Recycling Historical Rates
Sutton Massachusetts

Sutton is - according to the DEP - one of the WORST towns in the entire state of Massachusetts in terms of recycling. The following data is according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

2008  14%
2007  13%
2006  16%
2005  19%
2004  20%
2003  20%
2002  39%
2001  42%
2000  33%
1999  49%
1998  26%
1997  21%

2008 details from the DEP site:
Sutton - Central MassDEP Region
population: 8,250
households: 3,225
households served by municipal program (town transfer station): 1,000 (less than a third!!)

DEP Reported Figures:
Reported disposal tonnage: 538 (Sutton reported, i.e. from town transfer station)
Residential subscription hauler disposal tonnage (ESTIMATED BY DEP!!): 2,300
Total tons disposed: 2,838

Note: I have verified with the Town of Sutton that their transfer station handled 547 tons of trash in 2008. So that is certainly close enough. BFI does NOT track its hauling "by town". So for example a given truck might go to Sutton and then to Millbury to gather up trash, and it all gets mixed together (of course) and then dumped. So there's no way to know Sutton's tonnage from BFI. Therefore, the DEP simply takes the remaining 2,225 households and multiplies them by an "state-wide average usage rate".

Sutton's transfer station with 1,000 households = 538 tons means residents created an average of .54 tons PER HOUSEHOLD for the year. That's pretty amazing to begin with! The DEP estimate of 2,300 tons for the remaining 2,225 households means they're estimating the rest of Sutton created a whopping 1.0 tons PER HOUSEHOLD. How does this make sense? People who don't use the transfer station create double the trash? I really question this estimate.

OK, on to the DEP reoprt:

Total tons recycled (all types of recycling): 369

Again, in line with what the town of Sutton reported, which was 366 tons of material recycled.

DEP Report:
Tons of collected yard waste / xmas trees: 85.6
Home compost bin credit?? How do they know I have a bin? 2.2
Total tons of compost: 87.8
Hazardous products: 10.3

Again, all in line with the town transfer station.

DEP report:
Total tons diverted (all recycling, all composting, all hazardous): 467
Total tons generated (every single total on this page): 3,305

So far so good - but wait! They are ONLY counting the recycling from the transfer station. However, they are counting ALL trash generated by the entire town against it (transfer station and pick-up service). Not only that, but when they estimate the pick-up service numbers, they are estimating them to be DOUBLE the volume of an average Sutton resident. So then they come out with a final total:

DEP reported Recycling rate: 14%

My Research
The town went from a dump system to a transfer station system back in 2000. When I first started researching this issue, I thought there had been some sort of a split between "good recyclers" who moved on to BFI and "not good recyclers" who stayed with the transfer station. But I see now that the whole of the blame for the awful numbers lies with incredibly poor estimates done by the DEP. They are totally over-estimating the volume of trash generated by Sutton residents. They are also completely NOT COUNTING any recycling done outside the transfer station!

John Fischer at the DEP says: "The municipal rates are based on Municipal Recycling and Diversion Data Sheets submitted by cities and towns to MassDEP. In some cases, we make adjustments to this data, such as estimating disposal from town residents served by private haulers outside of the town program." So again the DEP is "guesstimating" what private haulers are achieving with their systems.

Their stated formula is:

Residential Recycling Rate EQUALS Residential Tons Diverted (recycled + composted + hazardous products collected)
DIVIDED BY Residential Tons Generated (diverted + disposed)

But they are NOT doing this properly. They are taking an artificially high (doubled) rate to apply to any trash they do not know the exact figures for. In Sutton, that means 2/3rds of our residents are being counted as double-trash-generators. On the other hand, the DEP is claiming that NONE of these residents are recycling even one iota of trash.

I am going to talk with BFI to get their average tonnage rates and recycling rates for the towns they cover. Yes, it won't be exact for Sutton (since it will include Millbury and other nearby towns) but at least it'll be a starting number. Then I can contact the DEP again and try to get them to use the more realistic numbers.

My Guesstimate
Let's say the 2,225 households using BFI generate the same .54 tons of garbage each that other Sutton residents do. So that is 1201.5 tons total for the year. Add that to the 538 tons at the transfer station, you get 1739.5 total tons for Sutton (not the 2,838 the DEP guesstimated).

On the recycling side, the DEP states the 1,000 residents using the transfer station recycled 467 tons. That's a rate of .47 tons per household. Let's guesstimate that the other residents recycled at the same rate, so that's another 2,225 residents * .47 tons = 1046 tons. meaning Sutton recycled 1513 tons. Comparing 1739.5 tons of trash with 1513 tons of recyclables gives us an overall recycling rate of 47%!! This is in line with what we were achieving in 1999, before we did the transfer station split.

So this makes perfect sense. Back when all of Sutton used the dump and we tracked everyone in one place, we had a rate of 49%. If only the DEP was properly estimating our usage, we would have maintained this same high rate for the next 10 years. We only have to convince our Massachusetts government do report their numbers properly!

Final Note
This may all be moot, because the DEP ran out of funding to even work on this project in 2009. They are not going to do any reporting or estimating at all on recycling rates by town. I guess it's up to towns to report on and maintain those figures themselves going forward!

Official DEP Recycling Stat Archive

Recycling in Sutton MA
Recycling Services in Sutton MA
Recycling Options - for items the services won't take
Historical Rates of Recycling in Sutton MA
Pizza Boxes and Recycling

Sutton Massachusetts Info