Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Holyoke, a city of 38,000 on the bank of the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts, had a dual-stream recycling program that meant that residents and businesses separated paper from plastics, cans and glass.
Rossi, who came to Holyoke from Clifton, N.J., where he was director of public works for Tenafly and Englewood, received a five-fold assignment when he arrived.
“Basically, I was tasked with controlling costs, protecting the public health and safety of Holyoke, improving the quality of life, supporting the city’s economic growth and making Holyoke a great place to live and work,” he noted.
The recycling program was a piece of that mighty pie.
Holyoke, as well as many of its neighbors in Hampden County, embraced recycling several years ago with the dual-stream model. During the pandemic, with sharp price drops in the commodities market and China’s refusal to accept the waste from the U.S. and other foreign markets, Western Massachusetts municipalities found themselves paying to process and separate the recyclables. Holyoke’s previous director of public works temporarily shifted to single-stream recycling because of additional challenges like local trucking and personnel issues during the pandemic.
Tossing all recyclables into one container, which was collected by one truck, was easier for residents; however, Rossi said, it cost the city about $25,000 more annually and produced a dirtier product in the end. The single-stream model also violated an overlooked city recycling ordinance that mandated dual-stream recycling for the city of Holyoke.
The discovery of the violation surfaced as Rossi studied options for the city’s recycling program in collaboration with the city’s finance committee and public works board. While maintaining the single-stream model and modifying the city ordinance was an option, Rossi and city officials determined that returning to the dual-stream model was best for Holyoke.
The reboot will take some time to accomplish, Rossi said. It involves hiring a recycling coordinator for the city, re-educating residents about dual-stream recycling as well as purchasing new trucks to pick up and transport the recycled materials and providing new curbside recycling containers that will be compatible with the new trucks. The city also signed a contract in March with the Springfield Material Recycling Facility, known as the MRF, or “merf.” The MRF serves more than 65 communities in the four western counties of Massachusetts and deals only with dual-stream recycling.
Rossi said the city hired Ivan Felix in the spring to coordinate the public outreach and to deal directly with solid waste and recycling markets. Felix comes to Holyoke from Puerto Rico, where he specialized in hazardous waste in the private sector.
Holyoke’s DPW is spending the summer working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to plan ways to help residents and local businesses acclimate to the renewed dual-stream recycling program.
The Springfield MRF has a comprehensive website that includes several brief videos that inform viewers about what can and cannot be recycled and how to prepare recyclable materials for collection. The site also has information about what to do with everything from syringes and food waste to electronics and holiday decor. Besides the information and posters available from the Springfield MRF, the city is preparing pamphlets and mailers for distribution.
Rossi added, “And educating people can be as simple as knocking on doors and talking to people.”
According to Rossi, residents will continue to use previously purchased recycling bins for curbside recycling pickup. He expects that within the next 18 to 24 months, the city will purchase new containers that will be compatible with the city’s recycling trucks for mechanized pickup. Money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to alleviate the continued impact of COVID-19 will be used for the new containers. Rossi said there is also a drop-off station in Holyoke.
Feedback for the reboot to dual-stream recycling has been positive. Rossi said, “Most people want to do the right thing.”
The environmental benefits to Holyoke are well known in the community, according to Holyoke councilor Joseph McGiverin. He said the potential for financial payback is also an attractive piece of the dual-stream system as well as reduced transportation costs and tipping fees associated with landfills and transfer stations.
There is a potential for the city to make money as part of the Springfield MRF. Rossi said, “My understanding is that we will get money back from the MRF if it makes a profit in the recyclable market.” For more information about dual-stream recycling, check out the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility website at springfieldmrf.org.