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Rhode Island Increases Recycling

by Wendy Fachon

November 15 is America Recycles Day. How is Rhode Island doing when it comes to recycling, and how can we do better?

The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) manages the state’s recycling facilities, tracks recycling data and takes action to improve the numbers. The Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) recycling rate is the state’s simplest measure of recycling effectiveness. Rates are calculated by dividing the total tons of common recyclables (materials placed in household bins) sent to RIRRC’s Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) by the total of these tons plus the tons of trash delivered to RIRRC to be buried in the landfill.

RIRRC automatically collects these numbers when city or town trucks cross their scales. By law, all municipal recycling and trash must be delivered to RIRRC. 2016 MRF recycling data show the top performing municipalities to be Middleton (39.2%) and South Kingstown (38.9%). At the bottom are Providence (8.6%) and Johnston (11.3%).

RIRRC recently partnered with Recycle Across America (RAA), a nonprofit that developed the first standardized recycling label in the country. Rhode Island became the first state in the country to adopt RAA’s standardized recycling bin labels. The labels show what can be recycled and clarifies the categories: paper and cardboard; milk and juice cartons; cans, lids and foil; glass bottles and jars; and plastic containers.

After the labels began making their way onto bins across the state, RIRRC and RAA created the Let’s Recycle Right! campaign, which began on July 31 of this year and ends on November 30. As part of the campaign, 390,000 households received bilingual recycling guidelines in the mail, designed to provide the most basic instructions.

Any group, seeking to establish or improve a recycling or composting program, can request a visit from an RIRRC staff member to help develop strategies and action plans for reducing waste. RIRRC provides technical assistance and waste assessments to schools, businesses, institutions and housing communities at no cost.

Bins with the new labels have been placed in school classrooms, and RI’s recycling super hero, MaxMan, travels around to schools giving educational presentations to groups of 50 or more children. An RIRRC educator is available to present to grade 4 and up. Krystal Noiseux, RIRRC’s education and outreach manager states, “The kids can be part of the solution by ensuring that only what should be going into the school recycling bins actually goes into the school recycling bins, while adults on the school staff can arrange to get the other supportive logistics in order.”

Once classroom recycling is running smoothly, schools can begin to think about tackling school cafeteria food container recycling and eventually meal waste management. Keep America Beautiful created a competition called Recycle-Bowl, a four-week-long competition in which schools collected and tracked cans, bottles and paper. According to the competition data, 4.5 million pounds of recyclables were collected during Recycle-Bowl in 2012; participating schools reported per capita recycling rates that were four times the national average reported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Then this year, Keep America Beautiful began collaborating with the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) to quantify food waste in K-12 schools. The partnership supports EREF’s School Cafeteria Discards Assessment Project (SCrAP), a national program that quantifies food waste in school cafeterias. EREF will help raise awareness of the Recycle-Bowl program by emphasizing the food waste category of the competition. Online Recycle-Bowl comp Rhode Island’s Central Landfill may run out of space within the next 20 years etition instructions guide schools in developing and implementing systems for tracking and reporting recycling and waste data.

When asked about cafeteria waste recycling, Noiseux commented, “There are some major barriers to cafeteria recycling in many of the schools, and a school needs to make sure they’ve got the recycling foundations right first, before attempting that.” Students, teachers, school administrators, janitorial staff and hauling providers must all work together to create a successful recycling program. Additional collaboration with food service providers is critical for expanding into cafeteria waste recycling.

Rhode Island’s Central Landfill may run out of space within the next 20 years. Recycling more plastic and glass and diverting tons of food and other organic material from the landfill annually will help extend this timeline. Additionally, the state is starting to explore future options, including new technology that can turn Rhode Island waste into energy and adopting “zero waste” objectives. Presently, the best way to solve this waste management challenge is to recycle together and recycle right.

Wendy Fachon is an independent environmental educator, a member of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association and the creator of Rhode Island Netwalking. Learn more at NetwalkRI.com.


Details for the Recycle-Bowl competition are available at kab.org/recycle-bowl/competition.

Rhode Island’s recycling guidelines can be downloaded at RecycleTogetherRI.org.

“How-To” videos are posted on RIRRC’s YouTube channel at YouTube.com/rirrc.

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Rhode Island’s Central Landfill may run out of space within the next 20 years.