The Clean Water Blog

Dealing with Waste in the Ocean State

As the 2014 legislative session approaches, one key question bubbling in the Ocean State is what we will do to reduce waste in the most innovative ways.

We’re pushing for a multi-tiered plan featuring the best ideas from local experts and cities and states across the country, which are making real progress toward zero waste. Because of your support, Clean Water Action continues to make a critical contribution in Rhode Island to building a sound, long term solid waste management strategy that incorporates Producer responsibility, expansion of composting and the diversion of organic waste, increased recycling in the business community and in public spaces across Rhode Island, and the development of a zero waste policy statewide. There is a lot to do, but with your help, we’ll transform Rhode Island’s waste system.

This interview with Sarah Kite, Director of Recycling Services at the Rhode Island Resource and recovery Corporation is the first in a Clean Water Action series on Waste in RI: Charting a Sustainable Future, that Clean Water Action will present  over the upcoming weeks.  RIRRC owns and operates the State's only landfill, located in Johnston, RI.

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Sarah Kite has been Director of Recycling Services at RIRRC for seven years.  She is responsible for programs and operations, she is a lobbyist for the  RIRRC and manages Public relations and advertising strategies for RIRRC.

Clean Water Action: Sarah, tell us about this landfill?

SARA: This is a sanitary landfill that collects non-hazardous waste.  It is doubled lined, which is the norm, and critical to this site, since the landfill is built on a former quarry.  Every day, everything except medical and hazardous materials are brought into the site, including leaf and yard waste, appliances, tires, scrap wood, books textiles.  While this does not all go into the landfill, we sort out as much as possible for recycling and we rely on our customers to sort materials before it arrives here.

Clean Water Action:  Can average Rhode Islanders come here and bring recyclable materials?

SARAH: Yes, there is a public drop off area and any Rhode Island resident can use it.  We collect bottles and cans, motor oil, clean wood, leaf and yard waste, and electronics, among other things, listed at our website (http://www.rirrc.org/sva).   No appointment is necessary;  The Central Landfill accepts waste Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., and on Saturday from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. We accept credit/debit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover), cash, check, and money orders made out to RIRRC as payment for disposal services and residential compost.

Clean Water Action: What is in Rhode Island's waste?

SARAH:  While we have not conducted a waste composition study of the landfill since 1990, based upon EPA estimates for a state our size, we believe that 25% is organic waste, 25-30% is paper and packaging waste, 8% is durables and the balance is electronics, construction and demolition debris, metals and glass.  Right now there is a focus nationally to divert food and organic waste from landfills.  More and more communities are adding the diversion of food waste to their waste collections streams.  Many questions about this still remain;  how to divert this type of waste? Can we convert it to energy?

The State of Connecticut has implemented a food scrap diversion law, and Rep. Donna Walsh (D-Charlestown) has introduced a similar bill in RI to mimic the Connecticut law.  This may be the start of diverting food waste.

Clean Water Action: How can we encourage more recycling in Rhode Island?

SARAH: Recycling is getting into the social norms of the State.  From 1988 forward, "RI Recycles"  - and this is a normal part of life and this is what we do here.  Rhode Islanders can follow RIRRC on our website, where we have recycling videos, or folks can follow us on our You Tube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/RIRRC), where we have videos on Eco-depot, composting and other recycling topics.

We also need to work with businesses, to identify what is in their waste streams, and enforce the 1996 law requiring recycling in Rhode Island.

Clean Water Action: Sarah, what is the future of solid waste management in Rhode Island?  What is a long term strategy for reducing and diverting waste?

SARAH:  The RI Department of Administration,  Statewide Planning Program is in the middle of preparing the Solid Waste Plan, which will be finalized by December 2014.  This plan is very important, because the plan will serve RI for for 20 years and the life of the landfill is currently projected at 25 years. We have to ID the path to the future of solid waste management in RI.  Costs are not going down;  how do we fund a waste management in plan in RI?   What makes sense?  What is cost effective today?

In the short term, we can maintain the status quo: with 25 years life on the landfill, we can continue waste reduction programs, expand producer responsibility programs, increase composting and eliminate commercial materials from the landfill.

In the long term, we need to look at new technologies for waste management, waste to energy options, zero waste policies, out of state facilities or even expanding the landfill.  Time is very important; we need more investigation in the next 5 years.  The current fee of $32 a ton tipping fee for RI municipalities is just about over.

Clean Water Action: How has single stream recycling been working since it was introduced last year?

SARAH: Single stream has been working very well. In Fiscal Year 2013, we had an 11% increase in recycling and in Fiscal Year 2104, we have seen a 25% increase in recycling.  So we think is it fantastic and is working as promised!