By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers)
Protecting the environment and making your daily life easier do not have to be in conflict. As more and more people realize the importance of being green, making environmentally friendly choices is becoming simpler and more accessible. It’s that last part, accessibility, where government can step in and make the green choice the easy choice. Take the zero-sort recycling program that Somerville fully adopted in October 2011. Within nine months of eliminating the need to separate cans and bottles from paper and cardboard when recycling at home, the city’s recycling totals increased by 51 percent.
However, until recently the city only accepted household electronics for recycling at special drop-off events a couple of times per year. While TVs and computer monitors could be placed curbside on trash day, getting rid of old laptops, VCRs or DVD players, keyboards, telephones, printers and even small appliances like blenders or toasters meant finding a place in your home to set these items aside until the next hazardous waste event rolled around—or worse, just tossing them away in the trash.
No more. Now residents can recycle these items any weekday by dropping them off at the DPW Yard at 1 Franey Road. In addition to the items I just mentioned, networking equipment, electronic instrumentation, copiers and scanners, projectors, battery backups, and electronic and audio equipment can all be recycled by dropping them off as well. All you have to do is show up with proof of residency, such as a utility bill or bank statement with your current address on it, or your business location or license, and you can clean out your house when it’s convenient for you.
This is another step toward making the green choice the easy choice. But we are not only helping the environment. We are helping our bottom line. Because of the high market demand for cathode ray tube (CRT) items like TVs and computer monitors, the city’s new contractor Protek Recycling will not be charging the city for pickup and disposal. We expect to save more than $75,000 per year in electronic waste disposal fees with this change—and the more residents who participate, the more we’ll save—and the more electronics we’ll keep from going to a landfill or incinerator.
That is a familiar story in Somerville—introducing environmentally friendly programs with a pragmatic cost-conscious mindset. Rooftop solar panels on new buildings lower both greenhouse gas emissions and our utility bills. Zero-sort recycling prevents both recyclable items from ending up in landfills and the city from paying more in trash tipping fees. Investing over $7 million five years ago in energy efficiency and clean energy projects in Somerville city buildings has the city on track to reduce our energy use 20 percent by next year, saving $9 million in energy costs so far through our resulting energy performance contract with Honeywell International Inc. Finally, we are working on converting our City’s streetlights to LED, which use less energy and also have less environmental impact when manufactured compared to compact fluorescent bulbs and incandescent bulbs. The changeover to LED bulbs is expected to save the city an additional $200,000 each year in reduced energy costs.
We know that it’s all part of the same story. It is why I established the Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE) in 2006, to ensure that the city identifies opportunities to be both environmentally responsible as well as to benefit from cost savings and that we take full advantage of them. Because when we make the green choice the easy choice, it’s gentler on the environment and gentler on taxpayers’ wallets.
If you prefer to recycle TVs and computers monitors curbside, the city will still pick those items up on your designated trash day. The DPW will also continue to hold hazardous waste events for other items, and electronic items can still be recycled at those events, as well as at monthly weekend drop-off days.
But regardless of when you choose to drop off your electronics, they will all go to the city’s new contractor Protek Recycling, which repairs recycled items in house (not overseas). Protek repairs items that can be salvaged and donates them to nonprofits such as schools and universities, or disassembles them by hand to safely yield recyclable materials that are shipped to manufacturers or refineries for processing and reuse. There is zero waste with this new program. And now that it’s so convenient, there’s zero reason not to participate.