Greater City Providence

Mandatory recycling coming to Providence

Recycling is Beautiful

Photo (cc) Scott Ableman

ProJo reports today on a new recycling effort for the city of Providence.

Starting Nov. 2, any resident who doesn’t separate paper, glass and cans will not have their trash picked up, Cicilline said. Residents have an option, however: they can purchase the bins for $5 apiece, or they can label their own trash cans with recycling stickers.

The city plans to embark on a comprehensive recycling publicity campaign, called Green Up Providence, through mass mailings, informational stickers attached to garbage cans, public service announcements and outreach through the public schools.

Excuse me, the city plans to launch a publicity campaign about the fact that your trash will not be picked up starting November 2nd? November 2, 2009? Plans? Launch? Really?

Oh Oh! The other part, the goal is to get the recycling rate to 20%. Really? So, if I don’t separate my trash, you won’t pick it up, but your goal is to only get 20% compliance? What happens to the other 80%?

Oh oh!! I have another idea! How about you pick up the recycling people already put out today. My recycling sits out for weeks at a time until I finally give up and throw it all in the trash bins to get it off my sidewalk.

TWENTY PERCENT? As the ProJo reports, state law requires municipalities to be at 35% by 2012, which is like, not that far away.

Can you tell that I am just so annoyed that it is 2009 already, and this city can’t seem to suss out simple city things like recycling and overnight parking? If you’re going to launch a recycling campaign, your goal should be 100% compliance. How in creation can you say that your trash will not be picked up, but then have a 20% compliance goal? Your publicity campaign should be well launched before you hold press conferences on the matter. Go ahead, Google “Green Up Providence.”


Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Ooooo! my favorite part (besides that there’s no website or contact information) is that part of the plan to “Green Up Providence” is to create mass amounts of junk mail!

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only plastic we can recycle is 1’s and 2’s, right?

    With all the students back, there are lots of red-solo-cup-5’s rolling around the neighborhood lately…

  • The 20% goal is to have 20% of the trash tonnage be recycling not 20% compliance with the recycling regulations. They’re going to enforce 100% compliance with the recycling regulation through their “No Recycling Bin, No Trash Pickup” policy.

    Only #1 and #2 plastics are taken and not even all #1 and #2 plastics only bottles. #5 plastic can be recycled at your local Whole Foods Market.

    NYC has a much stricter policy where you must use clear trash bags and if they see any glass, plastic, or paper in the bag they won’t take it and subject you to fines that start at $50.

  • #5 plastic can be recycled at your local Whole Foods Market.

    My ‘local’ Whole Foods is two bus rides away.

    NYC has a much stricter policy where you must use clear trash bags and if they see any glass, plastic, or paper in the bag they won’t take it and subject you to fines that start at $50.

    This is the main gist of my rant. Other cities have been doing way more than us for decades. Providence has an ‘oh by the way’ policy? And a ‘you can go to your ‘local’ Whole Foods policy?’

    Other cities are light years ahead of what is proposed here. How about we ban plastic bags like SF (not as a city, as a state)? I hope this November 2nd compliance deadline works, but like I said, November 2nd is right around the corner, why they hell are we just learning about this now? And will the recycling actually be picked up after Nov. 2nd? It is very sporadic now.

  • Gotta start somewhere, I’m glad they’re doing something. My building commingles recyclables with trash in one dumpster – the service, American Rubbish and Recycling, claims that their facility is fitted to separate recyclables. I know such facilities exist, but I haven’t been able to get them to let me take a tour (which I want to do partly because I don’t believe them, but mostly because I’m just super curious). Can I get any help getting them to let me take a tour?

  • Many towns are WAY behind us. I came from Branford, CT. They STILL cannot recycle plastic soda bottles (#2?). In fact, the only plastic bottles they can recycle is milk cartons and only the translucent ones (not the Hood light blocking ones). We can recycle a whole lot more here, including mayonnaise jars, laundry detergent bottles, etc. Branford has been recycling since I was a kid and the rules they use now are the rules they had since they started probably about 20 years ago. Providence isn’t that bad.

    What I’d like to see are recycle bins downtown for bottles and cans next to every trash can on the sidewalks, especially downtown.

