While Yale students get their game face on for Recyclemania, the national intercollegiate recycling competition currently taking place, New Haven has already hosted its own version.
Between Oct. 28 and Jan. 28, the New Haven Office of Sustainability held a competition between different trash-pickup routes for the highest recycling rate — the percentage of items recycled out of all the waste produced.
The competition is only one step in in the city’s agenda to make New Haven more sustainable. According to Christine Eppstein Tang, director of the New Haven Office of Sustainability, the city is aiming for 30 percent curbside recycling by 2012 and 58 percent by 2020.
“[Recycling] is not only good for the environment, but can also be a significant revenue for [the city], given the state of our budget. It’s really a win-win for everyone,” said Matt Smith, Ward 9 alderman and also a resident along the Tuesday route.
At the conclusion of the three-month competition, the Tuesday trash collection route emerged victorious with a 10.42 percent recycling rate, beating the closest rival neighborhood by just 0.35 percent.
Members of the Tueday route won not only bragging rights, but also new 48-gallon brown trash cans for garbage, allowing them to now use their old blue 96-gallon trash cans for recycling.
“[The larger cans] make the message clear and gives [people] more space to recycle,” said Tang. “When you are running out of space in your trash bin [you] are thinking twice about what [you] are throwing away.”
“Significant cost savings make recycling particularly appealing,” Smith added. The diposal of a ton of garbage costs the city $87.50, while a ton of recycling costs $36.80, saving the city $50.70 per ton diverted to recycling. Additionally, the city receives $28 per ton of recycling, Smith said.
But the Tuesday-route neighborhoods are not the first to have the small-garbage, large-recycling can system. Last August, the system was tried on the Monday route because it had the highest recycling rate. In three months, the Monday route’s recycling rate tripled from 9 percent to 27 percent, said Smith. Since then, the rate has increased to around 30.01 percent, according the city’s recycling website.
Many city households still have the old combination of a big garbage toter for trash and a small bin for recycling, which Smith said can contribute to bad recycling habits.
“[The 96-gallon containers] were so big that people were throwing their garbage and their recycling into it. So it was decreasing the recycling rate,” Smith said.
Tang said the Connecticut State Solid Waste Management Plan aims to reach 58 percent recycling by 2024.
East Rock resident Heidi Richard said she thinks the goals could be achieved even earlier than expected. Richard, another member of the winning Tuesday route, added that she might be being a little too optimistic, since educating the public about recycling requires resources that the city does not currently have.
“With any initiative with any community, it needs to be a partnership between the residents and the municipality,” she said.
Tang said she agreed.
“Some people see recycling as an option. In state of Connecticut, not recycling is illegal. [But] our goal is not to fine our residents. We want to provide all the resources so our focus is on education,” Tang added.
Other parts of the agenda include last year’s introduction of single-stream recycling, which allows people to put all types of recyclables in one container, and the city’s effort to integrate businesses into the expanding recycling program.
“My next big recycling project is trying to be sure that large departments and buildings know that the city can pick up their recycling if they choose,” said Smith in reference to the recently passed initiative that specifies that the city will pick up recycling from buildings with more than six units for a discounted price of $225.
The residents along the Tuesday route will receive their new toters in April, and the city hopes to implement the program in full by next spring.