The Block Island Times

A need for more recycling on Block Island

By Stephanie Turaj | Jan 12, 2014
Source: File photo The island transfer station.

Block Island needs to reduce its trash by recycling and composting, because waste removal is becoming more expensive and landfill space in Rhode Island is decreasing.

This was the central point made by representatives of Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) at a Town Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 6.

Sarah Kite, director of recycling services at RIRRC, said Rhode Island’s state landfill, located in Johnston, R.I., has about 25 years left before it is full and can no longer be used. Therefore, she said, RIRRC is doing long-term planning and rewriting the state’s waste management plan. She approached the Block Island Town Council to discuss what can be done locally to reduce trash. Block Island trash is offloaded at the Johnston landfill.

“I really feel the towns and cities are the main stakeholders in this,” said Kite. “Block Island is unique... in the summertime its waste is higher. It’s very high on the island relative to the population.”

Kite suggested creating a composting program. She said that 25 to 35 percent of Rhode Island’s waste is food scraps, which could be composted instead of thrown away.

“No one wants to talk about trash, but we all make it,” said Kite. “There’s value in this material. How do we extract the value instead of throwing it away?”

Councilor Chris Warfel suggested an on-island recycling program, which he said could have an added benefit of increasing the island’s economy.

On-island trash is received at the Transfer Station, which is located on West Beach Road. Block Island Recycling Management (BIRM), which holds a contract with the town, processes the trash and ships it off-island to the state’s central landfill in Johnston. RIRRC is responsible for processing it at the landfill.

Currently, RIRRC caps the amount of waste the island is allowed to produce. The cap is 1,121 tons per year, at a cost of $32 per ton. When this cap is exceeded, the price per ton increases to $54.

In 2013, the island exceeded the cap by 804 tons, for a total of 1,925 tons. This means the cost for the first 1,121 tons was $35,872, and the cost for the 804 tons was $43,416.

“My company pays the fees,” Sean McGarry, co-owner of BIRM, said to The Block Island Times. “My company is incentivized to recycle and divert as much waste as possible.”

Because BIRM has a contract with the Town of New Shoreham to maintain all operations and costs associated with running the transfer station, BIRM pays the fees to RIRRC.

However, when someone disposes of their trash on-island, that individual pays BIRM for the disposal. This rate is set by the Town Council, and when setting the rate, the council does consider the fees that BIRM pays to RIRRC, said McGarry.

“The problem is, what do we do about this cap?” asked island resident Cliff McGinnes, Sr. “We’re already in trouble. We need to negotiate a better cap in our favor.”

Kite said, “That’s one piece you may want to take a look at — what’s the best use of the cap for Block Island?”

Town Councilor Norris Pike said that more needs to be done to reduce construction waste. Councilor Warfel agreed, but noted that it is “cheaper” for people to pay the landfill fee to throw debris away than it is to pay to recycle the material.

“I’m in the building business, and an awful lot of that could be recycled from projects like roofing,” said Pike. “It’s just getting to the point where we can do it and try to find the markets for the material.”

The council agreed to hold future meetings with RIRRC to discuss possibly creating a recycling or composting program. Kite said RIRRC will help create a study to determine the best method to proceed, and also help with the permitting process for any such program.

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