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VCS Recylcing Survey, Part 1

West Tisbury boasts the first recycling center on the Island in the 1970s


Recycling has always been a pretty successful initiative on Martha’s Vineyard despite many difficulties and obstacles which need to be overcome on a day-to-day basis. Even without government mandates many of our business owners, farmers, and individuals have come up with creative ways to reuse and recycle the wastes we generate. Much of the Vineyard is now served by haulers who pick up recyclables in what is called “single stream” recycling; essentially a mixing of the commonly recycled materials which are then transported off-island to facilities where the recyclables are sorted into similar waste streams for further processing and reuse. The facilities do this sorting using conveyor belts, magnets, fans and even human power. We seem to be realizing some subtle changes in the way recycling is happening here. The Steamship Authority now has very visible recycling containers at their terminals and recycling is even occurring on some of the boats. More stores are including recycling containers alongside their regular trash containers. Commercial haulers have drastically increased their ability to handle recyclables and will now assist in creating business specific recycling management systems (see the VCS Almanac interviews conducted with our local hauling companies). Solar technology is even being used in Tisbury

and Oak Bluffs for waste management in the form of small solar powered compactor units for trash and recyclables. (These units also reduce the frequency of emptying the containers saving money for the towns). The use of biodegradable materials for food service is increasing all over the island.

But there is still much room for improvement and there are even some setbacks in our efforts to recycle. The Town of Tisbury recently made a few minor changes to its’ curbside collection service which decreased the recyclables handled and Oak Bluffs does not include recyclables in its’ curbside program. Island towns are slowly moving towards the formation of a single waste handling authority but until that happens we will be missing out on cost saving efficiencies as well as potential improvements in recycling options. The use of biodegradables and compostables is surging on the island but we still lack a composting facility to handle these materials. Our Slow Food events and many of our island’s summer happenings are striving to achieve “zero waste” status by setting standards which cause little or no waste to be generated or which seek to recycle all that can conceivably be recycled. VCS has produced a brochure which serves as a zero waste primer of sorts that allows anyone holding an event such as a fair, wedding, or fundraiser to go through the planning process to try to identify ways to minimize waste.

There is no doubt that recyclables have value as the raw materials for other products. Here on the island, their value is also measured by the avoided costs of disposal as a waste material and that is where our recycling efforts provide the greatest benefit.

Recycling has been of great concern to VCS over the years so we decided to conduct a bit of a survey to see if we could identify what we are doing right and maybe find some ways to improve what we are doing. VCS board members and staff designed and conducted this small survey over this past year focusing on recycling efforts and opportunities (or missed opportunities depending on your viewpoint). We visited a wide variety of businesses representing significant diversity in problems, costs and challenges in dealing with waste.

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