The Environment Committee conducted a public meeting on Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 5:05 p.m. in the Sullivan Chamber.
The purpose of the meeting was to conduct a public meeting to discuss implementation of a plan for separate trash or recycling curbside pickup for small businesses along existing curbside routes.
Present at the meeting were Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, Chair of the Committee; Councillor Leland Cheung; Councillor Tim Toomey; Richard Rossi, Assistant City Manager; Lisa Peterson, Commissioner of Public Works; John Fitzgerald, Environmental Services Manager; John Nardone, DPW Operations Commissioner; Randi Mail, Recycling Director; Kevin Douglas, Russell Disposal; Adam Mitchell, Save That Stuff; Quinton Zondervan, Green Cambridge; Terrance Smith, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce; Judith Nathans, Cambridge Advisory Recycling Committee; Juliana Lyman, Cambridge Advisory Recycling Committee; Robert Winters, Cambridge Advisory Recycling Committee; David Stern, Cambridge Resident; Jason Alves, Aide to Councillor Toomey; Meg Montgomery, Aide to Councillor Cheung; Savitri Khalsa, Aide to Councillor vanBeuzekom.
Councillor vanBeuzekom welcomed all present and noted that this meeting was convened to discuss the possibility of implementing a plan for trash or recycling curbside pickup for small businesses along existing curbside routes. The committee was referred a Council Order (Attachment A) originally submitted by Councillor Toomey that requested the City of Cambridge consider a consolidation of recycling and/or trash haulers for residential and commercial areas of the Cambridge community. The city manager submitted in response to this council order request a preliminary analysis report from Public Works Commissioner Lisa Peterson with his advisement that he did not recommend the implementation of such a program based on the estimated costs noted in the preliminary analysis. (Attachment B).
Councillor vanBeuzekom agreed that the city picking up trash was not feasible, but called this meeting to explore if picking up recycling for small businesses. Picking up recycling for businesses could increase recycling rates, decrease truck traffic, improve air quality, and decrease congestion.
Recycling Director Randi Mail provided a map (Attachment C) that documented the
Number of Businesses Located within City Regions By Trash Day.
Commissioner Lisa Peterson reviewed for everyone present key points of the report that was prepared in response to the Council Order, noting it was a very preliminary investigation of what operational costs, financial costs and general implications come into play when considering implementing a curbside pickup for small businesses along existing routes. She noted that the data on "small businesses" within the city is limited and therefore the public works department made several "assumptions." One being that this service would be added along every residential street and encompass approximately 1,835 businesses.
In relation to picking up recycling, some of the key points were this:
- The city presently picks up approximately 9,000 tons of recycling/year from residents and municipal buildings.
- Using the estimate of 150 pounds per business/week, picking up citywide small business recycling would add an additional 7,000 tons of recycling /year to that which the city presently picks up. This is about an 80% increase in recycling picked up by the city.
- At a rate of $160/ton, just the cost of picking up this quantity of recycling would be $1.12 million.
- In this year's contract for recyclable processing with Casella, the city gets a rebate for recyclable materials. The rate is $13/ton. So, for example, 7,000 tons of recycled materials pays back to the city $91,000. This revenue subtracted from the cost provides a net cost for picking up recyclables from small businesses that is close to $1.02 million/year. ($1.12 million - $91,000 = cost for pick up is $1.02 million).
- Selling recyclables does not generate a constant revenue stream. The price per ton for revenue from recyclables is quite variable because of market conditions. For example, in July, the city actually had to pay Casella instead of receiving a rebate.
- Toters for businesses recycling would be a one-time cost of $200,000 ($54/toter x 2 toters/business x 1,835 businesses).
Rich Rossi noted that in the past, the total volume of trash within the city was generated in this way:
1/3 from city residents/city buildings
1/3 from universities
1/3 from private businesses
He noted these ratios may no longer apply. He also noted that in any program of this sort, it is very important that the businesses "get on board" with the concept. Lisa Peterson confirmed that the correct incentive(s) need to be in place in order to entice businesses to participate.
Randi Mail added that the value of recycling rebates vary dramatically.
She presented a chart (Attachment D) that contains City of Cambridge historical data (Nov, 2010 through July, 2012) documenting recycling since its implementation of single-stream recycling. This chart shows the number of tons of city-served curbside trash collected each month, the number of tons of single-stream recycling collected each month, the total recycling revenue paid to the city each month, and the per ton rebate rate paid to the city.
