Consumer recycling has been in the news quite a bit of late, as numerous factors have contributed to an increase in recycling costs, and more difficulty for haulers to find buyers for post-consumer recycling. The Town of Auburn has been a leader in promoting town-wide recycling efforts, and education has been the primary goal for the Solid Waste Division.

A State Department of Environmental Protection grant allowed the town to bring in Erica Lucier  about a year ago to fill a newly created position of Solid Waste Reduction Enforcement Coordinator. The state also runs a program  – Recycling Dividends Program or RDP – that rewards municipalities for the recycling initiatives they implement. Using the funds from these programs, Auburn continues to strive to improve its recycling efforts.

“Contamination is the single biggest problem” said Lucier. “Like many other communities, Auburn is single stream recycling, and because of these shifts in the recycling markets, contamination in the recycling bin reduces the value of the product, making it harder or even impossible to resell.”

Increasingly, consumers want to do as much as they can to recycle and keep items out of our landfills.  Unfortunately, sometimes these efforts are a bit overzealous and can actually lead to more trash heading to landfills.

“When in doubt, leave it out” says Darlene Coyle, Town of Auburn Director of Development and Inspectional Services. “There is some confusion out there still, and recycling requirements sometimes change” she added.

In the ongoing effort to improve, streamline and simplify Auburn’s curbside recycling program, Town officials announced another tool consumers can use to help keep our recycling program affordable and effective. Recyclopedia can be found at https://recyclesmartma.org/, and can help take the guesswork out of recycling. The site allows consumers to enter just about any paper or plastic item and learn whether the item should go in trash or recycling, along with any special instructions about recycling an item.

For example, clear plastic take out food containers can be recycled once they are rinsed out. However, containers with black plastic or paper are not recyclable and should be put in the trash.

Consumers can look up and view whether to recycle or trash, along with any special instructions for that item [www.recyclema.org]

“Generally anything with food stains should be put in the trash” said Lucier. “Things like plastic bags, plastic wrap [like the type around cases of water bottles], newspaper bags, those should be separated and recycled at local stores that accept this type of recycling.”

“Trex, the composite decking company, runs a large scale collection and recycling program for these types of plastics, as they use it to produce their decking.”

Locally, Shaw’s, WalMart and Price Chopper offer plastic film recycling bins. You can search other areas and learn more about plastic film recycling here – https://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/

The Recycle Smart website also offers helpful recycling information that Lucier encourages people to review.

“We ask people to not bag their recyclables, just throw recyclables in the bin” said Lucier.

Education has been the primary focus for the Solid Waste Committee over the past year. Lucier and Assistant Board of Health Director, Eileen Dyson-Alexander regularly drive the recycling routes in town checking recycling bins and trying to educate residents who may be using the bins incorrectly.

“I have seen a big improvement in compliance in my year on the job” said Lucier. “Most everyone I speak with is very receptive, and most thank me for providing information” she added.

While Auburn does have a fine structure in place for non-compliance with solid waste regulations, no fines have been issued to date, and Coyle hopes they don’t have to use that option.

“We have the fine structure because it is a requirement in order to qualify for the grants and programs we are using” said Coyle. “But there is nothing saying we have to fine people for non-compliance. We prefer to educate people, and most people want to do the right thing. If we get someone refusing to comply, we may issue a fine, but that has not happened yet.”

Coyle continued, “Having someone [Lucier and Dyson-Alexander] in the field has been the biggest benefit. They can answer questions and interact with residents.”

Said Lucier, “We don’t want to berate anyone, we’re here to help people to do the right thing, and we believe education is the best way to do that”.

Residents can access a wide range of resources about solid waste disposal and recycling at http://www.auburnguide.com/Pages/AuburnMA_SolidWaste/index