    Anyone know where you can get those stickers for your trash cans? I don’t want to buy recycle bins and they’ve been picking them up just fine with the bins I’ve been using (the ones that were left here by the previous owners).

  • Interesting to have this in the wake of the results of the audit of the landfill/RIRRC

    I’m very comfortable recycling, but this past summer I did notice how brilliantly easy it is to recycle in DC and other cities with “single-stream” recycling. I don’t know how the sorting happens on the other end, but I imagine there’s a lot of incompetent sorting happening already.

  • It is odd that RI was one of the first states to institute a recycling program but has never actually migrated beyond the initial #1 and #2.

    Pawtucket collects whatever 1&2 I put in the bin, not just bottles. However, I sometimes wonder if they then merely mix it in with the regular trash on the way down to Johnston.

  • 100% recycling is unobtainable given the current pick up system. The 20% target is mandated by the state on municipalities so they can avoid additional tonnage fees.

    The current “quota” system as someone pointed out is based on trash tonnage for residential pickup only. The homeowner decides what is recyclable and what is not. That’s why the percentages are set so low. Single stream recycling is by far a better solution and can be hi-tech.

    “Magnets and electric currents separate different metals, while infrared lasers sort different kinds of paper and plastic containers from one another, based on the light wavelength each type of material emits.”


    Its unfortunate that RIRRC wasted so much money on a “transfer station” instead of investing in technology to move us closer to single stream. This has to done at a state level.

  • We have single stream here. A single stream right into the landfill. I am not convinced (and this is my WORK!) that the private contractors who pick up trash (and in RI it is a contract with waste management, or BFI or something–here we all pay our trash hauler separately) actually do anything with the recycling. And, in this economy, anything that is being recycled (aside from clear glass) is being warehoused because the market for recycleds is simply not there. Even the boyscouts, who use to collect newspaper, have stopped doing it because no one will take it.

    But regardless, Jef is right. When I lived in Oregon, we were able to recycle so much, that our small single family house with two residents was able to put a recycle bin out weekly, and a trash can out once a month. That was 15 years ago. If Providence wants to decrease tonnage, enact a bottle bill.

  • If everyone’s trash goes to Johnston, isn’t this one of those things where we should be taking advantage of our diminutiveness? Why do all 39 municipalities need a solid waste policy? This should be a state issue. Combine resources then we can afford single stream. We could be leading the nation instead of playing catch up.

  • City’s FAQ on recycling program:


    Frequently Asked Questions

    GREEN UP PROVIDENCE is a new initiative to double Providence’s recycling rate. Starting November 2, 2009, residents will need to place their recycling bins at the curb on trash day next to their Big Green Can. If the green and blue bins are not placed at the curb, the trash will not be picked up.

    When does the program go into effect?
    Starting November 2, 2009, all residents will need to place recycling bins with their Big Green Cans.

    Why is this policy being implemented?
    In order to save taxpayer dollars and protect the environment, everyone needs to do their part. By taking this small additional step, we can save the earth and tax dollars too.

    How do I recycle?
    It’s easier than you might think! The green bin is for paper products including mail, cardboard, etc. The blue bin is for cans, glass and plastic bottles, cartons (as well as any plastic marked with a small 1 or 2 in the recycling icon).

    What if I don’t have recycling bins? What if the bins I have are falling apart?
    There are 2 ways you can recycle:

    Bins are available for purchase at the Department of Public Works (DPW) at 700 Allens Avenue. Office hours are Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (4:00pm in July and August). Each bin costs $5. The City will also announce the dates, times, and locations of bin sales held on weekday evenings throughout the month of October.

    You may also use your own containers for your recyclables. Simply mark “Recycling” on the containers you’d like to use for your cans/bottles or paper/cardboard and set it beside your Big Green Can. You still must separate the recycling as you would if you had two bins from DPW. You may pick up stickers for this purpose free of charge at Public Works or make your own marking on the containers.

    Remember: There is no limit to how much you can set out for recycling! If you think you can fill more bins each week, please use additional containers.

    What if I don’t have enough recyclables to fill my bins each week?
    Your recycling bins don’t have to be full for your trash to be collected. All you need is to put out your bin.

