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Reduce, reuse, recycle — reality

It’s hard to fault Peterborough Recycling Center Manager Scott Bradford and his staff for wanting to find ways to reuse material that residents bring in to throw away. The center’s metal and lumber piles can be a treasure trove for those with imagination and the willingness to sift through the junk. But when the Recycling Center staff pulls aside items and saves them for a specific person — even for such a worthwhile project as recycling three-ring binders to be donated to the local school — charges of favoritism are both inevitable and understandable.

The town already has a “Mini Mall” at the Recycling Center, where residents of Peterborough and Sharon can drop off stuff they don’t need and know someone else might use. Those items are expected to be clean and in usable condition and need to be approved by an attendant. Everything at the Mini Mall is up for grabs on a first-come, first-served basis.

The material that goes directly to the Recycling Center is a different story. We don’t know the details of what prompted DPW Director Rodney Bartlett to order Bradford to stop having his staff pull items aside. But one resident has said that it came about after someone wanted an item and was told it was “on hold” for someone else. Maybe it was more complicated. At any rate, it meant the end of an informal practice that had been going on for quite some time, and the change has upset a number of residents.

There should be a way to reconcile the idealistic goal of recycling — to encourage people to reuse whatever they can and reduce the tremendous amount of waste that we generate — with the practical reality of paying the costs associated with running the town’s landfill. Clearly, Recycling Center workers shouldn’t be spending a lot of their time pulling aside items for specific people. That needed to stop.

But town officials have said they will continue to allow residents to look through the piles on their own and take what they need. We hope Select Board members will reaffirm that decision when they discuss Recycling Center issues at their meeting in September. We’d hate to see the town ban residents from picking due to insurance concerns.

And to make things safer for everyone, we hope the Recycling Center will be allowed to organize the junk piles a bit, putting stuff they know someone might want — that old tricycle or the metal or wood scraps that might inspire an artist — off to the side. That way, they still get the satisfaction of seeing one person’s junk become another’s treasure, no one would be getting special treatment, and there shouldn’t be any appearance of favoritism. Otherwise, it’s nothing but junk.

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