Against uncertain backdrop, Pittsfield council OKs new recycling pact

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PITTSFIELD — Sending the city's recycling to Springfield remains the best option in spite of new costs, councilors agreed Thursday.

The City Council's Public Works Committee voted unanimously during its first meeting of the year to approve a new contract with the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility. Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell was unable to attend the meeting because of a previously scheduled commitment.

The city could see $178,000 in new fees during the first year of the five-year contract, according to Finance Director Matt Kerwood. The contract will begin July 1.

So far, communities in Western Massachusetts that use the Springfield facility, which is owned by the Department of Environmental Protection, have been shielded from recycling market shifts already affecting much of the country. China's rollback of recycled imports from the U.S. decreased demands for those materials, slashing back revenues that fueled the recycling process.

As the Western Massachusetts community renegotiates contracts, the facility announced last year that it would pass along new costs to municipalities.

Some communities signaled reluctance to sign the new contract, due by Feb. 28. One resident raised concerns during the meeting about what happens if too many towns pull out of the regional arrangement that Pittsfield participates in.

"I just see this as a train to nowhere," said Dave Pill, a trash hauler.

Pill said he feared that the facility would pull out of the contract if towns keep walking away, like Springfield promises to do. He suggested that the city consider alternative options with other companies and perhaps invest in a bulky waste shredder.

Mary Stucklen, who serves on the city's Resource Recovery Commission and also represents Pittsfield, Dalton and Sandisfield on the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility's board, said she is confident there still is a critical mass of communities that can collectively meet the 17,000-ton commitment required to keep the facility afloat.

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"We're pretty comfortable with that number," she said before the meeting.

Communities throughout the area have explored alternative options, Stucklen said, and have found them to be less desirable than sticking with the current plan.

And in the end, she said, there still is a market for recycling, and those revenues likely will offset the new costs.

"It's still cheaper than throwing away," she said.

Councilor at Large Pete White said a push to increase the city's low 11 percent recycling rate could boost those revenues.

"If we can get recycling rates up, we can further offset that," he said.

Plus, Stucklen said, it is illegal in Massachusetts to throw away recyclables.

The facility, known as the MRF, might not always offer as good a deal as they are currently offering, said Interim Public Services Commissioner Ricardo Morales.

"Entering the MRF in the future may not be possible, or definitely not at today's rates," he cautioned councilors.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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