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Survey says? Recycling users satisfied, but more needed to cover program costs


Though 97 percent of respondents said they are satisfied with Petersburg’s commingled recycling program, Public Works staff have also been alerted to possible improvements – including a switch to a cart-based program and bringing collection in house – after reviewing the results of a community survey that wrapped up last month about the program.

At Monday’s Assembly meeting, Public Works Director Karl Hagerman presented the results of the survey, which was intended to help the department assess community satisfaction, cost effectiveness and possible future direction of the commingled program that began last February.

Survey results

Some 104 residents completed the survey, representing about 8 percent of sanitation customers. Twenty eight businesses owners answered questions about commercial use of the recycling program.

Known as the “blue bag program” by many because of the vessel used for recycling pick up, respondents were split on the bag’s effectiveness.

“Almost half of the submitted comments requested that we move to a cart based system. However about one third of the comments said that there was no change needed to the program,” Hagerman said.

Respondents were also split on the cost savings they’ve seen since the program’s inception. Half of respondents said they have not been able to reduce their monthly sanitation service, thereby saving money, because they are already using the lowest garbage service possible.

Similarly many business owners said they have not captured a cost savings by participating in the program.

“A lot of businesses report that they have not reduced their garbage service as a result of taking part in the program, which is of course an indication that there’s a disconnect there on reducing your trash in order to reduce your service level and save money,” he said.

This is an opportunity, Hagerman said, to increase the diversion rate of business, especially restaurant refuse, through increased education efforts. One example he offered was auditing businesses to assess their understanding of the recycling rules and their practices around recycling and garbage.

Cost effectiveness of the program

Though half of survey respondents haven’t seen an economic benefit from participating in the program, the Borough certainly has. The cost of shipping off recyclables is considerably lower than that of baled waste. Solid waste costs $110.57 per ton to ship off the rock, while recycling costs only $13.67 per ton.

“But the big item that I found in this whole analysis is that we’re saving ... almost $97 a ton to ship material from our waste stream as recycles as opposed to solid waste. That’s huge,” Hagerman said.

Nevertheless, at the current diversion rate – or the rate at which recyclables are diverted from the solid waste stream – the Borough isn’t able to take full advantage of that relative cost savings. Nor is the program yet financially solvent.

“Current recycling expenses outpace recycling savings by a wide margin ($117,945 recycling expenses per year vs. $53,000 in solid waste bale disposal savings),” according to Hagerman’s report.

The future of recycling in Petersburg

Though Hagerman and the survey respondents both report high satisfaction that the service contractor Rutger’s Trucking provides for recycling pick up, eliminating the cost of the contract and bringing the collection service in house would be the biggest factor in moving toward solvency.

A switch to an in-house collection service as well as eliminating purchasing blue bags, and replacing them with carts, would save $110,200 annually. If that coincided with an increase from the current diversion rate of 19 percent to the goal rate of 30 percent by 2017, the additional costs of purchasing carts for the program – a one-time cost of $70,000 – would be offset.

In-house collection would require an additional small, side-loading truck, but would allow the department to incorporate recycling pick-up into their staff’s weekly collection work. The estimated $210,000 required to purchase the vehicle is available in a Motor Pool account, meaning the new costs generated from the switch would amount to about $40,000 paid annually to maintain the rig.

Hagerman got the blessing of the Assembly to budget for the switch to in-house collection and a cart-based program.

“The savings that we’re seeing from sending materials as recyclables – $96 a ton over our solid waste – really speaks for itself. We need to do whatever we can to push material to the recycling side,” Hagerman concluded. “And that means to me, increased public education efforts, offering continuous feedback to the community regarding the diversion rates and how to keep those rules clarified so that everything they can put in the recycling bin goes in the recycling bin.”


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