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Draper Journal

'When in doubt, throw it out' - Draper city educating residents on the cost of recycling wrong

Oct 02, 2019 02:27PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

Several immediate changes have come to Draper’s recycling program, and the sooner residents are educated about those changes, the better, to save money and potentially help the environment.

“You’ve got to understand the economics of recycling. Currently, the value of commodities is down. The public needs to know recycling costs money, whereas eight years ago we were getting paid — it’s a big change,” said Robert Markle, deputy public works director for Draper City. 

Recycling drastically changed nationwide when China enacted their National Sword Policy in 2017. China stopped taking many of the plastics Americans were previously exporting to that country for a monetary return.

“It seems like the whole planet is confused about what is being recycled,” Markle said.

In early 2019, Draper City realized that much of what residents thought was being recycled was, in fact, going to the landfill. But because it was being picked up for recycling, the higher fee was charged to the city for recycling along with the additional fee for taking what couldn’t be recycled to the landfill. That’s when city officials began to look for options or changes to the city’s recycling program, including the possibility of a different recycling service provider.

The city put out a request for proposals (RFP) several months ago, but Rocky Mountain Recycling (RMR) was the only company that came to the table with a contract that matched their proposal. RMR is the same company the city has contracted with for recycling ever since the city began hauling its own garbage about 10 years ago. 

Draper City entered into a new contract with RMR that became effective Aug. 27. The contract covers until the city’s fiscal year ends (June 30, 2020), at which point either Draper City or RMR could make adjustments. RMR could adjust pricing based on the market or Draper City could ask the city council if they want to renew with RMR or do an RFP again.

The city plans a heavy campaign on how to recycle correctly for the next half year, including mailing flyers to residents, information on the city website and social media, and presentations at schools so students can take the information home to their parents, all in an effort to reduce contamination and lower costs. 

“We’re going to have to inundate the public with information. Draper City has been paying higher recycling fees since March 2019. We went from the mid-$60s per ton to $80 per ton,” Markle said. Current rates for garbage are $16 per ton. Markle said that because recycled material such as paper, empty cans and plastic are typically not as heavy as garbage, the city recycles about 2,200 tons per year compared to about 22,000 tons of garbage the city annually hauls to the landfill.

The biggest changes to the program include:

  1. Don’t bag it! The city used to ask residents to put their recycling in plastic bags to keep items from blowing out of the bins on collection days, but that must stop immediately because plastic bags can ruin costly equipment at the Material Recovery Facility where recycling goes to be sorted. 
  2. Caps on! Caps should be put back on things like milk jugs and plastic bottles after they are rinsed clean because caps have a value and are recyclable. When thrown away, caps can cause environmental problems such as ending up in oceans or on beaches where they often harm marine mammals, fish and birds.

Things that remain the same:

Recycling will still be picked up every other week. “If you’re filling your can every week, you’re probably putting things in that aren’t being recycled. It’s not efficient and it’s expensive,” Markle said. 

The city wants to focus efforts on simplifying recycling with “The Big Three”:

  1. Corrugated cardboard 
  2. Metal food and beverage cans — drink cans, soup, vegetable and tuna cans 
  3. Plastic bottles and jugs labeled with the recycling symbol No. 1 or No. 2 with a neck and cap such as soda bottles, liquid laundry detergent, shampoo/conditioner bottles and milk jugs.

That simplified campaign means items like waxy paper, milk and juice half-gallon containers, yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese and margarine containers along with clear plastic berry and salad “boxes” should be thrown away along with aerosol containers for hairspray and shave cream. 

The city advises that even paper, newspaper, magazines, cereal boxes, junk mail and other paper products are better off being thrown away at this time. “We are finding that paper is having a very tough time (being recycled) right now and is more than likely going to the landfill,” Markle said. He also said that RMR has recently invested in a paper mill, so there is thinking that those commodities will have value in the future.

Just because the MRF indicates it will take more than the “Big Three” items doesn’t mean they’ll be recycled. Instead, they may go on to the landfill after being charged to the city first at the higher recycling rate per ton. And beware the recycle symbol on any items you purchase with the best intentions. “That little recycling sign — you can print that on anything you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s recyclable,” Markle said. 

The city offers help on recycling glass, which isn’t collected curbside, and cardboard, in case you have a large amount at one time. Glass recycling is accepted in a dumpster located on the parking lot behind City Hall. Cardboard boxes can be taken to the Draper Public Works facility at 72 East Sivogah Court.

What Mayor Troy Walker called “recycling police,” or city employees looking for violations, may be in Draper’s future and are already in place in other cities in the valley.  They would look into the contents of a recycling bin when it’s on the street on a pick-up day, but not when the container is sitting at a person’s home. When they find a violator, they will tag the container to educate people about changing their behaviors. The focus would not be on small mistakes such as putting the wrong type of plastic item in the recycling bin, but for clear violations such as food, dirty diapers, yard debris or other obvious waste. Several violations could potentially lead to having one’s recycle bin taken away by the city but still being charged for the service for a period of time.

Markle said the city has found that some people use their recycling container as an extra trash can. “That can ruin much of the truck’s load of recycling. This needs to stop,” he said.

“If we don’t enforce it (recycling correctly), it’s really self-defeating,” said City Manager David Dobbins. He said he used to think that when in doubt on an item, he would throw it in the recycling. “But the reality is that contaminates the load,” Dobbins said. 

The city will continue to evaluate the recycling program, and if costs continue to rise, they will consider ideas for improvement such as additional education, enforcement programs or potentially an opt-out option. 

According to Markle, the city’s contract with RMR doesn’t have penalties for contamination below 30%, but beyond that, the contract says RMR has the right to charge the city more.

Though there’s been some interest in green recycling for yard waste, there isn’t currently a market for that. Markle pointed out that green waste is actually helpful in the landfill. 

Markle warned about being a wish-cycler. “We’re streamlining what we recycle so we’re actually recycling what there’s a market for so we don’t balloon our costs,” he said.

“This is worldwide that this approach is changing. Instead of recycling as much as you can, it’s better to recycle right or correctly,” he said. “When in doubt, throw it out.”