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History of Recyling in Peterborough

The Town of Peterborough was among the first in the state to initiate Recycling, back in the early 1980s. John Isham was the Town Administrator then, and oversaw the closure of the landfill behind our present Recycling Center. Once all the landfills in Town were closed, the only option for managing municipal solid waste (MSW) was to contract with a Waste Hauler and have our refuse trucked to a privately-owned landfill. None of which was inexpensive.

John was among a group of far-sighted Town Managers who realized that removing materials from the waste stream which could be sold for re-use would produce revenue for the Town as well as reduce the amount we had to pay to take the real trash away. That group included Liz Bedard, whose research at UNH on the future of solid waste management in NH inspired the support of Governor Judd Gregg for the creation of a non-profit organization devoted to promoting recycling and market development for recycled material. The NH Resource Recovery Association was created in 1981 in Peterborough at a gathering hosted by John Isham, who served on the first Board of Trustees with representatives from three other towns. The organization expanded quickly and became the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, which is still going strong. Visit for more.

Isham did some horse trading to create the facility we use now. An area was cleared to create the circular traffic flow with space for a building. The cleared lumber was used to build a shed for glass, and volunteers began recycling glass, separated by color. Photographs show women in goggles wielding sledge hammers to smash glass in metal barrels; the three-bay open shed which now houses the Mini Mall and storage, was built to the exact specifications of the glass buyers. When each of the clear, brown and green glass bays was full to the top of the cinder blocks, the glass weighed 20 tons and the buyer would be notified.

An area out back was paved to create a space for metal. More cleared lumber was used to build a pole barn with windows for each commodity (metal, paper, plastics, cardboard, and clothing) and a truck dock, and storage capacity for the volume of each recycled commodity required by the buyers. An ordinance was passed which made recycling mandatory in Peterborough.

In 1986 New Hampshire the Beautiful was incorporated to support municipal recycling programs with grants for the purchase of recycling equipment ( and Isham made good use of the opportunity to equip the Recycling Center with a forklift and balers. For many years Gordon Kemp tended the recycling machines and kept them in working order, and the Recycling Center provided a steady revenue stream for the Town coffers.

In 1997 the Town issued an invitation for proposals to privatize the Recycling Center; a professional trash hauler might manage the facility at a more economical cost. A grassroots group opposed privatization. The Board of Selectmen hired an engineer to evaluate the 9-year-old building, who found several areas of deficiency; the Selectmen determined that if the Center was not privatized, a new building would be needed, which would require a Bond to be voted at Town Meeting. The privatization failed, the building bond passed, and the building we know now was constructed.

In 1999 the Select Board formed a committee to explore the idea of Pay-As-You-Throw, a concept being promoted by the EPA as a way to reduce MSW overall and to encourage recycling. Committee members visited several towns which had adopted PAYT, and took an EPA course to determine what the financial results might be. The committee recommended PAYT to Town Meeting, where it passed with only 22 minutes of discussion. It was initiated in November 1999 and has worked well ever since.

In 2000 another committee considered the Vehicle Reclamation Fee, which assesses a modest fee on each tire registered to the Town, and provides a steady revenue stream that pays for the proper management vehicle waste: tires, waste oil, anti-freeze and batteries. Vehicular waste is the only hazardous material managed by the Town on site. Household Hazardous Waste management is in partnership with the Keene Recycling Center, which offers 26 collection days during warm weather.

Scott Bradford took over as Manager in May 2000, and since then the Peterborough Recycling Center has literally bloomed. Among New Hampshire’s certified Solid Waste Operators, Scott has held Level 4 (the highest rank) for 29 years, and has been celebrated as Recycler of the Year by the NRRA; he has brought a wealth of professional experience to our town. As well, the gardens he’s created at the Center have earned him accolades from the NH Arborist Society (twice!) and made the Recycling Center a stop for the Garden Club Tour.

“Ninety by Ninety” read the ball cap, with the “ReUse, Reduce, Recycle” mobius strip symbol, yet another Isham initiative in the late 1980’s to inspire increased recycling. The NH Department licenses Peterborough for Solid Waste (blue bag/down the chute trash), Recycling and Composting. Is it possible to achieve a 90% recycling rate? We’re at 76% as of 2015. Every resident of Peterborough who recycles, moves the Town toward an even higher recycling rate, creating revenue instead of expense.

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