A general discussion regarding the data in this chart noted several things. The quantity of single stream recycling remains relatively constant (between 675 - 850 tons/month), while the per ton rebate rate paid to the city for this recycling varies dramatically. The revenue per ton rebate has run as low as negative $2.25 (July, 2012) to as high as positive $27.13 (August, 2011).
Randi Mail noted that the rate for single-source recyclables varies depending on the material within the stream, the material's market value, and the percent of that material within the recycling stream. She gave the example, that while aluminum (one of the materials collected) has a high material market value; it is not a high percentage within the waste stream. The composition of the recyclables and the market for each recyclable material therefore dictates the rebate rate per ton returned to the city. For this reason, Lisa Peterson noted that the city budgets very conservatively its expected revenue from recyclables to be $20,000/year.
The composition of recyclables was talked about. Randi Mail noted that generally Cambridge recyclable composition is 60% Paper/Cardboard and 40% Bottles/Cans. Lisa Peterson said any offering of business recycling would require a waste audit of selected businesses. Quinton Zondervan, Green Cambridge, noted that there is quite a broad difference in needs for recycling depending upon the type of business. Some businesses have 5 soda cans at the end of the week, while others, like a business he ran, required an entire dumpster just for the collection of cardboard. He noted having a lease in which the building landlord is responsible for trash and recycling is more efficient.
Councillor Toomey noted that while he appreciated this discussion, but the goals of his original order were in response to concerns from residents and business owners in the Cambridge Street area of East Cambridge. He has noted that on trash day in this area, there are far too many vehicles on the street. He asked the following questions and expressed the following concerns. "If you look at the data map for pick-ups you'll notice that the area from Lechmere Square to Inman Square has the highest number of businesses contained in one area (565 businesses). Can the city do something to reduce the congestion, the number of vehicles, the number of vehicle trips and as a benefit improve the air quality in this neighborhood? Can the city better coordinate all these haulers? In the past, there was a fee paid by businesses for the city to pick up trash. Can the city pursue reducing perhaps 50% of the traffic? This is a cost that is worth bearing for the residents of Cambridge."
Terri Smith, the Director of Government Affairs for the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Councillor vanBeuzekom noting recycling for businesses is a great idea. He pointed out though, there needs to be a clear understanding of how to approach this possibility. Lots of challenges exist. For example, many businesses do not even have the required space needed to store on site recycling toters. Councillor vanBeuzekom poised the idea that the city didn't need to provide toters - but could charge businesses for the toters - as part of a reasonable fee for participating in a recycling program.
A discussion in relation to a question posed by Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom followed.
"How well are the city and its business owners doing complying with the city's Recycling Ordinance?"
All members of the meeting participated in this discussion. Important background was communicated by all stakeholders, city executive staff, city DPW staff, members of the Cambridge Advisory Recycling Committee, city councillors, business representatives, environmental activists, and several hauler/recycling company representatives.
Lisa Peterson noted that there are lots of issues that need resolution. The current recyclable ordinance is mandatory for any business that has greater than 5% of recyclable material in the waste stream. The ordinance requests businesses to submit a plan for its recyclables to the city. The compliance portion of this ordinance is about 15 years old, is out-of-date and needs updating. The city has not been enforcing recycling for businesses. It also has not been collecting any data. Regulation and education was more effectively carried out several years ago when there was a DEP-funded commercial enforcement recycling person working on the issue.
The city offers a drop-off center for businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Haulers that collect trash are required to provide recycling services as well to all businesses. Some of the bigger businesses and the educational institutions such as Harvard and MIT do a great job complying and have successful onsite recycling programs in place.
Both Randi Mail and Juliana Lyman, from the Cambridge Advisory Recycling Committee noted that 2 years ago they attempted to collect data regarding business recycling. In 2010, changes to hauler's license required haulers to provide recycling services and a list of customers to the city. Randi and Juliana worked with the License Commission to get from all the Haulers a list of their clients. There were many challenges with compiling this data, including many haulers subcontract their work (data missing); there are often many businesses in one location (data aggregated when it needs to be separated); and technically the submission of the data was not in a cohesive form that could be easily merged into one usable database. Given these obstacles to a good data set, the results of this data showed that at least 35% of commercial businesses do not have a recycling program in place.