    The recycling truck collects before the trash truck, and I bring my bins in right away. How will they know I recycle?
    The garbage collectors won’t know you recycle if you bring your bins in right away, so residents need to leave their empty bins next to their trash cans and bring all containers in at the same time.

    Who should I contact if I have any other questions?
    Please call Environmental Services at the Department of Public Works at 467-7950 for answers to your recycling questions.

  • I heard a totally unsubstantiated rumor that the RIRRC grinds up most of the plastic and ‘sells’ it to the landfill to use as a ‘cap’ for the daily waste. That way they can say that they ‘recycled’ and that they ‘sold the recyclables at a profit.’

    I’d like to see what I saw in Oakland, CA but a step further:

    City-provided trash/compost/recyclable barrels are the -only- barrels that will be picked up. The twist would be that you would pay a lot more for a ‘full size’ trash barrel, the standard-issue would be quite small. Barrels would have to be issued with your address branded onto them to prevent theft.

  • I seem to remember, when I was in the game in PVD, that one of the major problems with the Johnston Landfill was that because the tippage fees were cheaper than surrounding states, that RI often got MA’s and CT’s trash, quite illegally.

  • Ian has a quick post over at WRNI about the landfill.

    This seems to sum up the situation at the landfill:

    and once you become part of the problem, you’re not part of the solution

    The landfill will be one of the topics on WPRI’s Newsmakers on Sunday morning, set your Tivo’s!

  • Off-topic, but every time I see this headline, I think it says Mandatory Cycling Coming to Providence.

    Hey, I can dream…

  • letter on my barrels on trash day said, we will not pick up trash unless 2 blue recycle bins are placed out for each barrel. thats nice almost a week of full trash barrels sitting on sidewalk, maybe a notice before the day of would have been nice.

    This should work out great i live in a 3 family house with people who have trouble getting the trash into the barrel never mind geting them to fill 2 blue bins per apartment. (by the way we only have 1 blue bin for the 3 family house)

    Maybe they should start with getting home owners and slum lords to clean up all the glass and trash in front of their homes before worrying about separating the stuff that somehow made it into a barrel in this extremely dirty city (its always nice to take my dogs for a walk and have to constantly avoid stepping in broken glass (thanx pc students) and drag them away from garbage on the ground). Let’s start enfocing laws already in place before we make new ones no one will follow and clean up this dirty city.

  • What if I don’t have enough recyclables to fill my bins each week?
    Your recycling bins don’t have to be full for your trash to be collected. All you need is to put out your bin.

    It appears from that, you just need collect some containers of any size, write “recycle” on them, and put them out, you don’t even have to put anything in them.

    There are 6 big green trash bins and two recycle bins outside my house for collection tomorrow. The neighboring house and my house’s trash cans are all lined up together. The neighboring house has no recycle bins.

    I never received any communication from the city, if I did not subscribe to the city’s e-newsletter (which I imagine the vast majority of city residents, especially those without internet access and those that do not speak English do not) I would have no notification that this was coming. And we are now on our second collection cycle of this new program.

  • I do not use the “official” recycle bins at my house. I don’t even have “RECYCLE” written on the bins. It’s pretty obvious that one is for paper/cardboard and the other for bottles/cans based on what is in them. That being said, the official bins are only $5 a pop. You have to go to Public Works to get them, but you probably can’t find a similar bin cheaper in a store. And you definitely do not have to fill those bins, just have something in them. Sometimes, I only have 2 bottles in them (I save beer bottles for homebrew).

    I received either a letter in the mail or a door hanging on my house explaining the new policy. I got it about a month ago.

    While I think the city should have done a better job spreading the word and giving more notice (and perhaps putting those notes on the barrels while at the same time collecting the trash for a few cycles before leaving the trash), I do agree with the general idea behind this. As a city/state/country/world, we need to do more recycling. This is one way to do force people to do it. This will also save the city some money, which is necessary at this point (though I have other less popular ideas for saving the city and state money).

    People who have a hard time getting trash into the barrel is no excuse. I think there’s even a city ordinance that all trash has to be in the green barrel and the top has to close properly and not be stuck open. I’ve heard of people getting fined for that.

    Now if only I can get Academy Supermarket from putting their stupid sales flyers in door handles that end up getting blown out by the wind and littering the streets of lower Elmhurst. But they’re probably too cheap to actually mail them out or pay for real advertisements.

