Torrington joins pilot recycling program focused on helping users change disposal habits

TORRINGTON — To lower the cost of sending bulky waste like bottles, cans and glass out of state, Torrington is joining a pilot collection program offered by Eye Recycle.

Eye Recycle, a Waterbury-based company that provides a collection service for recyclable cans and bottles, was founded by Mike Stallings, who presented his company’s mission to the City Council this week.

This year, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, or MIRA, which handles about one-third of the state’s municipal waste, is closing its South Meadows facility in Hartford. According to ctpublic.org, MIRA announced in December 2020 that it planned to close its incinerators at South Meadows by July of next year, citing aging equipment and financial issues. The closure leaves cities like Torrington looking for a new recipient for its garbage and recycling materials.

All recycling is in a “single stream” system, meaning it’s not separated. Residents use blue bins for bottles, cans and other items, but separating them using Eye Recycle could save the city money, Mayor Elinor Carbone said.


Redeeming bottles and cans using Eye Recycle works this way: residents get special bags for them, and are assigned a pickup date. Those areas of town that are enrolled in the pilot program — which is yet to be determined by city officials — will have to pay attention to those pickup days.

“We can get those bottles and cans out of our recycling bins, saving the city the cost of handling tonnage of recycled materials,” Carbone said.

She said it costs Torrington about $105 a ton to dispose of recycling. In the past, cities and towns earned money from their recyclables, which were sent overseas; but that’s not the case any more, she added.

Now, instead of carrying bags of redeemable bottles and cans to a recycling center at a grocery store, for example, people can just put them out for Eye Recycle.

“It’s a curbside pickup; most people don’t like using a machine for recyclables,” said Stallings. “It’s a question of how to make recycling attractive. We’ll pick it up, and we don’t charge for that. We keep some of the returnables fee. It helps, because it’s basically conditioning people to use an oulet for recycling. It also gets some of the garbage out of the landfills, and helps people get into a better habit. That’s how Eye Recycling works.”

Eye Recycle’s services are in place in pilot programs in Naugatuck, New Haven and Waterbury, Stallings said.

“It’s a pilot program to help change people’s behavior, not just throwing stuff in the trash,” he said.

Carbone and Public Works Director Ray Drew recently met with Stallings to hear about the program, and said they were intrigued by the company’s approach.

“I feel a little guilty, putting redeemable bottles in our recycling, with are still making their way toward the trash (and landfills),” she said.

Stallings said his company started out by working with restaurants and hotels, which produce a volume of metal and glass containers, many of which are redeemable. “(The program is) rapidly growing,” he said.

Getting the word out about Eye Recycling, Carbone said, can be done by sending a mailer in tax bills, and using Torrington Alerts, the city’s electronic notification system. Residents can sign up for that system at torringtonct.org.

“It’s an opportunity to test this recycling system out,” she said. “This is a situation where we’ll target a pilot area in the city, and it’s a way to reduce our solid waste.”

Torrington has also made other changes to its trash hauling system. In January, the city established a permit system — free of fees, but required for bulky waste pickups — for items like old furniture, mattresses and other materials. Drew observed at the time that residents were filling their trash and recycling containers to the brim. It’s been the city’s custom to pick up bulk waste on trash days. But the volume of that waste has increased, and the cost to haul it away has also gone up. The permit system, which simply asks residents to request a pickup, took off this winter and has been a success, according to recycling coordinator Linda Orr.

Orr said since the permit requirement went into effect, the city’s bulk trash hauler, USA, has helped by leaving residents a permit form with a letter explaining the new process.

“When USA sees a house with trash that’s not on their list to be picked up, they hang a letter on the doorknob, telling them about the permit, and they enclose a form and a link to the city website,” Orr said at the time. “You can mail it in, or fill it out and bring it to City Hall, or fax it, or email a picture of it.”

City Councilman Paul Cavagnero asked if the Eye Recycle bags were stolen by “poachers. “You’re working with something that’s worth money,” he said, during Monday’s City Council meeting.

Stallings acknowledged that sometimes the bags are stolen. “It’s literally cash in a bag, so it happens,” he said.

But the mayor and Drew are hopeful that the program will take off.

“We can expand it after a year, if we find it makes sense,” Drew said.

Learn more about Eye Recycle at eyerecycle.org.

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