Blue cart program finding its legs


Brian Richards / Submitted Photo

Some 1,150 recycling carts arriving in Petersburg in the fall of 2015. The carts were and staged at the baler until the Borough's curb-side recycling pick up transitioned from a blue bag to a blue cart system last year.

The borough"s blue cart recycling program began at the beginning of the year and seems to be running smoothly, according to Public Works Director Karl Hagerman.

"Overall the community has really accepted the new system," he says. "Customer satisfaction, I think, is pretty good and we"ve received very little negative feedback over the program."

After the start of the program, Public Works distributed a handful of smaller 64-gallon blue carts to low volume households who requested them. The majority of carts in the program are the 96-gallon carts, and Hagerman says people seem to be utilizing the larger option.

"The 96 gallons means you don"t have to breakdown boxes which makes it easier for you," he says. "Which should translate into you wanting to do it more, and I think it"s worked out pretty good."

Hagerman says he just throws boxes in his blue cart at home and hasn"t had a problem, and he encourages others to "use the volume that you have." He admits a busy summer kept him from giving the program his full attention. He needs to refocus more energy on increasing the usage by raising awareness and willingness of customers to recycle, he says.

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For instance, Hagerman is thinking about putting out a monthly or bi-monthly reminder on social media offering residents recycling tips. He thinks putting together a fun video about how the program and the benefits of learning to recycle the right way would help.

Hagerman also wants to reach out to businesses and find out how the program is working for them, and maybe discuss ways to increase their recycling stream. Another idea is allowing customers to recycle at home and bring the materials to the baler, rather than using a cart, and still get credit for being in the program.

In 2015, from January to September the borough collected 3.7 million pounds of garbage. So far this year during the same timeframe, 4.3 million pounds have been collected and a lot of that weight is coming from weekly collections.

According to Hagerman, last year at this point in the year the borough had 145 tons of commingled recycling and so far this year the figure is 211 tons. The recycling rate in the borough remains around 16 to 17 percent, which is far from the borough"s 2017 goal of reaching a 30 percent recycling rate, Hagerman says.

"We"re growing the recycling program, but the garbage is going up as well," he says. "It"s really hard for me to pinpoint why that is."

The level of solid waste produced locally is difficult to project. The amount changes as population increases and decreases, construction projects are ongoing and multiple other factors. When it comes to recycling, a big part of the program is making sure items put in the blue carts are clean and acceptable for processing. Greasy pizza boxes or glass, which is prohibited, can add up and result in the borough getting smaller rebates.

"We don"t have glass included in our system right now, and the drivers are noticing that some folks are not paying attention to that," Hagerman says. "They can hear it, they can see it when it goes into the truck, so we"re going to need to put some reminders on carts."

The amount of glass making it into the recycling stream is minimal, but it"s there and if drivers continue to see glass at certain pickups the issue will have be addressed further. Glass in the blue bag program substantially decreased the borough"s rebate, however, a good spring and summer increased the rebate.

The last shipment the borough made, about a month"s worth of recycling, came in at 33 tons. The borough"s net cost for the shipment was $18 per ton. For comparison if the shipment were garbage it would have cost $110 per ton. Prior to the last shipment, the net cost to the borough on recycling shipments had been over $30 per ton, Hagerman says.

Hammer and Wikan general manager John Mason says the program is working for the company. He likes the positive environmental impact of the program because he believes it benefits everyone.

"It works and it works pretty well," Mason says. "Anything to reduce what goes into landfill, I"m all for, and I think most people in Petersburg would feel the same way."

The only real issue Mason has come across is the fact Public Works wanted Hammer and Wikan to bring the containers to the street. In the past, the carts were wheeled out of the alley by Public Works employees at the time of pick up.

"Once I had a conversation with Karl and understood the situation, we just went ahead and complied because realistically at the end of the day we don"t want to impede anybody," he says. "In order to be a good neighbor we did what they asked and I

don"t think we"ve had any issues since."

Other customers have had similar issues, but Hagerman says having customers wheel their cart to the street is all about efficiency. In those instances, he simply explained the benefits of the customer staying in the program and taking time to drag the cart to the street.

"We"re telling the customer to bring the carts out to the road so that we can be efficient with our truck," he says. "We"re not trying to make special cases for any

one business or any one person, because if you do it for

this person, you need to do it for that person and that just



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