Environmental inspectors Steven Badessa and Al Giuliano trudged up Pavilion Avenue one frigid morning last week and peered into recycling bins placed at the curb for pickup. The first blue lid they flipped open revealed a cluster of single-use plastic bags holding a bunch of bottles and cans. “There’s too many plastic bags,” Giuliano said, as Badessa jotted down notes on a clipboard. The inspectors left a tag on the bin describing what can and can’t be recycled, and marked the bin so that the recycling truck would not pick it up when it made the rounds later that morning.
Then they continued up the street, their breath visible in the cold air, inspecting and marking bins, leaving untouched those that passed the test. “The purpose is, we’re looking at contamination within our recycling stream,” said Francisco Ramirez, associate director of environmental control with the Providence Department of Public Works. “We’re trying to rid the contamination.”
Teams of environmental inspectors regularly sweep city neighborhoods in this way, checking to see if residents are recycling correctly, and attempting to educate those who are not. If an area has repeated violations, inspectors will start to issue $50 fines to residents who don’t follow the rules of recycling. “Really, what we want is compliance, at the end of the day,” Ramirez said.
Last year, inspectors issued 4,435 warnings and 2,997 fines to residents as part of the recycling inspection program, according to Ramirez. Recycling is mandatory in Rhode Island, and the City of Providence has an incentive to recycle often and recycle right.
The city must pay $47 a ton to deposit waste at the state landfill in Johnston, Ramirez said. Recycling, though, is free, as long as the loads are not too contaminated with items that can’t be recycled through the state’s mixed recycling stream.
The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, the center that processes all of the state’s recycling, can reject any truckload that contains more than 10 percent non-recyclable items, said Krystal Noiseux, education and outreach manager at the center. But more typically, the center accepts loads that contain up to 30 or 40 percent non-recyclable materials, she said.