‘Junk game’ getting tougher

Recycling Center rules are changing

Just before every school year, the Peterborough Recycling Center saves discarded three-ring binders for Elizabeth Hanson of Hancock. Hanson cleans and buffs the notebook binders, and delivers over 100 of them to the teachers of South Meadow School in Peterborough before the first day of school, saving the school about $1,000 while also keeping this unrecyclable plastic and cardboard out of landfills.

Mel Allen of Peterborough said it’s well known the Recycling Center puts aside hubcaps and other junk for local artists. Allen’s son recently brought a friend from Japan to the Recycling Center. Allen said his son’s friend couldn’t believe a recycling site, with birdhouses and gardens, could be this pretty.

The Recycling Center’s manager, Scott Bradford, said it’s especially rewarding watching a child receive a secondhand bicycle from the center. A parent would call up to ask the staff to look for a decent bicycle someone is getting rid of because their child outgrew it. Bradford said the look on a child’s face when you present him with a bike is “priceless.” “That alone was worth it,” Bradford said, about the practice of setting aside things for people upon request.

However, employees of the Peterborough Recycling Center were told by Director of Public Works Rodney Bartlett about three weeks ago to stop the practice of accepting requests from residents to salvage and set aside particular items.

In an interview Monday, Allen said the sense of community this longstanding practice fosters “is what’s at stake.”

“If that’s cut out, it’s just a place to take your trash,” he said.

On Monday, Bartlett said Peterborough is paying the Recycling Center staff to manage the facility, not spend a majority of their time “picking” for residents.

“Setting aside materials for something else, it takes time away from them doing their normal and regular duties,” he said.

This practice was never permitted, according to Bartlett, but until recently the practice was happening regularly.

The directive doesn’t prohibit any Peterborough resident from looking for stuff they could reuse or recycle, Bartlett said. Residents are still allowed to look for a half-hour for anything from a discarded couch, to burners for a stove top, to the lid of a crockpot. The facility does not charge residents who wish to salvage these items. Up until recently, though, the Recycling Center would also field calls from residents to keep an eye out for an item someone else threw away. If they found a requested item, the would set it aside for them.

Scott Bradford, manager of the Recycling Center, said they’ve been allowing this practice for the last 14 years.

“Due to an unfortunate incident, we’re no longer able to save items for residents upon request,” Bradford said, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Bartlett said the incident Bradford mentioned was a “personnel matter” he couldn’t openly discuss.

Town Administrator Pamela Brenner was not available for comment Monday.

Bradford thought Peterborough town officials might be concerned about the Recycling Center showing “favoritism” to some residents. He said his staff never favored anyone, and saved all kinds of items for everybody.

When asked if he and the town were concerned about this practice favoring one resident over another, Bartlett responded that if someone were to call the Recycling Center and ask an employee to set aside something for them, that is a level of “special treatment.” But, he said the solution is for the public to “pick” themselves.

The Recycling Center, however, will continue to set aside flowerpots for anyone to take. Bartlett said employees can also recover reusable items when they are not working.

In an interview Monday, Bradford sounded dejected when he spoke about having to already turn down some residents asking for this or that. He said being involved with a community has always been a major part of his 26 years of working at recycling centers. He added that the longstanding practice of setting things aside greatly reduces the amount of trash thrown into landfills.

“[It’s]what a landfill should do: Reduce, reuse and recycle,” Bradford said.

Allen remarked that he had noticed the morale of the staff at the Recycling Center had been affected by the new directive. Allen said this practice of “picking” made the job fun for them. The staff could take recycling and look for things people can actually use, rather than just collecting scraps by the pound like other dumps.

“As someone who lives in Peterborough, I would be sad to see it changed,” Allen said.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or

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