Brookline Solid Waste Advisory Committee Discusses Sustainability Progress

By Maysie Childs
BU News Service

Increasing sustainability is a goal in many towns and communities, but in Brookline it is a reality. According to a Brookline Solid Waste Advisory Committee meeting on Feb.11 at the Health And Human Services Department, more and more of Brookline’s “stuff” is recycled each year.

According to reports from the town Department of Public Works, the SWAC’s efforts to cut costs of waste removal, which are calculated per pound, are working. There is a slight and steady decrease in solid waste of about seven tons per year, board members said, and the recycling weight is up about 14 tons this year.

“We’re talking trash here,” Ed Gilbert, a representative from the Brookline DPW, said. In the 10 years Gilbert has been in Brookline, he has seen a yearly decrease in trash weight.

“There is a point to which you can get people to recycle,” Gilbert said, “And we have gotten to this point, you can’t get much lower.”

SWAC members promote recycling through community participation and encouragement.

Meeting chairman John Dempsey said the members helped to get single-stream recycling implemented with 65-gallon blue carts and automatic collection.

But SWAC members want to get the total weight of solid waste and the costs of trash pick-up even lower. Starting this May, Brookline officials plan to implement a program in which residents will drop off kitchen waste at a transfer station to cut trash pick-up costs.

A potential problem for residents is that the transfer station is accessible only by car.

“We’d do much better if we had drop-off sites in the denser neighborhoods of North Brookline,” Dempsey said.

Local drop-offs are more costly though, and would mean residents near the site have to worry about pests, rodents and odors that accompany heaps of kitchen waste.

Cambridge has implemented a program for curbside collection of kitchen waste.

“We are letting Cambridge be the guinea pigs on curbside collection,” Dempsey said. “We’ll see how their program goes before trying to institute a similar program in Brookline.”

Cambridge has a bigger budget for waste removal than Brookline.

SWAC members said they are cautious about taking the same leap because the program will increase labor costs.

“They [Cambridge] still have two guys on the back of a truck,” Gilbert said. “Their labor costs are through the roof.”

Another area of focus and measureable success for SWAC members are the organized Styrofoam drop-offs. SWAC members say they realize the drop-offs locations are costly, at $250 per drop-off, and time-consuming.

However, according to Susan Rittling, a SWAC member, what started as a “publicity gimmick” is keeping Styrofoam out of residents’ blue carts or recycling bins.

At the last meeting in late January, Rittling and Cynthia Snow, another committee member, were among the volunteers who gave their weekend to host the event. They recall hours of standing in the cold stripping pieces of tape off Styrofoam materials so over 400 pounds of it could be disposed of properly.

“By making a big deal about the drop-off, we were trying to emphasize the message, ‘Don’t put it in your cart,’” Dempsey said. “People got so jazzed by the idea of us properly recycling expanded polystyrene [Styrofoam] they started to expect drop-offs every few months, or at least once a year.”

Dempsey said they have helped create a culture of recycling in town.

Brookline residents recently got all local businesses to switch from plastic to paper bags, and paper cups have replaced Styrofoam.

“As far as I can see, people have adapted pretty well,” Dempsey said.

While waiting to see how the curbside collection goes in Cambridge, the SWAC will also continue efforts to start a program for swap shops to get reusable clothes and furniture out of the waste stream and into the hands of those in need.