Clear trash bags for St. Lawrence County households could soon be required to increase recycling
By CRAIG FREILICH
St. Lawrence County residents may soon be required to put all trash in clear bags.
County legislators will be asked later this year to approve the measure as part of updated waste disposal local laws designed to keep more recyclables out of landfills.“It takes up space, so why put it in landfills when we can get some re-use,” St. Lawrence County Recycling Coordinator and Operations Manager Larry Legault said.
The Village of Massena has been enforcing its clear-bag ordinance since August, and they have seen an 8 to 10 percent increase in recycling since then, amounting to around 25 percent of the total waste stream going to recyclers.
The new law, which Legault said will be prepared for action by the Board of Legislators “sometime in the next few months,” would require trash to be put in clear or translucent bags so waste haulers can check for recyclable materials that shouldn’t be going into landfills.
“That’s the goal, not just of a local law but also New York State law,” Legault said. “There are new restrictions on how to dispose of trash including ways to recycle the way it needs to be.” The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been tightening up on solid waste disposal in stages over the years, he said.
Implications For Potsdam
The implications of a clear-bag program have not been discussed yet in Potsdam, said village administrator Everett Basford.
A couple of years ago the village went to a pre-paid orange bag system for trash after some people began counterfeiting the stickers the village had been issuing for regular bags. Recyclables in Potsdam go into “zero-sort” bins.
“No, it hasn’t come up yet in any discussions,” Basford said. “We will have to talk to Casella about that, he said, referring to the village’s contract hauler.
The county and the localities it serves are taking recycling more seriously because places to put trash are filling up.
The clear bag proposal is gaining adherents in the North Country as one way to increase the amount of recyclable materials actually going for re-use, and reducing the amount of stuff going into landfills, increasing the useful life of a landfill.
The idea is being fostered by the Development Authority of the North Country, whose very existence was spurred by the need for a regional landfill decades ago. That landfill, at Rodman in Jefferson County, has about eight years of space left until it’s full, according to DANC, and they’ve been planning an expansion since 2001. The extra area will give it space to operate another 45 years, according to their estimate. Any amount of “diversion” of recyclables they can manage will extend those estimates.
The Village of Massena adopted the clear bags practice last summer and the ratio of recyclables collected to other trash has improved by as much as 25 percent already, according to Legault.
Lewis County, which is also in DANC’s territory, adopted a clear bag ordinance that went into effect April 15.
“The idea is to help increase recycling,” said DANC Regional Recycling Coordinator Jan Oatman.
Bags Increased Recycling
That’s what has happened in Massena since the village stepped up its clear-bag program last summer.
“Before then the figure hovered around 17 percent recycled,” said village Superintendent of Public Works Hassan Fayad.
“Last August, when enforcement began, it went to 23 percent. By December it was 27 percent” he said.
“Statistics show clear bag programs help increase recycling rates by allowing examination of contents for compliance,” DANC’s Oatman said “It’s required by the operating license at a landfill. Recyclables are not permitted in the waste stream.”
“The tip of the spear is the five members of our refuse department,” Fayad said.
They are the ones responsible for looking for recyclables in the clear bags meant for trash. If they find some, they tag the bag and leave for the household to sort out. If that household persists in non-compliance, “we will pick it up and charge additional charges,” Fayad said.
He said the department had to deal with discontent among residents “only at first. Nobody likes change, but the community’s been good about this.”
He said the economic benefit is evident when you consider that the village pays $90 a ton to dispose of refuse and only $40 per ton for recyclable materials.
Recycling in St. Lawrence County is not up to “the rate we’d like to see but it’s been going in the right direction. We’re never going to get to 100 percent, but we can increase the percentage as time goes by,” Legault said.
“We hope to get a local law passed in the next few months with a clear bags provision, and a change in the penalty phase” said Legault.
In the revised St. Lawrence County law, “the penalties will be modified to make them friendlier for haulers and the public to adapt,” he said.
“Our goal at the county level is to work with the haulers and individuals” to get better results, Legault said.
“Once we all get used to it we’ll get much more in recyclables,” Legault said. “We will ask people to be patient, to ask questions, to go to the DANC website, and St. Lawrence County has handouts. It’s continuing education of people on why we should be recycling and explaining why it’s not so hard to recycle.”
The county’s guidelines for refuse and recycling are at http://www.co.st-lawrence.ny.us/Departments/SolidWaste/Recycling