One of the reasons that big, national waste disposal firms have regional managers is because they’ve figured out that no two areas of the United States are the same. Waste can sometimes be transported by barge along New York State’s waterways, a much less common sight in bone-dry Arizona. And on the flip side, there is much more open territory for landfills in the spacious Southwest than in the dense, crowded Northeast. Regional differences like these make it important to understand the part of the country you’re trying to serve.
A string of recent events in Massachusetts is proving that point. Empire Recycling, a Billerica, Mass., firm that bills itself as “one of the largest recycling companies in the New England area,” faces a cease-and-desist order for its recycling facility from the town’s government. Billerica’s Town Manager, John Curran, defended the temporary shutdown by pointing out numerous business practices that violate local ordinances and the zoning designation for the site.
These violations include occupying a building without a building permit, storing flammable materials in areas without a sprinkler system, and storing solid waste and bales outside of buildings, in violation of the zoning code. The shutdown comes just one month after a Lowell Sun story aired annoyed neighbors’ complaints about the company’s business practices, which included noisy operations into the night, unpleasant odors and constant truck traffic. The town insists that the crackdown is unrelated to the citizen complaints, but it doesn’t take a political expert to realize that Empire could likely have avoided its current predicament by maintaining a better relationship with the neighbors.
Elsewhere in Massachusetts, support for town-wide bans on single-serve PET water bottles is growing. After narrowly rejecting such a ban two years ago, Concord voters approved the idea in 2012 by a slim 37-vote margin, and then reaffirmed its decision again this year by a larger margin (full disclosure: CSG employees worked the campaign against the ban in Concord in 2011). In doing so, Concord joins Great Barrington, which already has a ban on polystryrene food containers, and has prompted the Massachusetts towns of Amherst, Pittsfield, and Somerville to consider similar measures.
Other communities, like Manchester by the Sea and Brookline, an affluent Boston suburb, have prohibited plastic bags at stores larger than 2,500 square feet. In most of these situations, there isn’t infrastructure to recycle the targeted materials, or recycling isn’t occurring at a high enough level, and green-minded residents are choosing to take them out of the waste stream entirely.
And on a state level, Massachusetts looks poised to update its 1970s-era bottle bill, a law that instituted 5-cent deposits for recycling beer and soda containers. Although popular among the state’s environmentalist voters, the policy did not account for the large increase in beverage containers since its passage, which include the explosion in bottled water, energy drinks, coffees and more. The updated bottle bill will likely lead to increased recycling rates for these containers.
Members of the waste industry would do well to keep examples like this in mind, and to recruit staff that have their finger on the pulse of the area they’re working in. Small towns like Billerica have a citizen-led “town meeting” style of government, in which hundreds of neighborhood representatives make municipal decisions, and this may have played a role in Empire Recycling’s troubles after a public fight with the neighbors. The new bottle and bag bans coming into effect will favor foresighted operators who expanded their capacity to take in corrugated paper cups and bags, as well as aluminum containers, which are expected to serve as replacements in the affected communities. And the updated bottle bill, if it passes, will lead to a surge in business for recycling facilities equipped to process the new containers.
Local knowledge can benefit the waste and recycling operator, but only those that capitalize on it.