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Draper Journal

Recycling revisited: The Big 3 is still the big focus

Feb 03, 2022 02:48PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Costs for recycling have come down recently and the city has even received credits for recycling some commodities. Meanwhile, Draper pays $20/ton to haul garbage to the landfill while some parts of the U.S. pay nearly $150/ton. (Courtesy Draper City)

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

Mere months before the pandemic started, Draper City launched a “Be Bright, Recycle Right” campaign. The city instructed residents to “Focus on the Big 3” and only recycle three things: corrugated cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs with necks and lids on, and metal food and beverage cans. That was it, keep it simple and keep it to “The Big 3.” 

In fall 2019 those changes were necessary and The Big 3 remains the city’s recycling approach, both because it helps to save the city money and it helps the environment. 

Leading up to that new approach, the worldwide recycling landscape had changed drastically. China had stopped taking many of America’s recycled commodities (plastics and paper) and the city realized that much of what residents thought was being recycled was actually going to the landfill. In some cases, the city was paying double—first the higher recycling rate, and then the additional rate for those items that couldn’t be recycled to go from the recycling facility on to the landfill. 

“We always paid overall (to recycle), but sometimes as low as $5/ton. By late 2018, the city was paying $50/ton for materials that had value and $75/ton for materials that previously were considered recyclable but were now considered trash,” said Robert Markle, deputy public works director. Corrugated cardboard was the one thing that the city sometimes got monetary credit for recycling. 

When the new recycling campaign was launched pre-pandemic, city officials talked about a big education campaign for residents. There was even a discussion of “recycling police” marking the bins of residents who were tainting the loads for others. “If we don’t enforce it, it’s really self-defeating,” City Manager David Dobbins said in fall 2019, adding that he used to think when in doubt on an item, it was best to throw it in the recycle bin. “But the reality is that contaminates the load,” Dobbins said. 

The city was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of residents picked up on The Big 3 campaign. Then Covid hit and the recycling and garbage landscape quickly changed again. 

“Covid brought record tonnages of material picked up due to everyone being home, doing home projects to keep busy, and doing more takeout and delivery shopping,” Markle said. Covid meant the city couldn’t interact with residents nor could they implement “recycling police” due to staffing shortages. But the city did suspend some accounts of those who were blatantly breaking the rules. They also gave residents the option to opt out of recycling. “Residents can opt out, but they do not receive any credit on their bills because the average tonnage of waste per household is still the same whether they recycle or not. We want to encourage our residents to recycle when they can to prolong the life of the landfill and do what is right by recycling,” Markle said. 

More than two years after the change to The Big 3, Markle said commodity values are going up because new capacity is being added to perform some recycling in the U.S. instead of overseas and some major consumer brands established recycled content goals. 

“We continue to tag cans of people that we can see aren’t recycling correctly, but it hasn’t been as big of a focus because we were able to reduce our contamination through The Big 3 campaign,” he said. 

In addition to only recycling The Big 3, residents need to remember two other basics:

  1. Don’t bag it! Plastic bags destroy big equipment in the recycling process, so place your items loosely in your recycling bin for pick up and never include plastic bags.
  2. Caps on! Keep plastic lids on milk jugs and plastic bottles. This prevents them from getting loose in the washing process and ending up in rivers, creeks, lakes and oceans. 

Plastics such as sour cream, yogurt and cottage cheese containers and waxy paper milk and juice containers still can’t be recycled in Draper, nor can aerosol containers or clear plastic containers used for berries and salad. But for those who want to recycle as much as possible, there are easy opportunities to properly recycle commodities such as paper (including junk mail, magazines, newspaper, cereal and cracker boxes, toilet paper tubes, etc.) and glass.  

  1. Paper can be dropped off at any of the Green Fiber bins located in most school parking lots and at City Hall. The Green Fiber company uses those paper products to make insulation, and the school from which the paper was collected gets a monetary kickback. Markle noted that the Green Fiber bins are for mixed paper and the city would prefer residents recycle cardboard in their recycle bins or deliver cardboard to the dumpster at the city’s Public Works building at 72 E. Sivogah Court. “If the bins are full, please do not pile up boxes and papers on the ground outside the bin. This makes a mess and Green Fiber will not take it. Also, always break down your cardboard boxes so we can store more per dumpster delivery,” Markle said. 
  2. Glass can be recycled for free at City Hall on the southeast side of the parking lot, or residents can sign up for curbside glass recycling through Momentum, the link for which is on the city’s website. The initial set-up fee for Momentum’s service is $25 and the service costs $8/month. 

The city also provides an opportunity for residents to dispose of leaves in the fall and living Christmas trees in the winter at the Public Works site on Sivogah Court.  

Things are looking more optimistic on the recycling front than they did just a couple years ago. “Over the past year, our cost to recycle started dropping. In the past months we have seen a value of about $20/ton paid. That means we’ve received a payment of approximately $3,000/month rather than paying more than $13,000/month like we did in 2018,” Markle said. 

For now, the city’s recycling focus is still as simple as one, two, three. “The Big 3 is still our focus and is working,” Markle said.