Photos from last Tuesday’s pick up route show recycling bins contaminated with non-recyclable items. Submitted photo.

Rejected recycling loads can cost town thousands of dollars

COVENTRY — With contaminated recycling bins being placed curbside more frequently than ever before, Coventry’s director of public works is eager to see amendments made to the town’s solid waste ordinance that would crack down on those violations — especially since multiple rejected recycling loads last month set the town back thousands of dollars.

“Think of the environment, and think of your neighbors,” Public Works Director Kevin McGee said Monday of those who fail to comply with recycling guidelines. “We’re doing everything we can to decrease our sanitation expenses, and this only increases it. Everybody has to pay for this.”

State law mandates that solid waste from cities and towns be separated into recyclable and non-recyclable items. Loads that are too contaminated with non-recyclable items upon delivery to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation facility in Johnston may be rejected, and that can become quite costly for the town.

“It’s the state law [to recycle], and if people consistently don’t comply with it, then it affects every other taxpayer in town,” McGee said. “It has to be stopped.”

The town is assessed a $250 fine each time a load is rejected, and on top of that has to pay a $47-per-ton landfilling fee. 

Compared to 2016 and 2017 — each of which saw only one rejected load from Coventry — 2019 saw 16 loads rejected, with six of those rejections occurring last month alone. The town lost nearly $3,500 because of rejected loads in December, McGee noted.

And so far in 2020, the town has already had one load rejected.

“Either Resource Recovery is looking at Coventry more closely now because we’ve had some rejected loads,” McGee said, “or people in town, the ones who don’t want to comply, are just throwing their trash into the recycling bin.”

On its Facebook page last Tuesday, the Public Works Department shared a couple of photographs from that day’s recycling pick up. In one photo, a recycle bins is stuffed with black trash bags; the other shows wood stove ashes poured over a single-use plastic shopping bag.

In an earlier post from November, photos depict recycling containers full of lumber — which should be brought to the transfer station — and an old stroller.

McGee is given photographs of each load rejected by the recycling facility. He said he sees in those images “everything from plastics to car parts.” Yard debris is another common contaminant, he said, and often the waste is hidden beneath recyclables so it goes unnoticed until it’s too late.

Plastic bags seem to be the most frequent contaminant found in recycling bins, McGee added.

The amendments that have been proposed would “give some teeth” to the town’s solid waste ordinance, said McGee, who called the ordinance as it’s currently written “antiquated.”

The town’s solid waste ordinance hasn’t been revised since before the town implemented its automated collection system in 2016, and there’s currently no enforcement provision for noncompliance.

The proposed amendments, on the other hand, include a system for penalizing residents who fail to comply with the solid waste disposal procedures. For each violation, a resident found in noncompliance would get a sticker attached to his or her bin. That resident would then receive a letter outlining the violations, with a letter sent by certified mail on the fifth offense.

“So after five times that we’ve sent them notifications, the sixth time is when a fine would be issued,” McGee said. “That’s more than ample time to comply.”

McGee said he also plans to establish a database to keep track of the houses where contaminated loads are found.

The public works department has been working for the last year and half on passing amendments to the ordinance, McGee said. The amendments were finally presented for a first reading to the town council in November, and McGee said he’s hoping to see a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at the end of this month.

As he stood in November before the town council, McGee pleaded with councilors to consider approving the amended ordinance.

“Please, I ask you to take consideration to make this a workable document for us,” McGee said, “so that the town can stop wasting taxpayer money on noncompliance and move forward with an up-to-date ordinance.”

A full list of the items that can be recycled can be found on the department’s website at

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