Cary eyes options for boosting recycling rates

aspecht@newsobserver.comDecember 5, 2013 

  • Options for improving the recycling rate

    Cary will spend $1.5 million this year to provide recycling services to 45,000 homes and 310 businesses. Here are possible options for boosting recycling rates, and how much each option would cost:

    • Implement a town-wide food-waste collection program: $5.6 million. A more-targeted program would cost $198,000.

    • Increase recycling collection to weekly from bi-weekly: one-time fee of $2 million and an annual cost of $595,000.

    • Charge residents more for using larger trash bins: $1.8 million.

    • Replace all 65-gallon recycling carts with 95-gallon carts: one-time fee of $1.7 million.

    • Participate in Recycle Bank, which partners with businesses to provide coupons to residents who log their recycling efforts: $315,000.

    • Increase recycling education and outreach: $31,000.

    • Increase recycling education and outreach to areas with low recycling participation: $21,000.

    • Add a recycling drop-off location at the Citizen's Convenience Center: $15,000.

    • Increase recycling education and outreach to apartments and businesses: $4,500.

— To encourage residents to recycle more and throw away less trash, Cary leaders are planning educational workshops to teach composting and may eliminate the fee for an extra recycling cart.

But the Town Council wants to gauge the community’s willingness to invest in the recycling program before making big changes.

In August, town leaders asked staff to investigate ways Cary could improve its 49 percent diversion rate, which measures how much recycled material is diverted from the garbage.

Cary’s diversion rate is higher than other comparable municipalities like Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro.

However, the rate has stagnated since 2010, when it rose from 46 percent to 50 percent after the town adopted an automated recycling pick-up system and expanded its list of recyclable materials.

Cary staff recently presented 10 options that could increase the amount of trash kept out of the landfill. The options ranged from spending as much as $5.6 million for food-waste collection to $4,500 on a campaign to better inform apartment tenants and businesses about recycling options.

Big-ticket measures like food-waste collection might be more likely to elevate the diversion rate: Food waste makes up about about one-fifth of the waste stream.

Cary already loses money on its recycling program. The town expects to spend about $1.5 million on the program this year but only earn about $200,000 from selling the materials, according to Scott Hecht, Cary’s public works director.

It’s gotten worse in recent years as the market for recycled materials has dwindled, Hecht said.

“At one point, just a couple years ago, we were getting about $57 a ton,” Hecht said. “The markets have tanked and we’re getting $18 a ton.”

At its Nov. 21 meeting, members of the Town Council hesitated to make any expensive, long-term changes without first hearing from residents.

Town leaders hope to get useful feedback by adding questions about the recycling program to the biennial survey, which the town will mail to residents in January.

In the meantime, the council set aside $2,500 to pay for composting workshops and asked staff to consider eliminating the $1 monthly fee for extra recycling carts when they plan next year’s budget.

Currently, residents can get an extra 65- or 95-gallon cart for the fee. About 670 Cary residents currently use an extra recycling cart, which means the town stands to lose at least $8,000.

That’s part of the reason Councilman Don Frantz wants to keep the $1 fee for extra recycling carts.

“If they’re that passionate about recycling … then I think they should cough up that one dollar,” Frantz said of residents. He noted that recycling trucks have to idle twice as long at houses with two recycling bins.

Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, who started the conversation about Cary’s diversion rate, supports the idea of giving people an extra cart for free.

“We have a very good diversion rate, but I hear all the time from citizens who say, ‘I’d recycle more if I had greater capacity to do so,’” Robinson said.

She said the town also needs to consider other options for encouraging recycling: “For everybody in Cary who has two trash cans, it’s time to say, ‘I’m sorry, hand in that second one, you don’t need that anymore.’”

Council members said they look forward to hearing from citizens.

Survey questions will likely focus on potential barriers to recycling and possible program changes that could encourage more people to recycle, said Susan Moran, a spokeswoman for Cary. It will also ask residents if they would be willing to pay more in taxes or fees to enhance the town’s recycling program.

“Our biennial survey really weighs heavily with staff and the council,” Councilwoman Lori Bush said.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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