The Town of Auburn has a new face in its efforts to reduce solid waste and improve recycling efforts. Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Erica Lucier has joined the Trash and Recycling Unit as the

Erica Lucier, Solid Waste Reduction Enforcement Coordinator [Courtesy photo]

part-time Solid Waste Reduction Enforcement Coordinator.

Lucier grew up in Templeton, Mass., graduating from Narragansett Regional High School and is a 2017 graduate of Worcester State University where she earned a degree in Environmental Science. She began her role in Auburn in September, with an emphasis on educating residents about Auburn’s recycling program.

“I drive the collection routes and observe issues at the curb along those routes” said Lucier. “Primarily we are looking for contamination issues right now. If we see trash in the recycling toter, or bagged recycling for example, I’ll reach out to the resident” Lucier added.

While there is a mandatory recycling program for residents on the Town collection system that calls for fines for non-compliance, Auburn’s priority is resident education.

“I will leave a card or a brochure when I observe issues” said Lucier. “I try to have a conversation with the resident, but if not, I leave my card and information so they can call with questions.”

Lucier and Health Inspector Eileen Dyson-Alexander – who covers routes on days Lucier is not on duty – drive in Town vehicles, wear prominent vests and display Town of Auburn identification when they are driving routes, so residents should be comfortable if they observe or are approached by either employee. Also, Lucier notes, enforcement for now is based just on what they can observe at the curb, like toters that are not closed or obviously improper items in recycling bins. They are not opening or searching inside the toters.

Plastic bags and yard waste improperly placed in a recycling bin [Courtesy photo]

Among the reasons for the enforcement push is the fact that solid waste disposal costs are steadily increasing. Recycling has

become more challenging as China – the world’s largest processor of recycling – has imposed more strict regulations on the levels of contamination they will allow in the raw materials.

“We need to get contamination down” said Amy Sullivan, Recycling Coordinator. “Food containers need to be rinsed, and plastic shopping bags and wrapping are not acceptable. Anything with ford or grease residue should go into the trash. Even one contaminated item can ruin an entire bale of recyclables.”

According to Dyson-Alexander, “China has set a standard of 0.5% contamination, which is almost unreachable for U.S. companies like Casella [the company that serves Auburn’s recycling program]. They can get to maybe 2-3%, so Auburn is doing its part while increasing the amount of recycling in town.”

Lucier says that so far, the program is going well.

“We’re looking for positive compliance that we can report back to the MA DEP as part of our grant reporting requirements” she said. “Most of the time, people are appreciative of the information we are providing, and we are seeing that the issues are corrected in subsequent weeks.” Lucier added.

Dyson-Alexander added, “People are more willing when they understand the reasons [for recycling restrictions]. Education is a key part of that.”

Assorted trash misplaced in recycling toter [Courtesy photo]

Besides recycling contamination, the other big issue that remains is people using the recycling toters as overflow for their trash toter.

“People need to be aware that they need to use the blue overflow trash bags if their weekly trash does not fit into the brown toter” said Dyson-Alexander. “Any kind of plastic bags create problems at the recycling facilities, and they should never be placed in the recycling toter.”

Blue overflow bags can be purchased at Auburn supermarkets as well as Price Chopper on Rt. 20 at the Auburn/Worcester line. When using these bags, residents should place them on top of or next to the brown toter, neve inside the recycling toter.

Lucier also noted that the supermarkets have recycling receptacles where they accept plastic shopping bags as well as plastics and films of the type frequently used to wrap bulky items like cases of water bottles or canned beverages.

All of these steps will reduce the amount of solid waste going to the landfill, reduce recycling contamination, and will keep trash and recycling collection costs down for everyone.

Extensive information on recycling, trash collection, bulk waste removal, composting, yard waste disposal and more can be found on the Town of Auburn’s Solid Waste web page at  Residents are also welcome to call (508) 832-7703 with questions or issues pertaining to solid waste collection and disposal.