WAKEFIELD – Representatives of the Public Works Department were on hand at this week’s Town Council Meeting to provide an update on the town’s recycling program. DPW Director Joseph Conway and Business manager Ann Waitt discussed how various materials are handled. 

Waitt began with Styrofoam, which she said is harmful to the environment. It is also lightweight, tends to break apart into small pieces and blow in the wind. Exactly how long it takes to break down is unknown, she said, but estimates say that it remains in the environment for at least 500 years.

There is a limited market for recycled Styrofoam and there are no processing facilities in New England, Waitt said. Currently, the only option for disposal of Styrofoam is to put it in the trash.

Plastic shopping bags, wraps and packing materials also present a problem for recycling through the town’s curbside program, Waitt acknowledged, as these materials tend to clog processing machinery. There are other options, however, for recycling plastic shopping bags, bread bags, paper towel wrapping, etc. Shaw’s, Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Marketbasket and Wegmans all accept these types of plastic for recycling, Waitt said, and Kohl’s will recycle plastic shopping bags.

Shredded paper presents a similar problem for the curbside recycling program in that it tends to jam recycling equipment, Waitt said. The best option is to bring paper to special shredding events. Otherwise, shredded paper should be considered trash.

Hard plastics and containers are another difficult item to process, Waitt said. The town’s recycling contractor doesn’t currently have a demand or a means to process hard plastics. Presently, collected hard plastic goes into the incinerator. The town is exploring the possibility of holding special events for recycling these kinds of plastic.

In addition to the curbside recycling program, Waitt also discussed the options available at the Nahant Street “Pit” Yard Waste Facility. In addition to yard waste (leaves, grass, brush, etc.), the Nahant Street facility has containers for recycling metal, cardboard, light bulbs, mercury and propane tanks. A monthly average of 3,705 pounds of cardboard are recycled, Waitt noted, and 21,000 pounds of metal has been diverted from the waste stream, generating $1,112 in revenue and saving $1,033 in disposal costs. 

The Nahant Street facility is open every Wednesday and Saturday as well as every other Sunday.

Waitt and Conway also discussed the local composting program, funded through grants from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The town received $15,400 in FY 2023 and $16,900 for FY 2024, which funds the purchase of Black Earth starter kits for residents as well as the fee for food composting at the Food Pantry. She said that an average of 1.7 tons per week is collected from approximately 419 participating homes. Over the course of the program, Waitt said, 280.8 tons have been collected, saving more than $27,000 worth of material from the incinerator.

Waitt directed residents to on the town’s web site for more information on recycling options and the town’s programs.

Town Councilor Michael McLane asked about the recycling options for condo owners in buildings with more than four units, which are currently not eligible for the curbside recycling program. 

Conway explained that the issue is complicated but when the recycling contract comes up for renewal, the DPW will explore the options. “If we find an avenue, we will do it,” he said.

McLane also suggested a later date for curbside leaf pickup, as many trees have not shed all of their leaves by the current pickup date.