CITY OFFICIALS FACE some difficult decisions ahead regarding the future of recycling in Manchester.

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Residents should see an outreach program launch later this summer, informing them that blue carts containing items with “significant contamination” will not be collected for recycling. Instead, they’ll be slapped with a rejection sticker and left curbside.

Blame greasy pizza boxes, China and policy changes regarding the quality of recyclables that have disrupted the international market.

Mark Gomez, environmental programs manager for the Public Works Department, went before aldermen last week to give an update on the city’s recycling program.

“I thought it was important to start the conversation,” said Gomez. “There are going to be some very tough decisions to make in the next year and a half.”

Like many cities, Manchester runs a single-stream curbside recycling program — all recyclables are placed together in one container for collection and subsequent separation at a materials recovery facility (MRF).

Pinard Waste Systems is contracted to collect trash and recyclables in the Queen City. Casella Waste Systems operates the MRF in Charlestown, Mass., where Manchester’s recyclables are processed for market.

According to Gomez, Manchester has been very successful at increasing recycling rates since the introduction of single-stream recycling in 2012. Annual curbside recycling has grown by about 2,000 tons — or over 40%.

But on the flip side, evidence suggests contamination — the presence of prohibited items inside the recycling container — is much higher in single-stream programs. In some communities, as much as 25% of material placed for collection does not belong in the recycling cart.

“People may not know specifically what things are causing contamination,” said Alderman Bill Shea.

“A pizza box is a classic example,” said Gomez. “If there’s a little contamination it’s okay, but if it’s drenched in grease, it’s not tolerable.”

Until recently, high levels of contamination were tolerated by MRFs — they exported most U.S. recyclables to China, where demand for raw material, low labor costs and minimal environmental regulations made accepting the contamination feasible.

In 2017, China began changing policies regarding contaminated recyclables. It has since imposed a series of strict controls, and recycling processors have been forced to divert most material to less lucrative markets, sometimes at a loss. This cost was then passed on to cities and haulers through rising fees at the MRF.

According to Gomez, for many years, fees paid to the MRF for Manchester’s recyclables ranged from $0 to $40 per ton. Over the past year and a half, Gomez reports they have hovered around $100 a ton.

Last week, Gomez told aldermen the city’s financial exposure to this issue has been capped under the current contract at just under $20,000 per month, in the form of lost revenues. The remaining costs — in the neighborhood of $30,000 per month over the past 18 months — have been absorbed by Pinard Waste.

Under the current collection agreement and market conditions, the city’s total contracting costs to operate the recycling program come to about $1.2 million per year.

Gomez said in May that Casella Waste Systems announced recycling loads with significant contamination would be hit with additional fees. To minimize the number of loads of Queen City trash hit with fees, Pinard Waste plans to step up enforcement efforts on contaminated recyclables starting next month.

“We are a little bit under the gun in terms of the outreach piece of this,” said Gomez. “We weren’t given a whole lot of warning but we’re working diligently to put together something that’s clear and consistent, rather than rush something out there. I think you’ll see something in the next couple of weeks.”

Enforcement activities include:

• Emptying carts with minor contamination and attaching a warning sticker

• Not emptying carts with significant contamination and attaching a rejection sticker

• Carts with “persistent, unresolved issues” being taken back by the city

According to Gomez, the contract with Pinard Waste Systems for curbside collection of recyclables expires Dec. 31, 2020.

“Although there is an option to extend for five years, it is unlikely that Pinard Waste would elect to exercise the option under the existing terms,” said Gomez.

In terms of the future of recycling in the Queen City, Gomez believes there are three basic options before the aldermen:

1) Keep the current recycling program (estimated to cost between $250,000 and $500,000 more per year, beginning 2021)

2) Suspend curbside recycling (approximately $700,000 per year in net savings, but which could lead to faster depletion of natural resources, potential increase in pollution and energy use)

3) Otherwise modify the current program

Expect conversations to continue on the topic over the next year.

In a City Hall exclusive, Mayor Joyce Craig is set to launch her “12 Wards in 12 Days” tour Monday, July 15, coinciding with her officially filing for reelection.

From July 15 to July 26, Craig will attend community events and make stops in all 12 wards, meeting with voters in their neighborhoods, listening to their ideas and concerns. She will also recognize the work of a supporter from each ward through social media posts.

“Through my first term, we’ve held more than 25 community meetings across the city and worked to ensure city government is accessible for all residents,” said Craig. “By working together, we’ve made great progress strengthening our public schools, growing our economy, and combating the opioid epidemic. In these visits in all 12 wards over the next 12 days, we’ll continue meeting residents in their own neighborhoods and discussing how we can continue making Manchester stronger.”

The “12 Wards in 12 Days” tour will kick off in Ward 8 with a stop at Crystal Lake Park on July 15. Other plans include stops in local businesses and community events, door to door canvassing, and community clean ups.

Craig’s opponent, Republican former state Rep. Victoria Sullivan, picked up two big endorsements last week supporting her run for mayor.

Former four-term mayor and current Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas endorsed Sullivan, saying Manchester taxpayers need a mayor who will “put politics aside and do what is right.”

“We cannot afford record breaking tax increases and budget breaking deals,” said Gatsas in a statement. “Now more than ever we need a mayor who will protect taxpayers, and Victoria Sullivan will do just that.”

Late last week Bettie Lamontagne, school teacher, leader within the Manchester Federation of Republican Women, and wife of former 2012 Republican nominee for governor Ovide Lamontagne also endorsed Sullivan for mayor.

“After speaking with Victoria about the important issues facing Manchester, I am truly convinced that she is the right individual to lead our city,” said Lamontagne. She will bring the passion we need to improve education, address public safety concerns, and lower taxes. The Queen City is at a crossroads, but her best days are ahead. I am confident that Victoria Sullivan has what it takes to put Manchester on a track that will result in a better city for current and future generations.”

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.

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