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Friday, April 3, 2020

Unintended consequences

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

A local's guide to composting your next event's food waste and trashThe coronavirus pandemic is disrupting Rhode Island’s waste, recycling, and composting services and some donation services.

Used clothing and textile services have been hardest hit. The collection and sales of clothes, shoes, and household items were suspended in Massachusetts as a nonessential service, prompting the closure of retailers and related services. 

Savers thrift stores have temporarily shuttered in Rhode Island and across southern New England, hurting its nonprofit partners that sell them used items. One casualty, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rhode Island, had to layoff two-thirds of its workforce because of the financial stream it relies on from Savers.

Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Salvation Army suspended their textile and used clothing pick-up service and closed their drop-off centers.

Parking lot drop-off bins offered by The Salvation Army, Goodwill Southern New England, Big Brothers Big Sisters and others are still open and being serviced.

The “nonessential” tag in Massachusetts caused Simple Recycling to temporarily halt its curbside textile pickup in Rhode Island, where the service is offered through a partnership with municipalities such as Coventry and Middletown.


Food-scrap collection services Rhodeside Revival and Bootstrap Compost have suspended pick-up service until the global pandemic subsides. The companies are urging customers to use local drop-offs hubs. Find a list here.

Some collections sites, however, such as the one at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, have been suspended.

Other residential food-scrap collection services like Harvest Cycle Compost in Providence are still making pickups. A March 31 post on ecoRI News’ Instagram account noted that the pickup part of the operation had been suspended. “We're not actually making pickups right now, we’re letting our members drop off their own scraps at our garden and hopefully a few more pickup sites around town soon!"

Commercial operators and neighborhood composting services including the Compost Depot at Frey Gardens in Providence and Healthy Soil Healthy Seas Rhode Island in Middletown remain open. Frey Gardens has beefed up capacity, signage, and sanitation services at its Compost Depot.

Bag ban suspended

In East Greenwich, town manager Andrew Nota suspended the town’s bag ban until Gov. Gina Raimondo lifts the state of emergency.

“It was for one reason and one reason only,” Nota said, “to make it as easy as possible for restaurants to provide takeout during this period of time.”

The exemption gives the town’s 50-plus restaurants another option for takeout orders now that dining in isn’t permitted.

“It was purely about service and accessibility,” Nota said.

Central Landfill

The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) suspended until April 13 all public tours of the landfill and recycling center. Eco-Depot collections of household hazardous waste in Johnston and municipal drop-off events are suspended until the same date.

The volume of waste and recycling heading to the Central Landfill and materials recovery facility (MRF) is holding steady with no new disruptions along the distribution chain for recycled materials.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) granted RIRRC the option of disposing of recycling in the landfill if the virus sickens staff to the level that the MRF can’t operate. RIRRC is sanitizing work spaces, employee vehicles, and truck delivery areas. No layoffs have occurred. Employees performing non-critical services have been reassigned to the most essential operations.

Jared Rhodes, RIRRC’s director of policies and programs, is reminding the public to throw away used cleaning items such as tissues, paper towels, napkins, and wipes of any kind and refrain from putting them into recycling bins, even if they are unused. Keep wipes out of the toilet, as well.

Medical waste

DEM was initially concerned that the virus would create a glut of medical waste and overwhelm the state’s two medical-waste sterilizers, called autoclaves, at Rhode Island Hospital and at the medical-waste company Stericycle in Woonsocket.

But the closure of dental offices and other medical services has kept medical waste at a manageable level.

“I haven't seen the enormous influx (of waste) we are bracing for,” said Mark Dennen, supervising environmental scientist with DEM’s Office of Waste Management.

Municipal services. 

No city or town has suspended curbside recycling and trash collection, but some have altered other services and closed department of public works to visitors.

Burrillville suspended pickup of appliances and other bulk-waste items such as furniture and carpeting.

Coventry suspended bulk waste and curbside textile pickups and closed its transfer station. The Eco-Depot scheduled for April 11 and an Earth Day cleanup set for April 25 have been canceled.

Cranston suspended bulk-waste pickups and its mattress collection and drop-off at its DPW garage. 

Providence suspended bulk-waste pickups and its Saturday morning mattress drop-off at the DPW on Allens Avenue.

Westerly’s transfer station is only taking trash and recycling. Bulk-waste and other items will not be accepted.

Woonsocket closed its Swap Shed at the recycling center, which otherwise remains open.

Check your city and town for updates here.