill capacity will disappear. Soon, Massachusetts waste will be more likely to get shipped out of state — a more costly approach — than sent to local landfills.
City and town waste disposal costs will skyrocket if we continue producing waste at the current rate. According to Waste Zero, a company that designs and manages waste reduction programs, half of what Massachusetts throws away is recyclable. That material costs $160 million annually for the state to export, dump, or burn, and it would be worth $150 million if recycled. That's right — recyclable materials like aluminum and PET, the latter of which is used for beverage and food bottles, are incredibly valuable.
Under this proposal, communities would have the added benefit of valuable recycled materials being added to their waste streams. Currently, many of these materials are diverted through the deposit system, and cities and towns never see their value.
Our state's more than 30 year-old deposit law has not only outlived its usefulness, but it competes with efficient recycling programs. With nearly no recycling impact, the deposit system costs grocers and customers time and money.
At Big Y, we are required to add a five-cent per container fee to certain products, and to operate on-site redemption centers that bring tremendous overhead costs. These requirements interfere with our ongoing efforts to offer the most affordable prices possible across the board.
If we thought the deposit system was effective for improving our environment then we would support it, but the facts are not there. Statewide, the redemption rate dropped seven points in the last year to 59 percent, the lowest ever.
With deposit fees gone, and grocers no longer having to pass needless overhead costs onto consumers, House Bill 646 will save consumers money. Communities will have access to grants and valuable recyclables, while addressing rising waste disposal costs. Recycling increases from this legislation are estimated to create over 3,000 jobs. And finally, we will increase the amount of material we recycle statewide by 20 to 34 percent.
This proposal should move ahead, so that Massachusetts can unlock a new era of modern recycling.
Rick Bossie is director of Store Operations at Big Y Foods, Inc.