City councillors support a look at improving recycling dropoff at the Department of Public Works building on Hampshire Street in The Port; renovations will support staff offices in another part of the building. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Recycling was on officials’ minds Monday, with what amounts to a $500,000 admission that the Department of Public Works has no place to relocate – and will use that money to turn storage space into 11 offices and two bathrooms at 147 Hampshire St., settling in for the long haul.

There will be even more money requested next year and a search for swing space to house the department while construction is done, commissioner Owen O’Riordan told city councillors, and that’s not including what results from councillors’ order to figure out how to make its resident recycling drop-off site friendlier. Councillor Tim Toomey described a scene so crowded on weekends “you just can’t move because Public Works trucks are there and trying to maneuver. It’s amazing no one’s been hurt … I’m afraid it probably discourages a lot of people from recycling.”

Putting money into renovating Public Works’ home in The Port is probably “throwing good money after bad,” Toomey said.

The Department of Public Works has picked up mattresses for recycling since April. (Photo: Marc Levy)

While City Manager Louis A. DePasquale agreed, he also described the expense as a desperation move after years of looking for another home. “We’ve held off on a lot of buildings knowing they weren’t the perfect location. We had our eyes out for somewhere else, but now I hate to say it, we’ve reached the point where I can’t keep the buildings the way they are and expect people to go to work there,” DePasquale said.

The Mabardy Sand & Gravel sites in the Alewife Quadrangle area were most frequently rumored as wanted for DPW, but the acreage was taken permanently off the table in August 2018 when the developer Cabot, Cabot & Forbes bought it for $79 million.

“It’s not from lack of effort that we have not found a site to either purchase, lease or rent. We’ll continue to be out there [looking],” DePasquale told city councillors.

Many mattresses recycled

Councillors also agreed, with enthusiasm, to put an additional $97,500 into recycling programs, including home pickup of mattresses to be delivered to UTEC, a youth services nonprofit in Lowell. The mattress program began in April and has already resulted in more than 4,000 pickups, O’Riordan said.

“We had thought perhaps we would collect in the order of 2,000 mattresses during the course of the year,” O’Riordan said. “We’re looking at something in the order of 5,000.”

That comes at a cost, because so far the city has been paying only for pickup and delivery, while UTEC has been paying for actual recycling costs. Its two-year grant covering that ends this year, though, meaning the city looks to inherit another $70,000 to $90,00 in expenses starting in 2021 – meaning the council can expect to see a budget request for mattress recycling in the $250,000 range within a couple of years.

Although there are fewer places for recycling to go worldwide, not recycling is also becoming less of an option – at least for mattresses, which are reportedly bulky, hard to crush and can jam machinery. The state is considering banning them from landfills completely, O’Riordan said. But the Republic Services Howard Transfer Station in Roxbury, which is used by Cambridge, has signaled independently that it won’t accept more mattresses regardless.

“Five thousand mattresses a year actually seems an outrageous amount to just be thrown away in a city of 110,000 people,” vice mayor Alanna Mallon said. Still, taken by surprise by pickups in twice the expected amount, she quipped, “If you’re not excited about the mattress recycling program in Cambridge, you should be.”