Making Democracy Work

Solid Waste Advisory Committee

Suzanne Thomas, Observer

Submitted February 2019

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 (2018-2019) are:

  • Linda Davis (Chair)
  • Jon Snyder (Vice Chairman) Resigned from the Committee in October 2018
  • Chris Polloni (Secretary)
  • Marc Finneran
  • Virginia Gregg
  • William Peck, Resigned from the Committee in January 2019
  • Alan Robinson
  • Ruth Brazier (member as of January 2019)
  • Amy Roth (member as of January 2019)

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. In general, the members work well together. The meetings are not televised. Members of the public occasionally come to observe meetings. Members of the Falmouth Road Race and Compost With Me have attended meetings to foster cooperation with and get advice from or give advice to the Committee. Selectman Megan English Braga also attends committee meetings a few times per year. Also attending some meetings is Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Municipal Assistance Coordinator Kari Parcell. Ms. Parcell assists the committee with her broad knowledge of waste reduction and recycling and by alerting them to composting and recycling grant opportunities. She works well with the Committee and is very helpful familiarizing them with technical grant jargon and alerting them to regional meetings and workshops.

Meetings begin on time and follow the agenda posted online beforehand. Some meetings have been rescheduled and these new times or dates were 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 April 2018, a bylaw was approved at Town Meeting (Article 28) to adopt Comprehensive Recycling in the town of Falmouth, as put forward by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee. This comprehensive recycling bylaw was put forward to comply with a Massachusetts waste ban to keep recyclable articles out of the waste stream. Adoption of this bylaw makes recycling mandatory in Falmouth and also ensures that haulers working in Falmouth charge the same rates for both trash and recycling. These actions bring Falmouth into compliance with current state regulations.

In the summer/fall of 2018, several sandwich board signs were acquired to display educational messages designed for the public on some common recycling mistakes. One sign said "RECYCLE SMART No Plastic Bags in the Recycling Bin". These signs may be moved around town to maximize the visibility of the messages.

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 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. This composting facility is a result of the formation of a subcommittee on Litter and Food Waste.

Public education is also a contribution of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee's members. The Committee writes a monthly column for the Falmouth Enterprise entitled "Talking Trash," which usually appears on the third Friday of the month. The topics of these columns have included:

  • Keeping plastic bags out of curbside recycling containers (collect and take them to the grocery store drop-off boxes instead);
  • Disposing of fluorescent light bulbs (bring them to the Falmouth waste management facility or to a scheduled community Household Hazardous Waste collection pick-up day);
  • Keeping `tanglers' out of your recycling bins. Tanglers include things such as plastic bags, wire hangers, and plastic ropes or hoses. These items can get caught in recycling facility conveyor belts and bring the facility to a halt;
  • Alerting the public to the coming of the food waste (composting) collection shed; and
  • Collecting and redistributing items at the waste management facility's `Swap Shop' (where unwanted, but useable items may be brought for others to take home and use, thereby keeping the item out of the waste stream).

Another way the Committee educates the public is with a travelling display of recyclable and non-recyclable items. Ginny Gregg has put together a display of these items and has been invited to talk about recycling to a variety of community groups.

Several members of the Committee have been working diligently to maintain the utility 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 for an enlarged and refurbished Swap Shop, to be completed some time in the future.

In the fall, the Committee petitioned the Falmouth Selectmen to fund a Solid Waste Manager position. The Committee has been asking for this manager since 1989. The Solid Waste Manager would be an additional position within the Department of Public Works, dedicated solely to solid waste matters. This person would work with the waste/recyclables hauler (currently Republic Services) to make sure recyclable and hazardous materials stay out of the waste stream. This manager would also work with people such our county municipal assistance coordinator to secure funds from the state to promote recycling and to stay current with the ever-changing regulations. The Selectmen passed the article as presented by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, but did not fund the position. The Committee will continue to push for the funding of a Solid Waste Manager for Falmouth.

Due to its efforts to promote recycling, last year the town of Falmouth received $28,000 through the state of Massachusetts Recycling Dividends program. The town may also apply for an additional $30,000 this year through the state's Recycling IQ Kit program. These combined funds could be used to further educate residents on proper recycling.

In December, two members of the Committee worked with Republic Services (our waste and recycling hauler) to check the recycling bins of 30 homes. Of the 30 bins, 10 bins (33%) contained no contaminated material (`contaminated' material are items not allowed in the recycling bins). The remaining 20 bins (67%) contained contaminated materials such as trash, Styrofoam, and plastic bags. Plastic bags were the most common contaminant, both plastic bags in the bins and recyclables collected in plastic bags. From this small survey, the Committee feels that educating the public on recycling correctly is a priority. The recycling hauler 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.

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.