, Salem, MA


March 28, 2013

Our view: 'Mandatory' recycling good for Salem

Salem’s proposed mandatory recycling program would help protect the environment by reducing the amount of trash that gets packed into landfills. It would also save the city — and by extension, taxpayers — money by cutting removal costs.

A cleaner environment and a fatter wallet. What’s not to like?

One word, apparently. For some critics, “mandatory” evokes images of jackbooted, club-carrying thugs patrolling the streets of the Witch City, pawing through helpless residents’ trash and tossing scofflaws behind bars while black helicopters hover overhead.

Let’s take a deep breath. It’s a trash program. One that will save the city money and has been proven to work in dozens of other Massachusetts communities.

As proposed by Mayor Kim Driscoll, residents would be required to leave a recycling bin out with their trash. Residents can recycle aluminum containers, paper, metal, glass and some plastics. For those who don’t comply, the ordinance calls for a written notice for a first violation, a written warning for the second and a $25 fine for all subsequent violations.

Driscoll said the idea isn’t to make money off folks struggling to get their recycling out on time. Including the penalties, she said, makes the city eligible for a $50,000 state grant to hire a recycling coordinator.

“I wish it wasn’t ‘mandatory,’” the mayor told reporter Tom Dalton last week. “I wish it was ‘strongly encouraged.’ Those are the state’s words.”

It’s worth noting that other communities with mandatory recycling programs in place rarely resort to fines. Haverhill and Lowell, for example, have issued a total of three fines since their programs began. Driscoll expects the same response in Salem.

What’s more, the cost savings are real. The city will save $61.50 for every ton of material not sent to a trash site. (The average Salem household generates about a ton of trash a year.)

At a City Council subcommittee meeting last week, Ward 3 Councilor Todd Siegel noted that one of the 75 or so other communities that use mandatory recycling was able to save more than $90,000 by reducing its trash tonnage.

“I love this program,” he said.

So do we. Here’s hoping the full council passes it without delay.

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