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Wilmington to enforce mandatory recycling

Starting this summer, Wilmington residents will face an ultimatum - recycle, or else.

Notices have gone out to residents that mandatory recycling, which has been on the books for more than 20 years, will be enforced starting July 1. Those who fail to recycle will no longer have their trash picked up.

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“I think there are a lot of people that are recycling and that are being very responsible about the disposal of their trash. We just want to do things a little better,’’ said Wilmington Town Manager Michael A. Caira. “This is giving notice to those folks who have not caught up with the times that it’s time to start recycling.’’

Wilmington is the latest community to crack down on recycling scofflaws, modeling its enforcement efforts after those recently adopted by Reading and Danvers, said Donald N. Onusseit, Wilmington’s public works superintendent. Spurred by the necessity to reduce operating costs and to honor commitments to environmental initiatives, communities that adopted recycling programs as far back as the 1990s now look to stronger enforcement.

“Like everything else, when times get tough, you find ways to save money and improve your operations,’’ said Jeffrey T. Zager, public works director in Reading, where recycling enforcement began in October 2010. “It was a little hard, but we had the support of the town manager and selectmen because they knew they were going to get some calls. It took us a couple of months to get over the hump.’’

Initially, a few Reading residents resisted the change, asserting the town could not force them to recycle, but Zager said that eventually the calls ebbed after the realization set in that their trash would not be collected.

“It was risky, but it was something that we knew we’d get calls on,’’ Zager said. “It cemented the fact that now it’s part of doing business, an everyday part of life. . . . From where we started the program in October 2010 until now, we’ve given out 4,000 [recycling] bins. It shows how many people were recycling, and also how many people weren’t recycling.’’

‘I don’t want this to be punitive; we’d just like to see it improve.’

Michael T. Caira Town manager
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Before Reading began enforcement, including switching from biweekly to weekly recycling collection, about 18 percent of its trash was being recycled. By December 2011, 35 percent of solid waste was being recycled, saving the town close to $150,000 in trash collection costs that first year, Zager said.

As part of its focus on recycling, Reading officials also enacted a four-bag limit on trash per household.

Mandatory recycling may irk some folks, but when enforced, it can yield almost immediate results, as has been the case in Danvers, where enforcement began in January with the expansion to weekly recycling, and the warning of no trash collection without recycling participation. Just one month after the enforcement program, the town’s recycling tonnage was up 25 percent compared with the same time last year, said David B. Lane, Danvers’ public works director.

“For some, a few in the minority, it was, ‘What do you mean we have to recycle?’ ,’’ Lane said. “I’d tell them, ‘You must be able to find something and put it in that recycle bucket.’ I can’t believe people can’t find one piece of paper and a can. . . . We got 10 to 20 calls that first week, and that has whittled down to five. Everybody’s recycling. We’re out there doing the count.’’

In Wilmington, calls have already started pouring in now that word of the impending enforcement is making its way around town, Caira said.

“I don’t want this to be punitive; we’d just like to see it improve. This is something that I see, and I know it’s an overused expression, but it’s a win-win,’’ Caira said. “It’ll benefit the town in terms of savings, and it’ll benefit the environment, and that’ll benefit the individual.’’

A 2010 survey revealed that about one-third of Wilmington residents were not recycling, Onusseit said. This persuaded the town to go with a more aggressive enforcement action.

“What we’ve told [residents] is we’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking for the effort, and hope to build on that,’’ Onusseit said. “Recycling has been around for so many years, it’s kind of hard to believe that people don’t know this is what they have to do. It saves us about $70 for every ton of trash.’’

Currently, the town pays an average $630,000 per year for solid waste collection. When yard waste is factored in, about 35 percent of Wilmington’s trash is recycled, but without yard waste, it’s only about 15 percent, Onusseit said.

“The 35 percent is good, but the 15 percent could be better,’’ he said. “I would think 25 percent is very doable. I think we should meet that by summer. . . . It’s not difficult. Once you start doing it, it becomes second nature.’’

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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