Recycling rate drops after changes in Falmouth

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FALMOUTH — Recycling rates for July are down, after the town doubled the number of curbside pick-ups and eliminated its silver bullets.

Falmouth historically has one of the highest recycling rates in all of the ecomaine participating towns, typically recycling between 45 and 50 percent of all town waste.

However, the town removed two silver bullet recycling stations, one behind Hannaford Supermarket in West Falmouth, the other by the fire station on Bucknam Road, last month, relocating them both to the transfer station.

As a result, the silver bullets are only available when the transfer station is open.

At the same time, the town went from every-other-week curbside pickup, to weekly curbside pickup.

In a recently released report, ecomaine reported Falmouth’s recycling rate dropped to 41.6 percent, the lowest rate in years. However, it is still higher than many neighboring communities, including Freeport, Yarmouth and Cumberland.

“We’re going to wait three months before we analyze the numbers,” Town Manager Nathan Poore said.

The town’s recycling rate may have been artificially high because so many out of town residents were taking advantage of the 24-hour silver bullets.

“We expected a gap because of the other communities that recycled here,” Poore said.

The town’s Recycling Committee did a survey in 2008 and found that 28 percent of silver bullet users were from outside the town. While curbside recycling has increased over the past three years since it was implemented, silver bullet recycling has declined.

That trend was exacerbated when the silver bullets were moved last month to the transfer station, partially to prevent illegal dumping of non-recyclable items and, in one case, a toxic chemical that sent two town employees to the hospital last year.

Poore said he’s been surprised no one has continued dumping items since the silver bullets were removed, and was cautiously optimistic that the twice-weekly cleanup efforts would no longer be needed.

Town Councilor Faith Varney, who opposed moving the silver bullets, said she always used the silver bullets and that they were popular with older residents like herself who have trouble carrying a recycle bin down to the end of a driveway or private road.

Varney said she packed all her recyclables in light-weight paper and plastic bags, rather than the heavy bins.

“I’d typically make four or five trips from my car to the silver bullet, but I could handle that,” she said.

She worried that in the winter months, the drop-off rate would fall even more as elderly residents find themselves unable to haul recycling down slippery driveways.

Typically Falmouth’s drop-off recycling rate is between 50 and 60 percent of the total amount the town recycles. In July, it dropped to 42 percent, while curbside jumped to 58 percent — the highest its been.

But that jump wasn’t enough to bring the total recycling amounts up to the pre-change rates.

“I think it’s too early to judge the impact of changes that Falmouth has made in its recycling program,” said Town Councilor Bonny Rodden, who is the council liaison to ecomaine.

Rodden said the town should keep an eye on recycling rates for the next six months and then evaluate whether the silver bullets need to come back.

“People are telling me they are thrilled that curbside is now weekly. That’s the really good news,” she said.

 Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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