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N.H. Towns Running Into Recycling Challenges

Sara Ernst
Reagan Bissonnette from the Northeast Resource Recovery Association speaks with lawmakers at the Legislative Office Building.

Municipal leaders shared information about their recycling practices, and the challenges, at a meeting of the Recycling and Solid Waste Management Committee this week. This group of four lawmakers is tasked with providing recommendations to state officials by Nov. 1st.  

Contamination was an issue of concern for Reagan Bissonnette, the Executive Director of the Northeast Resource Recovery Association. She started off the meeting by sharing a few data points. A contaminated batch of recyclables, which is when residents put non-recyclable materials into recycling bins, is less valuable on the market and harder for municipalities to sell.

Single-stream is often more susceptible to contamination and is the system that approximately 57 percent of New Hampshire residents use. Less than half are responsible for sorting their own recyclables.

Bissonnette says despite the higher risk for contamination, single-stream systems can still be a viable option for larger communities and cities. 

“There are ways to improve single-stream recycling, such as better education and outreach to residents and materials recovery facilities investing in more infrastructure,” said Bissonnette. 

Cost was another common concern among municipalities. In recent years, many towns have faced an increase in costs in order to support their recycling programs. This happened after China, the world’s largest purchaser of scrap paper, stopped accepting many recyclables, including plastics, unsorted mixed paper and textiles in 2018.

Stephen Brewer, the director of Public Works in Raymond, testified at the meeting. 

He said that the amount of trash and recycling produced by residents is projected to decrease from last year. At the same time, the cost of recycling has increased 275 percent since January 2018. The town of Raymond uses a single-stream system. 

“We’re going to spend a lot more money to dispose of less recycling based on the current trends,” said Brewer.

One way to balance the prices is for the state to purchase recycled materials for infrastructure projects and support the recyclables market, according to Bissonnette. 

“Processed crushed glass can actually be used for construction,” said Bissonnette. “ It can be used as a gravel alternative, and a sub-base for retaining walls, foundations and bedding for pipes.”

She also recommended that another way to support sustainable recycling efforts is for the state to set up a Solid Waste Task Force, which the state once had in the early 2000s, and to increase funding for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences. 

“The Department right now is resource-strapped,” said Bissonnette. “They really don’t have the capacity to do as much forward-thinking and planning as they would like to do such as education and technical assistance to municipalities.”

Some initiatives Bissonnette suggested were grants to towns and cities, as well as workshops and webinars for solid waste operators. 


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