Recycling transition badly bungled

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2021

We’re not naïve about the difficult fiscal climate for governments at all levels, including right here in Smithfield. And as much as we hate it, we understand the logic of the town’s recent decision to stop curbside collection of recyclables.

But communication with residents about the decision could not have been handled worse by the town and its recycling contractor, Bay Disposal. And for that, the town has some explaining to do.

As thoroughly documented by reporter Stephen Faleski in last week’s edition, the town and Bay Disposal completely flubbed a supposed option for residents to privately pay for recycling pickup once the town’s contract with Bay ended this month, provided enough people signed up for the service. The problem is that trying to get your name on the list was a circuitous black hole of Bay telling callers to contact town officials and town officials punting them right back to Bay.

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Magically and conveniently, Bay this month declared insufficient interest by town residents in private pickup, despite residents having had no way to express their interest.

On major decisions like ending recycling, the town must do better. And it’s not too late to fix this one.

Council members should call a town hall-style meeting, with both socially distanced in-person and virtual participation options, and compel Bay Disposal, which continues to have the town’s contact for garbage disposal, to attend and join town officials in answering as many questions as residents want to ask.

Bay should also be required to reopen the sign-up period for residents interested in private recycling pickup, and this time provide convenient, easy ways by phone, internet and traditional mail for people to put their names on the list.

The town also needs to sort out conflicting claims about how much of the recyclables that were being picked up curbside were actually being recycled. The town, in attempting to justify the decision to terminate recycling services, told residents that most of the recyclables were actually being incinerated instead of recycled. Bay said only 30% was being incinerated. Such discrepancies cause distrust among a skeptical citizenry.

Finally, residents deserve a math illustration of the fiscal impact of the decision to end recycling pickup. A letter writer elsewhere on this page makes the detailed case that garbage might actually become a profit center for town coffers. That’s unacceptable if he’s right. And must be refuted if he’s wrong.