Observer Corps Report February 2020
From the Falmouth Solid Waste Advisory Committee mission statement (2017):
"In 1989 Falmouth Town Meeting created a Solid Waste Advisory Committee to help the town move towards an integrated solid waste management system that would integrate trash, recycling, hazardous waste management and other solid waste such as large household items and construction and demolition debris. ... Since this is a rapidly changing field, the Solid Waste Advisory Committee strives to provide accurate, up to date information on solid waste issues and to make recommendations when and where appropriate."
Falmouth currently disposes of more than 11,000 tons of trash each year at the Bourne landfill, at a fee of $58/ton. To reduce the amount of money the town spends on trash disposal, the Solid Waste Advisory Committee works with the Board of Selectmen and the Department of Public Works to advise them on how to effectively enforce existing Massachusetts laws on the removal of recyclable materials from the waste stream. In 1990, Massachusetts introduced the first waste bans on a variety of materials (for example, hazardous materials, construction materials, and easily recyclable items). Additional waste bans have continued to be phased in. To encourage communities to keep up with these changes, the state of Massachusetts has an incentives program for communities to earn points and grant money to fund public education of the changing regulations. Currently, Falmouth removes 3 + 4,000 tons of recyclable materials each year. These recyclables are taken to EL Harvey, a sustainable materials recovery facility in Hopkinton, MA. Given the very changeable nature of recycling in the United States, such as China refusing `contaminated' recyclable waste streams, the Solid Waste Advisory Committee strives to work with the Falmouth Selectmen and the Department of Public Works to keep Falmouth up to date with current waste disposal and recycling laws.
The members of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee (2019-2020) are:
- Linda Davis (Chair)
- Amy Roth (Secretary)
- Ruth Brazier
- Zach Ellis (new member as of July/August 2019)
- Marc Finneran
- Chris Polloni
- Alan Robinson
This volunteer committee meets on the 1st Tuesday of the month in Town Hall at 7:30pm. I have been observing this committee since May 2017, attending most monthly meetings.
Several members have been on this committee for many years, and two are new members. In general, the members work well together. The meetings are not televised. An increasing number of members of the public have been attending meetings. Members of the Falmouth Road Race, Compost With Me, and others have attended meetings to foster cooperation with and get advice from or give advice to the Committee.
Meetings begin on time and follow the agenda posted online beforehand. Occasionally meetings are rescheduled and the new time or date are posted on the Town of Falmouth Agenda Center. Minutes of the meetings are distributed to committee members on a very timely basis, but only some minutes are available on the Town of Falmouth website (it is not a requirement of the Open Meeting Law to publish meeting minutes, only meeting agendas). Attendance at the meetings is very good and most members are at the monthly meetings.
In the fall of 2018, a “Residential Food Waste Collection Site” (composting facility) was added to the Falmouth Waste Management Facility (WMF). This is a shed just inside the WMF gate where residents can bring their household compostable materials such as vegetables, fruit, meat, bones, compostable cutlery and plates, and soiled paper napkins. These compostable materials are collected by the local business Compost With Me. There is no charge to residents for bringing in their compostable materials and the removal of these items from the waste stream saves the town money on trash disposal fees. As of February 2020, committee members have noticed an increase in the amount of food waste brought to the collection site.
Public education is also a contribution of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee’s members. Some members participate in or help to plan “Zero Waste” events. The Committee also writes a monthly column for the Falmouth Enterprise entitled “Talking Trash,” which usually appears on the third Friday of the month. These columns have addressed issues such as:
- What is happening to our recyclables now that worldwide demand has dropped;
- Reusing or redistributing items to keep them out of the waste stream;
- Litter reduction;
- Household hazardous waste collection;
- “Zero Waste” events, such as the Strawberry festival and the Cape Cod Marathon; and
- Reminding residents of the composting facility at the Falmouth Waste Management Facility.
Several members of the Committee have been working diligently to maintain the utility called the Swap Shop at the Town of Falmouth Waste Management Facility on Thomas B. Landers Road by keeping it organized. Unwanted, but useable, items can be dropped off at the Swap Shop, where others may bring things home for free. This helps to keep useable items out of our trash stream. There is a design (and money) for an enlarged and refurbished Swap Shop, to be completed at some time in the future.
Several members of the Solid Waste Committee have participated in recycling surveys to examine how well residents are following recycling guidelines. Committee members choose a neighborhood and visit on recycling day, going through residents’ recycling bins. On average, 64% of residents recycled properly, while the rest of the bins contained some ‘contaminants’. Plastic bags were the most common contaminant, both plastic bags in the bins and recyclables collected in plastic bags. From these ongoing surveys, the Committee feels that educating the public on recycling correctly is a priority. Our recycling hauler (Republic) may reject any residential recycling bin that contains contaminants. Entire loads that contain contaminated recyclables (even a small amount) may be rejected at the recycling plant. These contaminated loads are then disposed of as trash. Improper recycling may lead to increased waste disposal prices for the Town of Falmouth.
This past fall, committee chair Linda Davis presented an emphatic report to the Board of Selectmen that detailed the Committee’s recommendations, which are:
- Move forward with the MA DEP Recycling IQ kit;
- Move forward with the Falmouth Recycling bylaw for the spring 2020 Town Meeting;
- Develop public school program to address trash and recycling;
- Improve communication with residents about trash and recycling via mail, FCTV, and more;
- Encourage town DEP personnel to attend regional workshops on topics such as recycling and zero waste events;
- Prepare for the 2022 contract for solid waste and recycling;
- Make requested improvements to the Waste Management Facility;
- Add information on trash and recycling to those applying for Special Events permits; and
- Hire a Solid Waste Manager to help coordinate all of the above items.
The Board of Selectmen is considering hiring a part-time Solid Waste Manager. The Solid Waste Advisory Committee has been asking for this manager since 1989.
Overall, the Solid Waste Advisory Committee strives to educate the public about recycling and the proper disposal of waste, keep usable items out of the waste stream, and explore ways to keep our waste disposal costs as low as possible.
Suzanne Thomas, LWVF Observer February 2020