A reduction in Wilmot’s recycling program is forcing some residents to take matters into their own hands

Concord Monitor — SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

Concord Monitor — SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

The transfer station in Wilmot, N.H., recycles glass bottles and jars but not plastic.

The transfer station in Wilmot, N.H., recycles glass bottles and jars but not plastic. Concord Monitor — SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Concord Monitor

Published: 05-18-2024 5:26 PM

In Andy Chew’s garage, aluminum cans — remnants of seltzers and assorted drinks — are piled high in large bins because it pains him too much to throw them away.

Living in Wilmot, N.H., where recycling options are scarce, with the town lacking facilities for plastic, paper, and can recycling, Chew wrestles with his environmental conscience. Reluctant to dispose of recyclables in the regular trash, he stores them in his garage until his mother-in-law, who lives in Hollis, N.H., can take them to her town’s transfer station for recycling.

Many Wilmot residents, like Chew, have converted their garages and basements into storage spaces for recyclables, to prevent them from entering the waste stream, after the town scaled back its recycling efforts in December 2022.

“When the town got rid of it and said that there was no market for recycling anymore, it was hard to believe considering aluminum is endlessly recycled,” said Chew as he dumped his trash in the trailer at the town’s transfer station on Wednesday.

Currently, Wilmot recycles scrap metal and glass, but not plastic or paper.

Glynis Hart, a member of the selectboard and recycling committee, explained that the town had halted aluminum can recycling due to concerns raised by Tim Martin, the transfer station manager, regarding the need for proper containment to prevent cans from rolling around.

But Wilmot could soon restart recycling for aluminum cans, as they recently obtained a bin on Thursday to securely store the cans.

The town scaled back its recycling efforts for other materials due to rising costs, a shrinking market for recyclables and the challenge of finding affordable housing in the area to employ transfer station staff responsible for sorting and cleaning recyclables.

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“Recycling is a costly process,” said Hart. “When you’re recycling, you’re hoping to recoup some of your costs, but it’s not really a for-profit enterprise.”

Hart explained that managing the influx of cardboard and plastic at the transfer station without adequate infrastructure and personnel has been problematic.

For example, there isn’t a shelter at the transfer station to keep a pile of cardboard from turning soggy and dirty to store its value as a recyclable commodity.

Despite the lack of options to recycle, town residents have found ways to keep their recyclable waste from ending up in the waste stream.

Ann Davis opts for products in glass containers, even though they have higher price tags, knowing that at least glass is recyclable at the transfer station, unlike plastic. It’s a small victory for her, salvaging one piece of plastic from ending up in a landfill.

Chew attempts to reduce the tide of plastic inundating his household by making trips to a co-op and refilling his jars to minimize plastic consumption. But it’s difficult to eliminate plastic completely when almost everything is packaged in it.

“When I have to throw plastic in the trash, it makes me feel terrible. It’s shameful,” Chew admits.

Even with reduced recycling, Wilmot hasn’t suffered financially in its waste management operations.

In 2022, when the town operated a comprehensive recycling program, except for specific types of plastic it couldn’t accept, the total waste generated amounted to 470 tons. By 2023, after the recycling program was cut back, the waste generated increased to 537 tons.

In fact, Hart pointed out that despite the rise in waste tonnage, the town managed to save approximately $5,000 by keeping recycling efforts minimal.

While dumping the town’s trash costs $115 per ton, transporting recyclables such as cardboard through their contracted waste hauler, Naughton & Son Recycling LLC, to a processing facility comes at a steeper price tag ranging from $200 to $250 per load. This is because the materials have to be sorted and processed before taking it to a recycling facility.

“You can see we’re already paying almost twice as much to take it to the recycling center,” said Hart. “So if they pay us a little bit per tonne for the cardboard, it doesn’t generally cover the cost of that hauling.”

The town is considering various solutions to meet residents’ desire for recycling options. One possibility involves working with Andover’s transfer station, which is just two miles away from Wilmot’s transfer station and equipped with the necessary infrastructure and staff for sorting materials.