Next, followed a discussion of all the pros/cons and challenges that arise when considering adding business recycling pick up to the present recycling contract which is just for residential recycling curbside pick up.
One obstacle to businesses recycling is that many choose not to participate for a variety of reasons. Quinton Zondervan, Green Cambridge, noted that he has been partnering with the DPW to educate businesses to the pros of and the how-to's of recycling. He states some businesses level of recycling is so small, it makes sense to allow them to be considered part of the "residential recycling" pick up.
Cambridge resident, David Stern voiced concern that many small business owners, pedestrians with recyclable trash, in the Harvard Square to Porter Square area would really like to do more recycling, but there is a total lack of recycling containers on the streets in this part of Cambridge. He asked, "Can the city do more? Can the city make an overture to small businesses such as Marathon Sports or the Montrose Spa, to assist them in recycling? Can the city place recycling toters for motivated recyclers to use in this part of town?"
Cambridge Advisory Recycling Committee member Robert Winters noted that it seems very illogical to have individual business plans submit recycling plans in locations where for example, there are multiple businesses within one building, or for a strip of businesses. There should simply be a "building plan" for recycling or a "strip of businesses plan" for recycling in that area.
Adam Mitchell, from Save That Stuff, pointed out that there are two different key ideas contained within this discussion on Cambridge businesses recycling. It is important to clarify each idea.
1) Access to recyclable services. Versus 2) Choosing to access recyclable services.
One suggestion for increasing and encouraging business recycling was to increase the recycling rate by technical enforcement and by having inspectional services for example, go over a simple recycling checklist of what businesses must do. This checklist would review the basics with a business and communicate that they are expected to recycle by checking that obvious elements of a plan are in place, i.e. recycling containers, sticker with posted schedule for pick up, etc.
Councillor Toomey asked why people do not want to recycle. Individuals replied, small business owners often say, they are too busy, they do not have enough time, they do not enough space, and it is too costly to do. Noted again, were that businesses have to want to recycle. Impediments to recycling need to be cleared. For example, ordinances that require trash/recycling be placed on the curb before the business opens in the morning basically keeps businesses from recycling. On the other hand, a recent dumpster ordinance has been extremely helpful. The city can continue to look into how it can do things "differently" in order to assist efforts toward recycling.
Councillor vanBeuzekom asked Kevin Douglas, from Russell Disposal whether he thought reducing the number of vehicles for picking up recycling from Cambridge businesses could be achieved and if excess capacity existed for picking up recycling from businesses. He noted that some days were busier than others, so his company could possibly pick up more. He also felt that more trucks would be on the road if the city selected to use one recycling hauler for businesses.
Cambridge Advisory Recycling Committee member Robert Winters encouraged the city to think creatively about this challenge. Instead of implementing broad citywide policies, work together with specific neighborhoods or strip of stores and address the challenges unique to each. Choose solutions that address each problem individually. In response to trash haulers picking up all day long, he suggested the city consider asking haulers to pick up all within the same limited window of time.
Adam Mitchell noted that while waiting for this meeting he noticed 4 different mail delivery trucks arriving at City Hall and across the way 5 different food delivery trucks arriving for a restaurant. He asked why the city was focusing on hauler's trucks specifically, while the delivery and pick-up trucks for other industries came and went all day long unregulated. If we are targeting truck traffic we may be choosing the wrong type of vehicle.
Assistant City Manager Rich Rossi acknowledged that recycling for Cambridge businesses is not a simple issue of regulating the number of trucks along a specific corridor. The entire topic is a complex one that, if given some time, he would be willing to brainstorm an interim strategy with the Department of Public Works staff Lisa Peterson, John Fitzgerald, John Nardone, and Randi Mail. It was noted by those present that this problem may best be worked on in conjunction with all stakeholders - the City officials/employees, the many businesses within the Chamber of Commerce, the Recycling Advisory Committee, residents, and the Recycling/Hauler agencies.
Councillor vanBeuzekom noted that she would look to Assistant City Manager Rich Rossi and staff for their assistance in improving business recycling within the city and reducing recycling truck traffic. She then thanked all those who attended the meeting for their input on this topic.
The meeting concluded at 6:15 p.m.
For the Committee,
Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, Chair