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Editorial: Leading way on recycling

Conventional wisdom says if you make it easier for people to recycle — by conducting curbside pickup or single-stream recycling disposal — the amount of trash people toss in the blue bins will increase. But the local communities with the top recycling rates, Northampton and Southampton, offer neither of these conveniences to residents.

Instead, people dedicated to recycling have to load up their cars and take their glass, plastic, paper and other recyclables to collection points.

It’s clear that Northampton and Southampton are leading the way. Other communities and the state itself would do well to take notice of how these municipalities commit to the reduce, reuse and recycle mantra.

Officials in Northampton and Southampton say the key to keeping recyclables out of the waste stream is education. And the high recycling rates — 64 percent in Northampton and 62 percent of Southampton — give credence to the communities’ recycling strategies.

The average residential recycling rate for 2010 in Massachusetts was 37 percent. In the U.S. the average recycling rate for 2010 was 34 percent.

Northampton heavily promotes its recycling program with monthly events, notices that go out through the school system, a Facebook page, email blasts and the occasional mailer.

The city is also forming an ad-hoc Zero Waste Committee. In Southampton, attendants at the landfill instruct residents how to recycle, the town sets up recycling information booths at events and elementary school children take field trips to the recycling center in Springfield.

Education about why it’s important to recycle is working in Northampton and Southampton. This matters, especially now. It is vital to keep unnecessary waste out of landfills in the region that are nearly full.

In Granby, where the recycling rate is a mere 21 percent, town officials have instituted at pay-as-you-throw system of trash disposal. It charges residents to toss garbage in the dump, but hauls away recyclables for free, targeting peoples’ wallets to save green by going green.

Pay-as-you-throw programs and single-stream curbside pickup (in which all recyclables can be thrown in one big bin instead of sorted into multiple containers) are most effective in encouraging recycling, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

We hope a waste program launched last year improves Granby’s recycling rate and that the town — and the state — takes a tip from Northampton and Southampton: Solid waste programs plus education equals recycling success.

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