The largest city in western Massachusetts is making a change in its recycling program. It could have a ripple effect in other municipalities in the region.
The city of Springfield is notifying the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Friday that it will no longer bring recyclables to a state-owned collection center in the city’s North End after a 10-year contract expires on June 30th.
Springfield currently pays nothing to use the recycling center, but under a new contract proposed by the DEP the city would be charged roughly $1.2 million a year.
There are less expensive options from private contractors, according to the Springfield DPW Director Chris Cignoli.
"We've received two bids," said Cignoli. " So, whatever contract we end up signing in the city of Springfield is going to be significantly better than the DEP contract."
Speaking at a meeting of the City Council’s Sustainability and Environment Committee, Cignoli said the cost for the city to dispose of its recyclables will be disclosed in a few months when he files his department’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1st.
There was a time municipalities could count on receiving revenue for recyclables. But, now the international recycling market has collapsed in large part because China, in the midst of the trade war with the U.S., no longer accepts the large quantities of paper and other materials for recycling it once did.
The Springfield Materials Recycling Facility on Birnie Ave collects about 20,000 tons of recyclables a year from communities in western Massachusetts. About a third of that tonnage comes from the city of Springfield. So, Springfield’s decision to pull out could leave the regional center on shaky ground.
Also, where Springfield ends up sending its recyclables could close off options for other municipalities, according to Cignoli.
"What tonnage we bring somewhere is probably going to box out every other community from being able to dump there," said Cignoli. "So a lot of the other communities are scrambling right now to find what they're going to do."
Springfield signaled its intention to stop using the DEP-owned facility months ago when it publicly advertised for bids from recycling contractors.
" What we told all the other communities, directly and indirectly, is do not be surprised if on January 31st we say we we are not signing a contract ( with the DEP)," said Cignoli. "I don't want to see a community sitting there in the middle of March with no place to send their stuff."
Cignoli said the city will stick with what is known as “single-stream” recycling, where residents put glass, paper, and plastic into one container rather than sorting the items into separate bins.
"Our single-stream program is one of the few with no contamination issues," said Cignoli. "If we had gotten bids with a much wider difference for dual-stream and single-stream, we might have looked at it."
The city charges a $90 annual fee to residents for curbside pickup of trash and recyclables.
Cignoli said a decision on whether the fee needs to increase to cover the new expense for recycling will be up to the city’s finance department and Mayor Domenic Sarno.
City Councilor Jesse Lederman, who chairs the Sustainability and Environment Committee, said most people want to recycle because it’s “the right thing to do,” but there are limits to what municipalities can afford.
" I think the state really should be stepping up and looking for solutions on how they can support municipalities," said Lederman.
Cignoli said the city’s new recycling contract will likely be for three years with an option to renew for another three years.