Friday, September 26, 2008

Recycling in the boonies

Today I was part of a group on a local radio station announcing the start of a new recycling plan here. The supervisor of the county landfill, the program director for prison labor at the prison and myself spent a half hour talking about the program.  This is a new approach here, the coalition of the city, the county, the prison, and private industry (WMI).

Just so you understand, recycling here is a ticklish proposition since there is a low population density (less that 22,000 people in the slightly less than 2000 square miles of the county) and the nearest recycling uptake plant is ~125 miles away.  In these days of $4/gallon or more diesel fuel, it is almost impossible to collect enough recyclables to pay for the storage during accumulation, baling, and the transport to the uptake facility.  Couple that with the low cost of dump fees and the high availability of isolated land here for late night dumping if the dump fees are raised and you have issues.

There have been ongoing municipal and public service recycling efforts in the area for the last few decades, but most have been temporarily successful at best.  The recycling of newsprint and corragated paper seem to have the best track record.  WMI operates this program with all proceeds going to the Boy Scouts in the area.  Depending on the cost of transport, the number of rejected loads, and the price of the paper, the scouts can make out OK.

The new program adds #1 and #2 plastics and steel/tin cans.  The collection point is at the county landfill several miles outside of town in bins supplied by WMI. The material is sorted and then bailed for transport by labor supplied by the state prison system.  It is then transported to the uptake plant. We hope to cover the transport cost with what we get for the recyclables.  The city is involved via an the information campaign, including quarterly information and how-tos included in the monthly water bills of the citizens. Since we provide water service more than half the population of the county we have a very broad reach. One of the reasons for the out of the way location is that the landfill is a manned facility, so that there are people there to keep an eye on the collection areas during operational hours.  Outside of operational hours, the entire facility is fenced and locked. We have had an ongoing problem in past programs with contamination of recycling materials in unattended areas that this will hopefully prevent. (The main problem is people dumping their garbage in amidst the recyclables, contaminating them and resulting in transport to the landfill as garbage of the entire mess.)

I really hope that this works.  Our (the city, the county, the prison, and WMI) hope is that we get sufficient levels of participation to increase the program.  We'll have to see.


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