  • ProJo about recycling issue.

    So I don’t know if my trash was not picked up today because Wednesday was a holiday or because we don’t have enough recycle bins. Still have not received any communication from the city on this contrary to what the city is claiming in the ProJo article. Somehow we all got notice when the Big Green Trash bins came out, but the communication has fallen down on this. The mayor doing a YouTube video is all well and good if everyone in the city is searching YouTube everyday for info about recycling.

    Between my house and the house next door (which we all put our trash out together) we have 6 Big Green Barrels, which means we need 12 recycling bins. When the BGB’s arrived I was annoyed, we don’t need 6 of them and we don’t have room to store 6 of them and we don’t have room to store 6 BGB’s and 12 recycling bins. 2 bins per barrel is arbitrary. In New York we had recycling barrels that were the same size as our trash barrels, not the little buckets Providence wants us to put out. If we had 4 BGB’s and 2 barrel sized recycling bins, we’d be golden, but we wouldn’t be in compliance. I wish I could just paint “recycling” on two of the BGB.

    I’m also annoyed at distribution, the West Side arbitrarily gets free distribution, while I need to climb on a bus, head down to Allens Avenue, bring my cash and go get them. How about having more distribution days in the neighborhoods?

    With all the so-called outreach the city says it did, they could have sent a mailing to every residence or at the very least every property owner. I am not about to go buy recycle bins for everyone in my building, it should be up to my landlord. She is usually quite on top of things so I assume she does not know this is coming, or she would have provided the extra bins needed by now.

    I’m also annoyed that while the city claims they’ve been spending the summer on this big outreach campaign, weeks went by throughout the summer when my recycling wasn’t collected. I’ve been recycling diligently for years, but the city hasn’t been picking it up, now they want to punish me for not have 2 bins per trash barrel?

  • This is insane. The idea that for every barrel of trash, two bins also have to be out even if they are empty. For starters, all the empty bins will be stolen overnight since it is almost impossible for people to get the blue and green bins.

    back in the day Groundwork Providence had a grant to set up shop at several locations across the city and distribute free bins. Every saturday they were in a different location, usually a school parking lot and they gave out truckloads of bins with proof of residency. And even then, implementing curbside recycling was a challenge. Now the city doesn’t give out bins, and won’t pick up your trash if you don’t have one? It seems there’s a disconnect here. and it is unfortunate because it will really get people to sour on recycling.

  • In New York, where they used to issue free recycling barrels and no longer do, people are permitted to stick recycling labels (green or blue), issued by the sanitation department, on ordinary garbage cans. In Newport they always charged 10 bucks to buy each recycling bin and pretty much everyone complies. They have now begun to allow labels on ordinary barrels for yard waste only. Permitting official labels on ordinary container might be the solution for Providence.

  • I wish we had done this all at once when the BGB’s came out. If we could have converted our old trash cans to recycling bins when the BGB’s came out, that would have been ideal. Our old trash barrels are long gone now, and we are left with too many BGB’s, not enough recycle bins, and not enough leeway in the law to allow us to have a sensible solution (i.e. have a few big recycle bins instead of a dozen small ones).

  • The old trash barrels at my house were converted to yard waste barrels. When I first move to the house on Federal Hill, there weren’t even any recycling bins. The landlady was nice enough to buy 2 of each for the 3 family home. Now I guess she needs 2 more bins because there are 3 barrels there and they sometimes get full.

    The city went about this the wrong way. While I agree with the sentiment behind the new rules, the execution was really poor.

  • So I guess the city is stepping back a bit on the vitriol against it’s citizens (which the Journal was all too happy to help foment).

    Recycling Bins Will Be Available At Five Locations Throughout Providence

    Bins will be sold to the public from 9am-10am on Saturday, November 21

    PROVIDENCE – Mayor David N. Cicilline today announced that residents will be able to purchase recycling bins from the Department of Public Works at five satellite locations throughout the city on Saturday, November 21 from 9am until 10am.

