East Providence is adjusting well to new recycling collection program

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EAST PROVIDENCE — One month into the city’s new recycling program finds it to already be having a significantly positive affect on East Providence’s collections, even as some of the bugs were being worked out.

Department of Public Works Programs Coordinator Donna McMahon said the calls to her office have dropped off as residents settle into the routine of every other week collections of recyclables under the automated system implemented at the start of September by the city’s refuse collector, Mega/MTG Disposal. The change in schedule is expected to save East Providence taxpayers approximately $288,000 per year or over $1.6 million through the period of the five-year pact.

Each of the containers, delivered in August, came with a small brochure, which outlined the changes to the collection schedule and what could and couldn’t be placed in the new bins. Mrs. McMahon said a brief explanation will also be included in the November water bills residents will receive and all pertinent information on the new recycling program can be found at the DPW tab on the city website, eastprovidenceri.net.

“Some people are still confused about the every other week pick-up, but we’ve posted the information online and there will be an information card included in the upcoming water bills, so we hope that helps,” said Mrs. McMahon.

Despite the expected bumps in the road, the system is already paying dividends, helping up the amount of recyclable material being collected and likely allowing the city to receive another, possibly, increased rebate from the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation.

RIRRC recently sent East Providence a rebate check worth  nearly $14,000 for keeping its rate of recyclables over 25 percent for the fiscal year ending August 2013.  East Providence’s recycling rate for FY13 was 26.03 percent, bringing its cost to $31 per ton, which resulted in a rebate of $13,821.

“It’s hard to tell until we get some more numbers, but we definitely increased our recycle rate in September over what we collected in August. That tells us we’re moving in the right direction,” Mrs. McMahon said.

For those who’ve seen the system at work, its succinctness is pretty impressive. A lone driver commands a robotic arm from the cockpit of the truck, in one motion lifting and dumping each of the bins into the top of the vehicle then replacing back on the street.

After getting her first in-person view of the process recently, Mrs. McMahon said, “It’s pretty amazing. I got a good view of how the arm works and how they’re able to pick up the container and keep moving along. I’m sure it must have taken some training by the drivers to be able to learn how to do it. It’s very interesting to watch. A job well done on their part.”

She also commended the adaptability of city residents, some of whom initially had reservations about the changes being proposed.

“At first people weren’t too happy,” Mrs. McMahon explained. “They thought the containers were too big, over-sized. They felt we should have asked their opinion before we ordered the size we did, the 95-gallon containers. But we listened to the contractor’s suggestion. They’ve started programs like this all across the country. Changing to a two-week pickup cycle, we needed to have something where people could fit all their recyclables in. If it didn’t fit, they would probably put it in with the regular trash, and that’s the last thing we wanted to happen.

“Any complaints or requests we’ve received from residents, we’ve responded to them. I think things are going well as far as missed stops. We’ve had a few calls, but not many. And we haven’t heard much from Mega about not being able to pick up because of parked cars. People are getting used to it. They’re putting the containers out properly. So far, I think it’s been a very good process for us.”

The good parts of the new automated system, at first glance at least, appear to be beneficial to all involved and should only increase as it takes firmer hold.

“Sometimes just because something is new, it’s not all that bad,” Mrs. McMahon added. “I think the residents are adjusting and figuring that out. Hopefully everybody else is as happy with the program because we’re pleased with the results so far. Mega is a doing a great job with it. Now it’s on our end to fix the little things. But all in all it’s already been a big plus. It’s helped boost the recycling rates in the city, which is a good thing for the taxpayers of East Providence.”

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