Recycling program could be cut in half

A budget proposal presented last week would limit county curbside recycling service next year to users on this year’s highest-volume routes.

At last week’s budget and audit committee meeting, Charles Dane, deputy director of general services, said he realized the proposals presented regarding curbside recycling – to either charge or not charge users a fee that would raise about $2.2 million to cover the cost of providing the service – represented two extremes and he wanted to “come up with a  hybrid.”

The hybrid proposal is to cut the program’s cost in half by continuing curbside recycling only on routes with participation rates of 50 percent or greater, he said. In this proposal, 40 of the 112 existing routes would be eliminated, he said; about 50 percent of the homes in the program are on the 40 routes that would be cut.

The remaining homes would pay the proposed $25 fee, raising the $1.2 million needed to pay for the program, Dane said. In fiscal 2012, groups of homes could opt out of or back into the service, he said. To opt in or out, the groups should be in a contiguous area, he said, and homes would not be able to opt out individually.

There is a state mandated 25 percent recycling rate, Dean said, but Chesterfield County’s total is counted with 12 other localities in the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority. Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker asked whether the region would meet the 25 percent recycling requirement if Chesterfield’s curbside program were stopped, though he wasn’t suggesting eliminating it. Dane said he believed the region would meet the requirement even without curbside in Chesterfield.

Midlothian District School Board Member Patricia Carpenter said she felt that “if you try to push this program on just individuals that recycle … they’ll almost feel like they’ve been singled out.”

“It’ll be very negative,” she said. She suggested turning the fee implementation into a marketing opportunity, and explaining to residents everything they would be getting for the fee. “And then, everybody has the opportunity in Chesterfield County to go green.”

Dane said research shows that those with very low or very high income levels participate the least in recycling programs, which is one reason why the opt in and opt out options are there.

County Administrator Jay Stegmaier said allowing people to opt in or out is risky because it sets up the potential for conflict.

Gecker asked whether recycling paid on an environmental level, since the trucks, which get about 6 miles to the gallon, run about 13,000 miles a month to pick up about 15,000 tons of recycling a year, about 20 percent of which ends up in the landfill anyway. Supervisors Vice Chairman Jim Holland said he was also concerned about the number of truck trips, and asked whether there were a model in place for picking up recycling and trash together.

If the recyclable materials and trash aren’t picked up separately, Dane said, all of what’s collected can be taken to a “dirty MuRF,” or materials recycling facility, and sorted through. Doing this would also guarantee 100 percent participation in recycling, he said.

Gecker asked what it would cost the Shoosmith landfill to implement a sorting facility, and Dane said it would cost $5 million to $10 million. Gecker pointed out that the county is now spending about $2.2 million a year to capture just 2 percent of the waste stream.

A MuRF could be built anywhere, Dane said, and it’s certainly something that could be pursued in the long term.

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