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February 12. 2013 11:32PM

Recycling mandate 'with teeth' up for debate in Hooksett

HOOKSETT - A warrant article to institute a recycling mandate in Hooksett is already drawing debate in the town, with a town councilor hoping to remove the question from the ballot and supporters saying it would send a message about the importance of the habit.

The proposal would mandate recycling at the curbside and the town's recycling center, giving the department's superintendent teeth to ensure that recyclables are not disposed with regular trash.

"It would give me more control at the facility .... because it's not mandatory, I can't enforce anything. They just come in and they just dump," said Diane Boyce, superintendent of Hooksett's recycling and transfer station. "It's that 1 percent of the town that will not recycle at all."

How the policy would be implemented and enforced have not been finalized. Boyce has suggested a system where the first two offenses would elicit letters notifying the residents of a violation. On the third offense, the residents would potentially lose curbside service for a limited period of time. Fines have also been discussed.

The town council voted 5 to 2 on Jan. 9 to move the warrant onto the town ballot.

Councilor Todd Lizotte, however, who feels the policy was "not properly vetted," has stated his intent to remove the question from the ballot.

"I think the recycling department in town is top notch," he said.

"I just think that mandatory recycling is premature until we have a better understanding of what we can possibly achieve, versus an open-ended goal."

Lizotte's concerns include the difficulties in enforcement, ambiguities in what is considered a recyclable, the lack of a specific goal for the mandate, fears that a mandate could produce a resentment toward recycling, and a reluctance to "police people's lifestyle choices." He said that instead of a mandate, the town should emphasize education.

Boyce has argued, however, that the mandate will not place any recycling-waste ratio requirements on residents or entail any regular auditing. She said that the mandate would only be enforced against violators who are dumping items which are "obviously recyclable," and would not target residents who are trying but may have made a mistake.

Lizotte said a goal for overall recycling percentage should be offered, along with an understanding of how that goal can be met.

Boyce said she did not have a specific tonnage goal in mind and that Hooksett's recycling program was doing "very well" in its first year.

The next town council meeting will be today at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall.

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