WELLFLEET — When it comes to recycling, each Outer Cape town does it a bit differently. This has made the need to adapt systems in response to the coronavirus vary from town to town.
While recycling has not been affected in a major way in Provincetown, Truro, or Eastham, Wellfleet residents have had to hold onto — or just throw away — their recycling since March 27.
One reason Wellfleet is not accepting recycling is that the town has separate compactors for cardboard and mixed paper, plastic and tin, and rigid plastic, while glass and compost have separate bins. Sticking with this sort-separated approach has proved a good thing for the town — financially and environmentally — as the market for single-stream materials has shrunk in recent years. But the physical setup makes it difficult for people to move quickly in and out of the transfer station without congregating in high-traffic areas.
A second issue in Wellfleet, according to foreman Mike Cicale, is that the town has four ground-level compactors that are relatively small. They have to run frequently, increasing wait times and congestion.
“We’re looking at plans on how to delineate that space better with barricades and sawhorses,” Cicale said earlier this month.
One reason Provincetown decided to continue curbside recycling pickup during the pandemic, said DPW Director Richard Waldo, is precisely because “we didn’t want people huddling around the hopper.” He said that, in determining recycling capacity, the size of the compactor is less important than the size of the hopper (which holds recycling before emptying it into the compactor) and trailer (which holds the compacted recycling). Waldo said that Provincetown has an 8-to-10-yard hopper and 100-yard trailer.
While Eastham has similar sort-separated recycling facilities to Wellfleet, it has not had any problems with social distancing, according to DPW Director Silvio Genao, although he continues to monitor the situation.
Cicale, who worked at the Eastham Transfer Station years ago, confirmed Waldo’s point, explaining why Eastham may have been able to maintain its recycling services: “They have essentially the same type of compactors we have,” he said, “but they have a large hopper on top so that they can handle a lot of material at once.”
At the Truro Transfer Station, said DPW Director Jarrod Cabral, there are two single-stream recycling compactors accessible to both businesses and the public, one small (three-yard capacity) and one large (seven-yard capacity). Cabral said that he has not had any trouble with people congregating around the recycling station.
Wellfleet may be close to a solution. Cicale said last week that the town was planning to switch temporarily to single-stream recycling, using all four compactors as well as two dumpsters. That way residents will be able to drop off their recycling quickly while maintaining social distance.
Before the recycling area can reopen, however, Cicale said a few things need to happen, including signage and procuring more dumpsters.
“Eventually, the rest of the station is going to open, so I don’t want to modify the structure so much that I back myself into a corner,” Cicale said. “We also have very little money to spend.” As of April 27, Cicale was unsure of the exact reopening date, but said he believed it would be within two weeks.
Lydia Vivante, co-chair of the Wellfleet Recycling Committee, said that she understood the need to do single-stream under the circumstances, even though it is more wasteful. She nevertheless implored that Cicale consider reinstituting composting (a service that is also currently suspended), glass, and cardboard first, as they can be processed locally.
In the meantime, she recommended that people compost at home, avoid plastic packaging, use cardboard for gardening, and reuse containers as much as possible.