WELLFLEET — When it comes to producing trash, Wellfleet is greener than most other towns in Massachusetts.
At least that’s how it looks on the state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) town-by-town map of household waste production as of 2016. Wellfleet sent less than 750 pounds per household per year to the SEMASS facility in West Wareham to be incinerated to produce electricity and, unfortunately, pollution. That’s the lowest category on the map.
On Cape Cod, only Brewster matched Wellfleet’s most-green rating.
“I call this my map of shame — or fame,” said Kari Parcell, the Barnstable County municipal assistance coordinator for the DEP.
Parcell was in Wellfleet on June 3 to talk about what is helping this town and others get greener. Truro households threw out more trash than Wellfleet — between 1,001 and 1,250 pounds per year. Provincetown shows up in an alarming red on the map (over 2,250 pounds) due to a data reporting error Parcell is working to correct.
Her focus was on recycling, and especially on the DEP’s determination to deal with the recent crash in the market for recyclables, primarily caused by China’s refusal to keep receiving them. China stopped importing recyclables because of contamination, said Parcell.
When more than 5 percent of the material in a load is not recyclable, it doesn’t pay to process it. The whole load becomes trash. That’s a problem we are all paying for whether we bring our trash and recycling to a transfer station or use a private hauler.
We’re going to have to change our ways, said Parcell. “Now,” she said, “recycling has got to be about quality instead of quantity.”
Clearer rules, simpler signs, and a searchable “recyclopedia” on the state’s RecycleSmartMA.org website are all designed help people do the right thing.
Looking at an audience of some 50 people who had gathered at the Wellfleet Council on Aging, Parcell asked, “How many of you participated in the latex recycling program in the past year?”
When no one raised a hand, Michael Cicale, the foreman at the Wellfleet Transfer Station and Parcell’s co-presenter for the evening, stepped up to translate.
“How many of you dropped off your latex paint at the dump?” he asked. Lots of people had.
The two laughed.
“I suffer from E.L.A.,” admitted Parcell. “Extreme litter awareness.” She said she generates only six bags of trash per year. “Not including wine bottles,” she added.
“I’ve been around junkyards my whole life,” said Cicale, who went to school to learn to build hot rods. “I guess I was born to do this.”
Cicale made latex paint drop-off an everyday option at the transfer station after discovering Recolor Paints, a recycled paint company founded by two women in Hanover. With help from the DEP, the town then took advantage of a Cape-wide grant to participate in the company’s collection program at no cost. Recolor Paints are sold at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in South Yarmouth.
Wellfleet is also participating in a new processed glass aggregate program, Parcell said.
“The glass market dried up a year and a half ago,” Cicale explained. The town had been getting $25 per ton for it, and was suddenly going to be charged $85 per ton, plus $500 per load to haul it away. Cicale stockpiled as much glass as he could and started looking for a solution.
He found one in Dennis, where, again thanks to grant support, the ribbon has just been cut on a program for crushing glass into pebbles that can be used on road and drainage projects. Wellfleet pays $60 per ton to participate, and for each ton it recycles the town will receive a ton of the aggregate for town projects.
Cicale was clearly jazzed by the idea that the glass is ground up on the Cape and comes back into use locally. “It’s a closed-loop system that’s rare these days,” he said.
From the audience, Richard Robicheau asked why recycling is done so differently in each town. People often complain that recycling is confusing that way, Parcell agreed.
“I’m working on that,” she said.
At the same time, she praised Cicale’s ongoing quest to innovate.
“Pay-as-you-throw has reduced trash by about 50 percent and increased recycling by 30 percent,” she said. Cicale’s ability to “think outside the box” is what’s whittling down the town’s dependence on traditional recycling.
Besides the paint and aggregate programs, the Wellfleet Transfer Station now has arrangements for textile and electronics recycling. Food waste collected here goes to Watts Family Farm in Sandwich, where the composting operation is bigger and hotter than home composting — even meat and bones are allowed. Oyster and clam shells are used for projects at the transfer station.
Cicale is in the process of arranging to drop off plastic bags — theoretically recyclable but not allowed because they gum up the works of current municipal technologies — at supermarket programs in Orleans.
The town recycling committee’s swap shop and fix-it clinics keep things out of the dump, too.
“It frustrates me that there isn’t some way to recycle or re-use more of what we throw away,” said Jeff Tash from the audience.
“The problem is, you have to find a market for things,” Cicale explained.
Which is why changing our ways will have to mean consuming differently, Parcell said. And pushing for what she called “extended producer responsibility” to make consumer goods and packaging less wasteful in the first place. Talk to your legislators about that, she suggested.
Cicale said that one thing we can all expect is that we’ll have to keep learning as recycling evolves. He likes that idea.
“Sometimes I feel like we’re running our own little World War II scrap drive,” he told the Banner after the meeting. “It’s just such an interesting time to be doing this work.”