Another week, another trip to the Wellesley Recycling and Disposal Facility (RDF). I’m an all-in, enthusiastic RDF visitor. My recycling game is down to a science. I can sort stuff quicker than a toddler with a set of stacking boxes. I can also beat that toddler at tossing items with gleeful abandon, especially glass, just to hear that satisfying crash. Like a toddler I, too, like to throw food. That’s why I was the first in line to sign up for the RDF’s food waste program. I know how to have a good time at the RDF.
Wellesley residents have a rare thing going with the dump, and they know it.
So do others.
It’s no secret that the Reusables Area — that popular spot where residents bring their cast-off kitchen items, books, furniture, kids’ toys, and more — has attracted the appreciative eye of more than just Wellesley residents. The perception that outsiders come in to “shop” the area has turned into such a hot-button issue that in March 2017 the RDF turned to technology to try and prevent out-of-towners from accessing the Great Plain Avenue facility. With Town Meeting’s thumbs up, the RDF installed an $18k verification system equipped to read license plates.
Active/passive verification system
RDF Superintendent James Manzolini says that system is part of an active/passive verification program in place.
In active verification he says, “As vehicles enter the facility, the system compares the license plate to our database of issued permits. In passive verification, an employee reviews all plates that aren’t in our system and follows up with appropriate actions such as adding new residents to the system, issuing No Trespass Notices, and sending Citation Requests to Wellesley Police Department for processing.”
Notices are logged and if the plate re-emerges, an alert is sent to notify an employee to investigate further. This includes asking for proof of residency and checking to see if there’s a legitimate reason for someone to be at the facility.
“It’s important to note that we are regularly visited by government officials, tour groups, vendors, commercial customers, and new Wellesley residents who don’t yet have a permit,” Manzolini says. “So just because they don’t have a sticker, doesn’t mean that they aren’t supposed to be in the facility.”
About 12,000 vehicles come in and out of the RDF with that agency’s blessing. Those who cruise in and out without authorization do so with the cursing of many Wellesley residents.
Scanning for stickers
I admit it: When I’m at the RDF I scan car windshields to see which ones have stickers, especially on days when parking is a challenge. To me, if a vehicle doesn’t have a sticker, that vehicle shouldn’t be there. But apparently that’s not the case.
Manzolini says there are plenty of reasons that an individual might qualify for a non-resident waiver. “Waivers are issued for many reasons including Wellesley residents renting a property, Wellesley residents with out-of-state plates, and other Wellesley residents that don’t want the sticker on their vehicle to identify them as a Wellesley resident. The only reason we would issue a non-resident a waiver is if they are helping a Wellesley resident bring their trash and recycling to the facility.”
Still, the anecdotal evidence is hard to ignore. Wellesley resident David B. (he asked not to be identified by his full name) points to the frequent competition for parking spaces, and resents that spaces are all too often taken up by vehicles without RDF stickers. He says, “I am a huge RDF and take-it-or-leave it proponent, but it does get frustrating when residents can’t utilize our own facility because there are no parking spots.”
He even collected some data, and his anecdotal evidence yielded the following:
He found during a recent September visit that out of a total of 14 cars parked at the Reusables Area, “six had RDF stickers and eight did not. I was unloading brush and tree branches. Of five vehicles over by the brush drop off, three had no sticker. I also saw several cars with no RDF sticker including one with Needham school bumper stickers dumping brush and bulky waste.”
On a busy Saturday he noted, “Out of 18 parked cars, 11 had no RDF sticker. Seven did.”
David B. sent along pictures as well, but I’m keeping the pics out of this post. I don’t want to offer up any clues to intense sorts bent on administering Wild Metro West justice to perceived scofflaws .
Mr. Swellesley chimed in on this issue as well. When he stopped by a super-quiet RDF at 10am on Sunday, Sept. 1 he noted the following: “First thing I ran across was an RDF worker asking a confused woman at the recycling area whether she was a resident. She said she was, though no sticker on car, so I’m not so sure…my spidey sense said no way.
“Next, I went to drop stuff off at Give-and-Take. A couple, in separate cars, pulled up next to me. The guys says to the woman: ‘You could pull up a U-Haul, fill it, go to the Worcester flea market, and you’d have the nicest stuff to sell.’ Neither had a dump sticker on their vehicle. In fact, my car was the only one of the five there that did.”
So given what David B., Mr. Swellesley, myself, and many others have noticed, what gives?
Manzolini says, “It is a common misconception that there are a lot of non-residents using the facility. While about 30% of the vehicles using the facility are Wellesley residents that don’t have a permit sticker on their vehicle, our data shows that 2.5% of the vehicles coming through the RDF are non-residents. ”
RDF data indicates that these non-compliant users are coming mainly for the Reusables Area, not to drop off trash. The RDF says it sends no-trespass notices to all non-residents and has found that these deter 90% of scofflaws. It switches to active enforcement for the remaining 10%.
“We know that it can be frustrating to our customers when they suspect out-of-town use and don’t see us physically responding to it at that moment,” the RDF superintendent says. “We’ve found that this system is a more efficient and effective use of Town resources and also reduces the unnecessary stopping of Wellesley residents which helps keep traffic moving through the facility.”
In 2018 the RDF issued 80 non-resident waivers. Each has a specific expiration date. Some waivers are in effect for as little as one month, others are valid for up to two years.
The RDF has two methods of tracking traffic. The first is to periodically place traffic counters in the roadway during non-winter months. Those counters are taken up in the winter so that they aren’t damaged by snow plows. The second method of tracking traffic is using the license plate reader, which is in effect year round. The reader compares its findings to the RDF database of issued permits. When a vehicle without a permit is identified, the RDF looks up the vehicle using Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles data to see if and where the vehicle is registered. That data comes from a vendor authorized by the RMV for which the RDF pays $816 per year. The RDF has access only to data that determines authorized use of the facility. In other words, RDF workers cannot snoop into anyone’s driving history.
Manzolini offered up the following data points:
No Trespass Notices issued in 2018:
Over 400. Out of those, 25% were later rescinded for reasons including new Wellesley residents, Wellesley residents using someone else’s vehicle, and new vendors and commercial customers not yet in the RDF system.
Citations issued in 2018:
There were 29 citation requests issued by the WPD. The fines are $50 each.
Number of non-residents that came into the RDF in 2018:
Approximately 300 non-resident, non-permitted vehicles used the RDF in 2018, all of which were sent No Trespass notices.
Number of dump runs per year:
Historically, there are over 400,000 trips to the RDF annually.
Number of dump runs per week:
The RDF sees up to 10,000 vehicles per week and up to 500 per hour on its busiest days.
Best times to beat the crowds:
To avoid lines, the best times to come are 7am – 9am, Monday through Friday; and noon – 3:45pm on Thursday.
The fact is, the RDF says the first priority of the verification system is to prevent the illegal dumping of trash from non-residents and also from commercial customers who are required to pay to dump trash at the RDF. Since the dump is not a dump at all, but a transfer station, any trash that goes into the compactors means money out of the pockets of Wellesley tax payers who must pay to have it hauled away. Also of note: any item at the Reusables Area that is taken out of the RDF is an item that does not go into the dumpster, and thus is an item that does not have to be hauled out of the RDF at a charge to Wellesley taxpayers.
So there you have it, the RDF priorities in a nutshell.
Got something to say about it?
The RDF welcomes any feedback or suggestions you may have. Please send all comments and suggestions to [email protected].