An increased volume of trash following Christmas is an indication of an improved economy, not just a last-minute online shopping frenzy in a shortened holiday shopping season, said a waste and recycling company executive.
Joseph Fusco, a vice president at Casella, which handles trash and recycling collections for a number of communities in New Hampshire, including Concord, said trash is a measure of the state of the economy, although it is actually "a lagging economic indicator."
Fusco said: "We're the end of a stream."
In a recession, he said, volume decreases. But as it eases, if somebody gets a job in June, by December he feels confident enough to buy a new big-screen TV. And if not for Christmas, by the time of the Super Bowl, said Fusco.
That cardboard, foam and other packing material contributes to volume, if not significantly to tonnage, at this time of year.
Manchester Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard agreed.
"December, January and February are among our lighter months (for weight), less than an average month," he said.
But, he said: "The volume is up. Not everybody is recycling."Sheppard said it may be online shopping, or the cartons and boxes with foam or air-filled cushioning could be coming from a local store. "Those are very light things, but the volume at the curb is up."
Pinard Waste Systems President/CEO Rob Allgaier confirmed the increased volume. Pinard picks up Manchester's recycling and has contracts with nine other New Hampshire communities.
Allgaier said there is a significant increase in volume every year around the holidays. Wrapping paper, cards, corrugated cardboard.
"It would seem to me, retail or online (shopping), the week after Christmas the increase in volume is up phenomenally," he said.
Looking back over a decade, he said: "When the economy was better, there was more. … It does show up in the waste stream."
Fusco's firm, based in Rutland, Vt., operates all phases of the business: collections, transfer stations, recycling facilities and landfills. "It's a window on human activity," he said. "All of it ends up on the curb."
Fusco said the week before Christmas, as well as the week after, have an increase in packaging materials. "Christmas is an economic force of its own. It has an impact. It's a week that looks different."
Fusco said since his company deals with more than just weekly trash and recycling collections, he sees other economic indicators.
When the economy slows, he said: "There is less home renovation, construction, demolition." Again, a lagging economic indicator, but an indicator nonetheless.
There's no question that recycling is easier in some communities than others. "We have 65-gallon carts," said Allgaier, which can handle most recycling needs year round, although cardboard needs to be broken down. "We have a very aggressive service," he said. "Just about every town (in contract) has pretty comprehensive recycling," he said, which results in higher volume.
A key to the comprehensive recycling, he said, is making it simple. There was a time when items had to be transported to a town recycling center by the resident and everything had to be sorted into separate bins, including glass by color, aluminum, tin, limited plastics, paper and cardboard separately.
That's changed dramatically, getting simpler and more things being accepted. What began with Boy Scouts collecting and recycling newspapers is far more sophisticated.
"Most recycling programs have gone from a two (stream) to a single stream," said Allgaier. "As long as a processing center doesn't have a problem with it, we don't have a problem," he said. What New Hampshire lacks, he said, is a single-stream processing facility. So Pinard takes its collections out of state to Charlestown, Mass., and Albany, N.Y.
Recycling is no longer local, and it's definitely big business. "The value of the recyclables depends on many factors," said Allgaier. "It's a global market."