By Meg O’Neil
Recycling experts from around Rhode Island convened at the Newport Public Library on Tuesday, May 15 to discuss changes to the state’s recycling program during a forum sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport and the Newport Energy & Environment Commission.
Newport’s Clean City Coordinator Kristin Littlefield told the audience that during the last fiscal year Newporters threw away roughly 7,450 tons of waste, or approximately 200 tons less than in FY2010. Of that, 2,200 tons were recycled, or just about 30 percent.
According to Littlefield, the city hopes to increase that number to 36 percent later this year.
To help reach that goal, Sarah Kite, director of recycling services at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. explained that residents can expect a new “single-stream” recycling program to begin in mid-June.
With the capacity to dramatically increase the volume and types of recyclable items collected, the system will effectively discontinue the current system of separating recyclables into blue and green bins. Instead, one bin will hold all recyclables, and new sorting machines at Johnston’s Central Landfill will allow for all plastics and papers to be sorted and distributed to recycling processors.
Single-stream recycling could help save fuel costs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by allowing both chambers in the recycling trucks to be filled with the mixed recyclables.
Kite called the new program, “the biggest change in recycling in 20 years,” and said that single-stream recycling will allow more material from the waste stream to be recycled.
Vincent Bell, president of Environmental Packaging International stressed the importance of promoting producer responsibility: Manufacturers should be encouraged to design products that are less toxic, more durable, and more recyclable than they are now.
Also on the panel was Elie Leonardsmith of Clean Water Action, who discussed the importance of community action, especially in regard to the city’s summer festivals.
Citing the fact that the Newport folk and jazz festivals have increased their commitment to recycling and composting, Leonardsmith said that large-scale recycling opportunities abound in Newport.
She noted the efforts by America’s Cup World Series organizers to adopt a strict sustainability and recycling protocol including selling reusable water bottles and offering water refilling stations to help reduce the amount of plastic bottles brought into Fort Adams.
Leonardsmith said, “Newport is poised to be a leader not only within the state, but nationally, because there is a lot of momentum behind these events.”
For more information on the changes coming to the city’s recycling program, visit www.RIRRC.org.