    Residents still have the option of using any waterproof container from home for recycling, as long as label the container and separate the paper products from the plastic items. For those who would like to purchase bins from the City, the limited number of blue and green containers may be purchased at the follow locations on Saturday for $5 each:

    • Joslin Recreation Center • 17 Hyat Street
    • Selim Rogers Recreation Center • 60 Camden Avenue Phone: 455-8854
    • Vincent Brown Recreation Center • 438 Hope Street Phone: 273-2390
    • West End Recreation Center • 109 Bucklin Street Phone: 461-4570
    • Department of Recreation • One Recreation Way*, Providence, 02904 Phone: (401) 421-7740 extension 323


    “We told everyone” “We had a huge campaign to get out info” “Everyone come to Allens Ave. with your ten bucks, its so easy!”

    This right here, what they are doing almost a month into the program (no one on my street has received these magical communications yet) is exactly what they should have been doing all along throughout the ramp up. Send mailings to every address in the city, tell people where and when they will be available, take the opportunity to explain what is and what is not recyclable, how the program will work, what the options are…

    So who is going to know about these distributions? I read this on the Mayor’s press release RSS feed, and it is in the City News email that just came out. But how many people read those. These distributions are open for 1 hour on Saturday. Better than one hour during the week when those who still have jobs are at them, but still, one hour? As far as I can tell, there is still no Green Up website where people can go for info. The City News email links to the city website homepage where you can find a link to a .pdf, but no website. Building a website is very easy, getting a few different language versions is a bit more difficult, but doable.

    Considering the geographic size of the city and the number of people who don’t have cars, this is still a pretty limited reach for distribution. The city has parks in every neighborhood, get City Year or some other volunteers out into all the neighborhoods to man distribution centers.

    I never got any communication from the city, so I don’t know what was in them, so what was explained? I’ve heard of people putting bundles of paper/cardboard out, having that collected, but not having that count as a bin. Bundling was valid and encouraged before this new policy went into effect, was it ever explained that bundled paper would not count as a bin?

    So here’s where I stand. I am all about recycling, I have done it for years. I am glad that the city is working to get more residents to do so. However I think the implementation of this was amazingly piss poor (and that is after the introduction of the Big Green Cans went quite well actually). Now that it has not gone well, all I see is blame for us, the citizens of the city. Could the city just step back for a second, now that almost everyone is aware of what is going on; relax the restrictions for a minute; get a major push to get these bins out into the neighborhoods, then get back on track?

    The city is also losing the PR battle here by it’s comments in the press and allowing the ProJo’s attack on city residents to go unchallenged. This is a good opportunity for the city to show that it is doing something proactive. People are not understanding how the recycling program is helping the city’s budget and by extension residents pocket books. They are not taking the opportunity to explain the more we recycle, the better off the landfill is on selling recycled materials, and the closer we get to being able to afford a single stream program, in which we won’t need two recycle bins, all recycling just commingles. If we do this now, we’ll get single stream sooner.

    People don’t hate recycling, they hate that the city dropped the ball on getting the word out and is reacting with punishment and disregard for the frustration of residents who were caught unaware.

    *Google Maps can’t find Recreation Way and I don’t know where it is.

  • FWIW – I did receive a postcard in the mail explaining the program and a bi-lingual bumper sticker was placed on my garbage can explaining the program. As far as I could tell, every can in my neighborhood also received a sticker. I understand that the the implementation has not been perfect, and I did not personnaly witness any outreach by officials. However, if you assume that most households received the postcard and bumper sticker, you would think that most people should have been aware and at least called the city to clarify what the new program required.

  • I wonder if the postcards and the can stickers were neighborhood specific? It sure sounds like some folks didn’t get any indication–It wouldn’t be the first time that some neighborhoods were left out of the loop for whatever reason…

  • Did Matt get one? We should poll all our GCPVD people and do an informal count of who got one and who didn’t.

  • The recycling program had too many glitches, the big green cans came with rcycling information, of course no one read them and while most are complying, most will not face fines, I’ve called twice to fine neighbors, slum-lord on West Fountain, to no avail. Sissy-lini should not have said, to put out empty bins, it encourages people to further not bother separating trash from recylceable items. Heck, I live with a wombat who can’t grasp recycling. Its pathetic beyond comprehension, yet he still insists on drinking out of plastic bottles, eating out styrofoam and using the paper bag as a trash recepticle. This is something five year would know better

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