Let’s talk about those finds at the Recycling Center

The Peterborough Recycling Center featured recently on N.H. Public Radio, in a charming story about poetry recorded, lost, and recovered years later on a tape found in the Mini Mall.

The Mini Mall has been part of the Peterborough Recycling program since it began in the early ’80s. Nearly every town recycling program in New Hampshire has an area like it, set aside for “Still Good Stuff.” When I break the glass lid of my crockpot, I count on a replacement turning up in the Mini Mall. When we announced at the ConVal Band “Pops” Concert that all 26 vases on the tables were courtesy of the Recycling Center, everyone cheered.

Over the years the Recycling Center staff has helped by saving things on request —plastic bottles used as seedling covers by local organic farms and school science programs; three-ring binders reused by teachers in all the schools; truckloads of cardboard for Children and the Arts Day.

Items in good condition are set aside for use in town departments, from office supplies to industrial-size trash containers. It all helps to keep taxes down.

Thousands of plastic bottle caps were collected for the artist whose “Art for Water” at the Sharon Art Center raised awareness of the importance of clean water. MacDowell Colonists regularly leave lists at the Recycling Center of materials they would like saved for their use.

These are examples of benefit, both public and private, derived from materials found at our Recycling Center. Some of those materials would otherwise have been processed and sold. Other materials would have been tossed in blue bags or in the “demolition” roll-off dumpster.

There have always been people who enjoy browsing even beyond the Mini Mall, folks who are looking for a particular widget to repair something, or who are on the lookout for items for themselves or to sell. The economic recession has increased the number of browsers.

Is this okay? Is this practice, using the Recycling Center as a community resource, sustainable? At what point is it an extension of the town’s Human Services program? At what point is it stealing?

Other towns face the same questions. Here’s a sign posted in the “ReUse Room” in a nearby town: “The things in this Second Hand Shop are for people who need them, and are not to be taken if you are going to sell them in yard sales! — per Order of selectmen.”

Companies that insure municipalities don’t like people who aren’t town employees poking through metal piles, and they are absolutely right. But what about the guy who says he could use that little section of gutter in the metal bin up-front? The revenue potential in that length of aluminum gutter is very small, and the reuse potential for the guy is big. If an employee lets him have it, is that wrong? If the guy donates a buck for it, is that right?

Recycling managers from all over the state gather every month at the Northeast Resource Recovery Association (our Recycling Cooperative) to share information. Last week they talked about their experiences as places of community resource as well as for-profit processors of recycled commodities. One town in New Hampshire has adopted “drop-off only” to side-step the difficulties that Mini Malls and browsers can present. Other towns embrace reuse as part of their mission of service to their communities.

A recent disagreement over a particular item at the Peterborough Recycling Center has led to the exchange of harsh words, and a new policy mandated by Town House officials could change public access to resources there.

This is a community issue and ought to be a community conversation. I hope you will add your voice to the dialog.

Susy Mansfield lives in Peterborough.

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