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Posted on: November 14, 2023

Waste Audit Reveals Low Recycling Contamination Rates in Provincetown

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A recent waste audit of Town public space recycling barrels found low recycling contamination rates in Provincetown. On Monday, October 16, 2023, the Department of Public Works' Buildings and Grounds crew, along with members of Provincetown’s Recycling & Renewable Energy Committee (RREC), collected and analyzed 18 bags of recycling from 18 of the 19 Town recycling barrels, providing valuable insights into the town's recycling habits and those of its visitors.

The recycling material was collected following the emptying of the Town bins on Friday October 13, 2023, representing a typical fall weekend in Provincetown.

The 18 bags, upon inspection, weighed a total of 183 pounds. After careful sorting and examination, 157.5 pounds of sorted recyclable material were identified. It is worth noting that 25.5 pounds were attributed to "liquid run-off," a common occurrence when emptying recycling bins.

The waste audit revealed only 7% trash, 7% coffee cups, and 3% cartons, totaling 17% contamination. Additionally, the audit found just two dog waste bags deposited in the recycling barrels.

The recyclable material collected during the audit was properly disposed of in the recycling hopper at the Provincetown Transfer Station, emphasizing the community's dedication to recycling.

The results of the audit demonstrated that the recycling in Provincetown's town barrels is exceptionally clean, with a contamination rate below widely accepted national standards. The contamination rate of 17% compares favorably with the Environmental Protection Agency's 25% benchmark and The Recycling Partnership's 2020 Curbside Report's 18% rate.

The low contamination rate could be due to recent efforts by the RREC and Provincetown DPW to more clearly mark public waste bins. In September, in an effort to reduce contamination in our public space recycling barrels, new blue lids with constricted openings were deployed on all the blue recycling barrels in Town. In addition, black lids were placed atop black trash barrels to avoid confusion between recycling receptacles and trash receptacles throughout town, and stickers were placed on all barrels: recycling symbols on the blue barrels and trash can icons on the black barrels.

While we’re cautiously optimistic about these results, during the busy summer season it has been more common for contamination to occur. We hope the new more clearly marked trash/recycling receptacles in town will help this trend of decreasing contamination rates continue.

In light of these recent waste audit findings, the Recycling & Renewable Energy Committee recommends taking several steps to further improve recycling practices in Provincetown:

  • Confirm the recyclability of PETE plastic cups with Casella, the waste management company.
  • Enhance signage on the recycling barrels based on information from Casella, possibly adding a "NO COFFEE CUPS" label.
  • Encourage businesses selling water in cartons to consider switching to aluminum containers.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of adding recycling barrels on Macmillan Pier, as suggested by the Assistant Harbormaster.
  • Continue public outreach and education – particularly during the busy summer months – to ensure residents and visitors do not place non-recyclable materials into recycling bins.

This waste audit would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of Provincetown's Department of Public Works staff, including the Buildings and Grounds crew and Sanitation team and the volunteer efforts of members of the Provincetown Recycling & Renewable Energy Committee.

Thank you to all the residents and visitors who do their part to dispose of their trash and recycling properly when in town.Sorted recycling - FINAL

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