‘Green Can’ cuts on trash to save cash

Contributing Writer
Friday, December 7, 2012


In the two months since Providence implemented a single-stream recycling system, the city’s recycling rate has climbed from 15 percent to over 20 percent, said Sheila Dormody, Providence director of sustainability. The “Big Green Can Just Got Greener” initiative makes it simpler for Providence residents to recycle and helps the cash-strapped city save money, Dormody added.

Under the new program, residents put all of their recyclables in lidded bins formerly used for trash, instead of sorting paper from plastic, glass and metals. Over the past weeks, smaller gray bins have been delivered to homes throughout the city, and two-thirds of the city has already switched to the program. The rollout of the initiative is expected to be completed by the end of this month, Dormody said.

Once the entire city transitions, and “everyone is up to speed,” Dormody said she expects Providence’s recycling rate to reach 25 percent.

Increased recycling means less trash is sent to landfills. Because Providence pays $32 per ton for trash to be hauled away, Dormody said she anticipates savings of $250,000 from reduced trash output. Savings will be reinvested in the recycling program or used for sustainable initiatives such as composting, Dormody said. Last year, Providence earned $203,000 from selling recyclables to be reused in new products, she added.

“The city has had financial troubles as of late so the recycling program helps the city get on sustainable financial footing,” Dormody said.

While acknowledging that there have been “growing pains,” Dormody said the program’s implementation is proceeding smoothly. Providence residents are enthusiastic to take part in the recycling process, she added.

Brown students living off-campus also voiced support for the new system.

Joseph Elkinton ’13 said he prefers the new recycling program to the former one. “Previously, we had to put everything in the right boxes. Now you just put everything in the recycling. It’s much easier.”

The larger bin also encourages more recycling, said Cory Abbe ’13. In the past, “if we had a ton of recycling, people would put things in the trash,” she said. “Now there’s seemingly unlimited space.”

Providence’s increased recycling rate is in line with those in other cities that switched to single-stream, said Dawn King, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies.

King pointed to the new program as evidence that the city is taking recycling seriously. Academic studies suggest that along with single-stream, a smaller trash bin and a larger recycling bin increases a city’s recycling practices, she said.

“If you recycle everything, you will have more things in the recycling than in the trash,” King said.

Benefits of the new system aside, there is a high initial cost in making the switch, King said. Single-stream recycling requires an investment in infrastructure to sort the glass, paper and plastic for future use.

When Providence announced its new recycling plans, the University investigated whether to follow suit, said Kai Morrell ’11, outreach coordinator at the department of facilities management. The University switched to single-stream in residence halls this year but maintained dual-stream recycling in all public buildings, she said.

The switch in the residence halls will help prepare students for living off-campus, Morrell said. But the University earns money solely from its cardboard stream, and a single-stream system leads to contamination of the paper products by liquid in bottles, she added. Contaminated paper products have a lower resale value.

Morrell added that the main value in recycling comes from savings in trash collection. 

If Brown could work out a deal to use the city’s recycling infrastructure, it would be a viable option for the entire University to consider a switch to single-stream recycling, King said.