Recycling NIMBies

E.L. HARVEY AND SONS HAS A rich history in the solid waste and recycling industry. Founded by Emory Harvey in 1911 as a garbage hauler, the Massachusetts company has been in the recycling business for well over a half a century. Through hard work, shrewd business skills and a willingness to take risks, the company has grown and prospered. Still family-owned, E.L. Harvey & Sons collects garbage and recyclables throughout central Massachusetts. The company also operates a waste transfer station, a full-scale paper recycling facility and a materials recovery facility for other recyclables. It has been in the same location since 1947.

Three years ago, in response to a request from the neighboring town of Hopkinton, the company submitted plans to build a new MRF to handle more recyclables. The new facility would be adjacent to its existing plant. Since then, the company has spent more than $2 million on the facility but still hasn't broken ground. It's been stymied by a group of neighbors who don't want the recycling plant to be built. The Hopkinton Board of Appeals granted the operating permit but added new conditions. Both sides are appealing the decision.

The neighbors are complaining about noise, odor and traffic. They are also alleging the new facility will encroach on Cedar Swamp. Noise, odors and truck traffic can be controlled. As for the swamp, it is bisected by the Massachusetts Turnpike, but it still provides a sanctuary in the midst of urban America. To ensure that this doesn't change, the recycling facility is designed to prevent run-off and any other encroachments onto the swamp.

But I don't think any of that matters. We shouldn't be surprised that even recycling is not safe from NIMBY-ism. People can oppose just about anything. Even additions to existing churches can be hot topics in zoning disputes. Their opponents aren't nonbelievers (or at least most of them aren't), they're just afraid of more traffic and noise (and maybe odor if the church uses incense). In this case, I suspect the opponents don't oppose recycling. They just don't want a recycling facility in their backyard, although one has been there for the past 58 years.

Maybe opposing change is just part of our nature. We know how things are now, and we don't want anything to be different unless the changes are on our terms. It doesn't matter if the recycling company was there first, albeit in a smaller facility. It doesn't matter if state policy encourages recycling. We love recycling — just don't do it near us.

If the recycling plant is built, it will create jobs, be the second highest taxpayer in Hopkinton and will be designed to ensure the neighboring land is fully protected from incursions. The environment — political, economic and ecologic — will benefit.

My neighborhood went through a tremendous battle several years ago over building a badly needed high school that would be built on a large, vacant lot. Many of the neighbors were worried about the impact of noise and traffic from all the students, busses and school activities. As it turned out, the school was built, the neighbors' kids have easy access to it and now the former protesters are among the school's biggest fans. I suspect the same will happen in Massachusetts when the new recycling center comes online.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the NSWMA or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: [email protected].

The columnist is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.