Northfield helps Mass. reuse, recycle

NORTHFIELD — Fifteen years ago, Northfield’s transfer station was a single trash compactor.

“You just threw in your trash and it went away,” said Bob MacEwan, Chairman of the Board of Health, which operates the transfer station.

It has since been renovated into a dual-stream recycling facility, making Northfield one of 22 towns in Massachusetts that uses dual-stream recycling. That means paper and cardboard are separated from plastic and glass. It requires more work than single-stream, where all the materials are mixed together, but it increases the yield of reusable material from about 30 percent to about 80, MacEwan said.

“It requires labor, but it’s labor that will be worth it,” MacEwan said.

The transfer station’s renovations were completely funded with money earned through recycling, he said.

Rather than hire an outside company to collect and dispose of Northfield’s trash and recyclables, the Board of Health uses the transfer station to sort through the materials, then coordinates with facilities in Greenfield and Springfield to sell the recyclable materials. Metals go for $250 to $300 per ton, and cardboard is about $300 per ton.

“I consider this product,” MacEwan said. “This is valuable material. If we separate what’s valuable first, we win. We get a better deal.”

The transfer station is paid by the ton, but the charge to sell them is by the container. So trash compactors are used to fit more material into containers.

“The idea is to send it out as heavy as you can,” MacEwan said.

In the past month, MacEwan has given two tours to students from Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield.

“There’s very little you have to throw away now,” he explained to the class on Friday. “That’s what we have to go forward with everywhere. … In other states, everything goes in the ground or gets burned. We’re doing a fair job in Mass. Other states, I don’t know. We need to learn to do things better. The whole reduce-reuse ethic is something we need to adopt. With everything in our lives. This is gonna be a problem in the future.”

The transfer station also houses services not related to recycling, but that encourage reusing materials in other ways. The tool lending library allows residents to borrow home tools, garden tools and power tools at no cost. At the free store, residents can donate items that are still usable. There is also a book drop, where old books can be donated to a used book store in Greenfield.

Aluminum cans and glass bottles that can be redeemed for cash are collected in sheds maintained by the Northfield Food Pantry and a local Boy Scout troop. The money earned supports half of the food pantry’s budget, MacEwan said.

MacEwan said there are still more plans for improvements to the transfer station. The Board of Health wants to buy a machine to strip the rubber casing from electrical cords, which would allow workers to salvage the valuable metals inside. With a machine for crushing glass, the station could process glass onsite and sell it as a sand that is used in asphalt and concrete.

“I call this the best thing in Northfield,” MacEwan said to the Stoneleigh-Burnham students. “I don’t know how many people listen to me though.”

Contact Max Marcus at 413-772-0261 ext. 261, or mmarcus@recorder.com.

Author: Going Green

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