FAYETTEVILLE — The city is seeing promise as it tries to find new ways to recycle and reuse trash and help residents send less to the landfill, the waste reduction coordinator said.
A single-stream recycling pilot program, which allows about 1,000 households in the city’s southeast corner to mix all recyclables together in a larger rolling cart instead of using the usual curbside sorting, has almost doubled the amount recycled so far. Today the pilot program expands with dedicated recycling trash bins or chutes in The Cliffs II and The Academy at Frisco apartment complexes.
The city also is working with nine restaurants and other organizations in a food waste composting pilot, which has brought in more than 30 tons of organic waste since it began in January. Each of the pilot programs will last three months.
The efforts are all part of Florida-based Kessler Consulting’s systemwide look at Fayetteville’s trash and how the city could divert more of it to recycling and composting instead of the Eco-Vista Landfill in Tontitown. The City Council set a goal three years ago to quadruple the city’s diversion rate to 80 percent of its waste by 2025 and has spent about $300,000 on the firm’s help to get there, including the pilots.
About halfway through the residential program, the city collects an average 4 tons of recyclables each week from the 1,000 households, double the pre-pilot amount, said Brian Pugh, waste reduction coordinator. The number of households recycling in the pilot area has jumped from less than half to two-thirds, he said.
“I like the fact that I can just throw it in one container and I’m done with it,” said Shayla Oldham, a participant on Black Canyon Loop. She’s recycling bigger cardboard boxes and more plastics, she said. The program accepts all types of plastic containers, unlike only plastic bottles and jugs in the city’s regular system. “So far I’m liking it — little less work on my end.”
Lance Swift, another participant on Tallgrass Drive, said he supported the program but wants to look at some hard data before the city spends more taxpayer money on a switch.
“I need to know what’s going on with the cost,” he said.
The program’s results will help Kessler form recommendations to the City Council sometime this year about whether to take the systems citywide, what it would cost and other factors. Only the council can decide the final plan and any changes it brings. Pugh and other city staff workers said they weren’t lobbying for one system over another.
“All we’re doing is presenting the facts; you can vote it up or down,” Mayor Lioneld Jordan told council members in February.
At least two council members and one recycling advocate are concerned with changing the collection method.
A single-stream system usually comes with a jump in contamination, which is regular trash and other materials that can’t be recycled. Indeed, contamination in the pilot area has increased from less than 1 percent to 9 percent each week on average.
Local and national single-stream critics say greater contamination undercuts the point of recycling in the first place, because it takes more effort and money to get the material clean enough to be reused. This could make the material harder to sell and pricier for cities.
“Rates go up while recycling markets stall out,” said Louise Mann, a former schoolteacher who works to encourage Fayetteville and other communities to recycle more through a commitment to its goals instead of relying on more and more convenience. “Why not keep the stuff clean in the first place and hire people who know how to educate and inspire citizens to get involved?”
In Fayetteville, residents either sort their recyclables at drop-off stations, or workers sort through the bins at each residence during curbside pickup. They leave anything unusable in the curbside bins, Pugh said, keeping contamination low.
The city spent about $1.9 million last year recycling almost 6,100 tons of material, Pugh told the council last month. That’s just less than one-tenth of the city’s total waste and the highest tonnage ever recycled. About 1 percent was contaminated, he said.
That amount translated to about $520,000 in revenue from selling the material and about $210,000 in savings from not paying for sending the waste to the landfill.
Benton and Washington counties run several drop-off centers where residents sort the materials as well. There is almost no contamination, the county waste district directors said.
For comparison, Springdale and Bentonville have single-stream curbside programs and contamination is about 8 percent, according to the companies such as Waste Management that provide the pickup and sorting services. Inland Waste Solutions, which handles Rogers’ program, didn’t return multiple messages this month requesting comment.
A report from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center found contamination typically is 16 times higher in single-stream systems than when material is sorted before pickup.
The contamination problem is plain at the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District in Pulaski County. Waste Management this month reported diapers, bowling balls and chain saws in the recycling system sent contamination rates soaring to about 40 percent, more than double what it was before the switch to larger carts and a single-stream model in 2012.
“The challenge before us is to get people to not put stuff in the recycle cart that should never be put in the recycle cart,” said George Wheatley, public-sector services manager for Waste Management. Repeat offenders are abusing the system and putting expensive machinery at risk, he said. The district is considering ways to flag and alert the worst offenders.
Even so, the switch in 2012 led to more usable material being recycled, Wheatley said. Participation rose from less than 30 percent of households to 75 percent or more, depending on the month. The amount of recyclables increased by 300 tons a month even with 40 percent contamination, Wheatley said, adding his company hasn’t had trouble selling its final, filtered product.
“Single-stream is the way to go these days; that’s what everybody is getting into,” said Jerrold Haley, manager of Rogers’ drop-off recycling center. “The people that aren’t willing to sort their material, it sort of takes that step out of it.”
Education about what’s recyclable and a community’s comfort with recycling also have an impact, Wheatley said. Springdale’s contamination rate is far better and easier to deal with than Pulaski County’s with a similar system, for example. Wheately compared continued education to the yearslong push to make putting on seatbelts almost automatic for most motorists.
In Fayetteville, the recycling pilot program provides lists on the recycling carts or chutes and brochures and mailers for all participants.
“The key to a system like this is having an incredible education program, so you get your public trained about what they can’t put in a cart,” Pugh said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Northwest Arkansas is watching Fayetteville’s experiments, Pugh and other city officials said. If the city joins the single-stream trend, the amount of recycling could be high enough to justify a multimillion-dollar regional sorting facility to take care of contamination and streamline the region’s recycling services.
No plans have been made, but some cities have discussed the idea, said Tim Conklin, transportation programs manager for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.
“There’s interest in how a program might work in Northwest Arkansas, understanding that we have 32 cities plus the two counties,” Conklin said. “Our understanding is that in order to do single-stream, you have to have a certain amount of tonnage, and it’s going to take a regional combined effort to make that happen.”
Besides such long-term possibilities, Fayetteville’s pilot programs could provide several smaller options for the city, because the experiment changed more than one variable. The City Council could choose to simply keep the bigger carts, for example, or continue the acceptance of more types of plastic. The extra attention and advertising that went to the programs could be broadened to the whole city.
Pugh said he expects Kessler to lay out its recommendations in late summer or early fall.
Alderman John La Tour of Ward 4, who voted against the pilot programs last year along with Alderman Alan Long, said the city must keep its recycling system voluntary and give reliable diversion numbers for making any decision.
“I’m all for recycling, and if our people want to recycle to the hilt, that’s fine,” he said last month. “But please, please, please, don’t coerce me and don’t manipulate me. Educate and persuade me.”
At a Ward 4 meeting last month, Long said he was glad the apartments were being included in the pilot programs, calling the complexes “the biggest untapped area” in recycling. He was skeptical of a total single-stream switch but didn’t take a final stance on the idea.
“There’s more discussion on that to come,” Long said.
If your household or apartment complex is part of the single-stream recycling pilot programs, you can put all of these materials in the recycling container. The city asks participants to rinse out containers first.
• All plastic bottles, tubs and containers, including those for yogurt and produce
• Mixed paper and newspapers
• Cardboard and paperboard
• Aluminum and steel cans
• Glass bottles and jars
Source: City of Fayetteville
Dan Holtmeyer can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @NWADanH.