City aims to raise recycling with single-stream system

Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2012


The first day of October marked the beginning of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’ new recycling program, which aims to save time, money and the environment while increasing the city’s recycling rate.

The initiative – “Your Big Green Can Just Got Bigger” – supports the switch from a recycling system that requires residents to sort paper into blue bins and metals, plastics and cans into green bins to a single-stream system that allows residents to place all recyclables in their lidded bin previously used for trash and all trash in a grey bin that will be delivered to homes. 

The main goal of this program is to increase Providence’s recycling rate from its current 17.8 percent to 25 percent by this time next year, said Sheila Dormody, Providence director of sustainability. Single-stream recycling programs have been successful in other New England cities, which informed Providence’s decision to switch systems, she added. 

Because the single-stream programs make it easier for residents to recycle by removing the middle step of sorting, people will be encouraged to recycle more, she said. She added that the initiative also provides a much bigger bin for recyclable materials, which should increase recycling. 

The program is also structured to save the city money. The city has to pay $32 for every ton of trash disposal, but recycling is free. On a larger scale, Rhode Island cities share profits from the sale of recyclables – with more recyclable material, these profits will increase.

The lidded cans will prevent windblown recyclables from littering Providence’s streets, Dormody said, which will have long-term environmental benefits. And unlike the previous recycling bins, these “lidded carts protect the recycled material from the elements better,” allowing more of the waste to be effectively recycled, she said. 

Mary Reilly ’13,  an environmental studies concentrator, said she agrees with the reform initiative and new recycling plan but is wary of touting long-term environmental benefits. Though the one-can system is more convenient, the efficiency may be countered by residents who place appropriate materials in the can in an improper state, Reilly said.

For example, if a full bottle of juice is tossed in the bin and leaks, an entire can of recyclable materials could be ruined, she said. Residents said they would be more likely to recycle now that they did not have to sort their materials, but some were unaware of the policy change. 

“Taveras needs to find more ways to promote it. I haven’t heard anything about it,” said Le Akinsulire, a Northeastern University student and Rhode Island resident.

 “I’m willing to follow any reforms that are in place… but there are more issues in Providence than just recycling,” said Corey Pocket, a North Providence resident. 

The program’s success depends largely on Providence residents, Dormody said. “Recycling only works when everyone participates.” 

 Early this summer, Tiverton also switched to single-stream recycling. While recycling in the area increased as a result of the new bins, a resident-incentive program had a more significant effect on the rate increase, said Steven Rys, chairman of the Tiverton Landfill and Recycling Committee.