6 New Municipal Recycling Initiatives

Recycling bales

Bales of recycled plastic ready for reprocessing

When you go to look something up, you never know quite what you’ll find. If you don’t find what you’re looking for right away, you might find fascinating information you hadn’t even thought of.

I looked for statistics on recycling participation. I found recent news stories of several towns that have started, or are considering, new recycling programs.

Municipalities with good programs seek to make them better. Municipalities with mediocre programs or none at all seek to start something viable.

According to the EPA, 65% of normal trash could be recycled, but only 25% actually is. It’s a dismal figure, and only part of it can be attributed to public apathy. Some places have only recently offered recycling service at all. I suppose that means that others still have none.

Here are six new or contemplated municipal recycling programs.

Washington County, Utah

Curbside recycling in Washington County is in the late planning stages. In most of the county, it will be a voluntary program, giving residents the opportunity to opt out. A local waste hauler has proposed to provide the service at $2.94 per month (in addition to current waste hauling charges) if 70% of subscribers agree to participate, $3.82 if 50-70% participate. The program will not begin if less than 50% of customers agree to pay extra charges for it.

Between the county and its cities and towns, more than a dozen governments will be making their own deals with the hauler. The mayor of St. George first proposed initiating the service, but St. George along with most other municipalities are making the service optional instead of mandatory.

Elected officials in three towns plan to make participation mandatory, which will give them a better rate. Those in one town would perfer not to participate at all. If enough households participate where curbside recycling will be optional, it will start at the beginning of 2016.

Washington County currently has a 3% participation rate with its various drop-off centers. Officials expect the participation rate for curbside recycling to start somewhat more than 50%, but less than 70%, and increase over time. Participation at that rate could increase the county’s overall recycling rate to 10%.

The dropoff program started only in 2008, when it collected less than 600 tons of recyclables. It collected nearly 1,725 tons by 2014.

Edmond, Oklahoma

Participation in Edmond’s curbside recycling program has doubled since it started two years ago, and the participation rate has reached 83%. Starting July 1, the city council raised the cost of curbside recycling by 20¢ to $3.00. The cost of one trash cart and one recycling cart per household increased by 30¢.

Use of the city’s drop-off center has also increased.

The city also operates an unusual door-to-door collection of household hazardous wastes. Utility customers pay a fee (which increased by 10¢ per month) for an appointment once a year. Only 6% of customers participate. All these fee increases were necessary because participation has increased, but economies of scale have not driven costs down.

St. Petersburg, Florida

Trash and recycling truck

Trash and recycling truck (Fairfax County, Virginia)

This past June 29, St. Petersburg became the last major city in Florida to offer a curbside recycling program. Earlier, its residents had only dropoff recycling available to them.

The participation rate that day was 54%, which delighted Mayor Rick Kriseman. It appears that designing and implementing the program did not go smoothly.

About 40% of homes use alleys for trash pickup, but the city bought recycling trucks too wide to use in the allleys. Participation in the new recycling program therefore requires residents of those homes to take their recycling to the curb instead of the alley, and they are not happy.

The city’s website offers answers to common questions (although apparently not to the one of why it didn’t buy any trucks that could operate in alleys). It also offers a mobile app that, among other things, notifies residents of the recycling pickup dates in advance and lets them inquire if a particular item is recyclable.

Winona County, Minnesota

Winona County’s curbside recycling program started in 2012. It accepts only three kinds of plastic: numbers 1, 2, and 5. It has a 96% participation rate, but not everyone knows the limitations and proper procedures.

Here’s a recent article mostly about food contamination and what should not be recycled. The details are specific to Winona County, but the article offers an explanation of general principles that anyone would benefit from reading.

Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Residents of the city of Santa Fe have curbside recycling. County residents outside the city limits have only dropoff centers. County recycling participation rates are lower than those in the city, which does not have especially high participation itself. The commissioners want to improve recycling participation outside the city.

Currently county residents hire a hauling company of their choice for trash pickup or drop trash and recyclables off at convenience centers themselves. The county commissioners are working to implement curbside recycling in the more densely populated parts of the county.

They propose creating three new collection districts and implementing curbside pickup in the more densely populated parts of the county. The county will select the contractors that will do the work.

The plan is controversial. Residents of those districts with long driveways or who live on narrow dirt roads fear that larger haulers would not offer as good service, as the roads and driveways won’t accommodate their equipment. Some private haulers also oppose the plan, saying it will put them out of business; they can’t afford to purchase all the equipment necessary to obtain a county contract.

Proponents point out that by increasing recycling rates, the plan would divert material from the city-county landfill and offer residents more options.

The plan covers only the more urban parts of the county, and the commissioners will require haulers to offer residents a choice of containers of at least two different sizes and prices and to provide a full range of services, including collection of bulky wastes. Commissioners will consider the proposal in November.

Fort Collins, Colorado

recycling dropoff center

Recycling dropoff center, Kansas City, Missouri

Fort Collins has postponed deciding whether to build a new community recycling center over concern for the cost of operating it.

If built, it will accept household hazardous waste, construction debris, yard waste, and electronic waste as well as more standard recyclables.

The city has a goal of eventually achieving “zero” waste generation and reduction of greenhouse gasses by increasing recycling.

Its existing dropoff center comprises seven containers, two for cardboard and brown paper bags and one for each of three other kinds of paper, one for glass bottles and jars, and one for plastic bottles and metal cans.

Residents can bring these materials free of charge. The center does not accept Styrofoam or plastic bags, among other things, and it offers no garbage recepticals.

The existing recycling ordinance mandates private haulers to offer single-stream curbside recycling without extra charge. It covers city residents only, so residents of areas without curbside recycling must use the dropoff center.

Single-stream recycling is more convenient than a drop-off center, but it can result in contamination of the most valuable office paper and glass getting crushed. Bottle manufacturers do not accept broken glass.

Markets for recyclables have been volatile both nationally and internationally. Previously, a center at the landfill operated by Waste Management paid haulers for recyclables. Now, the haulers must pay Waste Management. The combination of the city’s ordinance and the tipping fees have hurt haulers’ finances.

In the vision for the new center, ordinary recycling would still be free, but a small gate fee would be required to use the part of the yard dedicated to what’s hard to recycle. The gate fee would not generate enough revenue to pay for the center’s operation.

The city council has postponed the decision to build it or not because operating cost estimates range from $200,000 to $400,000 annually.

As it is now, 95% of single-family residents of the city participate in the recycling effort, but the city council does not want to rest on its laurels. If the commissioners can resolve the financial issues, the new center will be part of a more comprehensive approach to waste management, reducing landfill usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo credits:
Recycling bales. Some rights reserved by Lisa Yarost
Trash and recycling truck. Some rights reserved by fairfaxcounty
Recycling dropoff center KCMO. Kansas City, Missouri, Public Works — link no longer works as of 5/9/16.

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