Norwalk considers recycling changes

City Carting Chief Operating Officer Tony Farina speaks to Norwalk Common Council members, Feb. 5 in City Hall.

Updated, 9:47 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk residents may soon need to separate paper and cardboard from other recyclables amid changes in the worldwide recycling market.

City Carting Chief Operating Officer Tony Farina on Feb. 5 said he’d been in discussions with then-Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Bruce Chimento, who retired in September, “regarding upgrading the solid waste collection, and also enhancing the recycling program.”

Changes would involve going to an automated collection trucks for solid waste —  similar to what’s currently done for recycling — and adding wheeled carts for Fourth Taxing District customers, he said.

Common Council Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) said he might organize a steering committee to guide a switch to dual-stream recycling. Currently Norwalk’s recycling program is single-stream, with residents able to commingle all recyclables in a large blue rolling bin.  Dual stream recycling involves separating paper and cardboard from other recyclables, and may .

Igneri did not reply to a Thursday email requesting comment.

The Council in 2012 authorized a 10-year contract with City Carting for garbage and recycling pickup. Farina said on Feb. 5 that he thought the contract, which he said has not been lucrative for the company, goes to 2023.

“I assume you’re losing money on our contract now,” Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said on Feb. 5.

“We’re breakeven on the trash collection and we are losing on our recycling,” Farina replied. “We planned a certain collection process. It was working for a while. The world changed. We need to adjust.”

“People may or may not be aware that the recycling markets have changed drastically over the last 12 months, 12-18 months, and cities that we’re dealing with around the Northeast are changing the way they do recycling collection,” he said. “Single-stream has been a common practice over the last probably 10 or 15 years, towns are going back to dual stream.”

The switch to dual stream would mean residents setting out fiber products – “newspaper, cardboard boxes, cereal boxes, any type of junk mail” – one day and commingled products on other days, he said.

Towns are also eliminating certain types of plastics from their recycling efforts, because they’re difficult to dispose of, and also reducing and eliminating glass from the stream through bottle bills, he said.

Chimento left and the conversation continued with DPW Principal Engineer Lisa Burns and DPW Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre, Farina said.

Anthony Carr began work Monday as Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works.

“We have a lot of different opportunities and suggestions to offer,” Farina said on Feb. 5. “And this was just kind of like a general discussion about some of the things we talked about in the past, it would entail capital investments and changing the recycling programs.”

“City Carting would make the investment of the trucks, some more one-armed collection trucks and it was really kind of open as to who would buy the carts, the city or City Carting as we do with the recycling program,” Farina said.
He agreed that an educational program is needed.

“It’s true, to enhance a recycling program, it’s really reduce, reuse and recycle,” Farina said. “Residents really have the reuse component, we as collectors have the recycle component, and then you move forward to the producers and the packaging companies to kind of come out with a reduction in the amount of product that they generate so that consumers can buy less, which means they have to reuse less and we have to recycle less.”

Single-stream recycling “was great for increasing recycling generation” but people “don’t really clean out containers as well as they should,” resulting in garbage on the fiber products, he said.

Diane Lauricella, an activist, attended the meeting and said she’s followed the City Carting one-armed collector trucks and the drivers don’t see garbage bags in with the recycling goods.

Contamination reduces the amount of money the materials can be sold for, and overseas markets have increased their quality standards, Farina said.

“They went from like, 5 percent contamination rate down to a .5 percent contamination rate,” Farina said. “And with that China made some drastic changes over the last few years, going from an … economic generated philosophy to a quality of life. So they’re trying to clean up the environment in China. They’re reducing the amount of product that’s coming in other markets, Vietnam, South Korea, India don’t have the bandwidth to handle the material coming out. So it’s, it’s kind of like a bottleneck.”

City Carting used to pay Stamford for its recycled goods but now Stamford pays City Carting, he said.

Livingston said he’d been informed that Stamford went from a $100,000 profit to a $700,000 cost.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is warning state officials about this issue, a spate of recent news stories states.

“Three of the state’s largest cities are showing major changes, the organization said,” CTNewsJunkie reports. “Bridgeport will go from $130,000 in revenue to projected $394,380 in expenses. Stamford generated $95,000 in the current fiscal year and will now pay $700,000 to company to process its materials, and Waterbury will be moving from $15,000 in revenue to a $330,000 expense.”

Greenwich just renegotiated with City Carting and is no longer collecting $10 a ton for recycling but is instead giving it to the company, Farina on Feb. 5 said.

City Carting spent $500,000 on a glass cleaning system and it still costs $30 a ton for that, with a total processing cost of $100 a ton.

Norwalk gets paid $17.50 for a ton of recyclables, Burns said.

As for reusing glass, Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said that liquor laws prohibit reusing wine bottles and whiskey bottles.

Hempstead asked about thin plastic, the wrapping on many products.

That’s called film, Farina said.

“It’s a very difficult product now to recycle,” he said. “… It’s difficult to collect. It’s difficult to run over the lines because it gets tied up in the screens and the conveyors and there really isn’t a product” which can be made from the film.

Igneri asked about efforts to compost waste.

There are facilities but the available capacity is small, Farina said.

“We’re able to do some pilot programs, huge education process, because, you know, people just don’t understand what can go in and what can’t go in,” he said. “But we do offer it and I mean, one of the things we started talking to Bruce about was maybe doing something at the transfer station…. We have ideas and we learn new stuff every day. And we see other communities trying different things and we see successes and failures. And you’ve just got to keep moving forward.”


6 responses to “Norwalk considers recycling changes”

  1. AL

    Do not use Stamford as a benchmark. Any/all numbers that come out of that town require a Big Four accounting firm audit.
    Also, the observation by a community activist is hardly the type of research that needs to be done.

  2. carol

    another big waste of money and we get suckered in again.

  3. David T McCarthy

    After I forced the single stream recycling through the council over the objection of most of the Democrats, the % of recycling doubled and was consistent until I left the council. If the current council has ignored the education aspect and allowed the amount of contamination to increase, that is unfortunate.

    While the recycling market has changed, the contract under which the city’s collection happens has not. That contract calls for CC to pay for the recycling tonnage, period. To renegotiate the contract in the middle is unwise. If in 2022 the recycling market has still not recovered, eliminating the double collection would be the better course, but that decision should be based on actual facts and not people’s feelings.

  4. Matt T

    Where would the dual streams go? The current infrastructure is set up for single stream. Unless new facilities are built or existing ones retrofitted, you can’t just process the separated streams on a processing facility built for combined streams. It’s not how it works.

    The other thing to mention here is that recycling is still CHEAPER than landfill. What are Norwalk’s waste costs per ton? Waste costs in the Northeast are $60-$100/ton for towns, single stream is still less. It’s an issue that recycling is less profitable, but it’s still less than throwing it away.

    Another thing to think about is what about creating new markets for the commodities? The only glass plants in New England (Strategic) closed in the past two years so the only outlets are east of us = higher transportation costs. More local markets means less reliance on international markets, i.e. China, or far away domestic ones.

  5. Joe

    I clearly remember Mayor Rudy Giuliani, modern America’s most successful mayor, say that recycling is a money loser for cities.

    news flash. A friend’s dad runs a Hartford moving business. Said Dan Malloy just moved to New Jersey this week.

    There would be no irony here. Malloy, judged by his governing, truly despised and hated Connecticut.

  6. PiBerman

    Raise taxes. City tax collections have “only” gone up 25% over the last decade. (See 2018-19 operating budget). Who would object ?

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