Friday, December 16, 2011

Students urge single-stream recycling

County holds community recycling forum

Express Staff Writer

From left, Wood River High School students Lex Shapiro and Erika Greenberg advocate for single-stream recycling and public outreach during a community forum on recycling solutions. Photo by David N. Seelig

Members of the public worried they were only "preaching to the choir" at a community hearing on Wednesday night aimed at finding a solution for increasing recycling in Blaine County.

The Blaine County commissioners convened along with county Director of Operations Char Nelson and staff members from the Blaine County Recycling Center to allow the public to brainstorm suggestions for how recycling can be made easier for all valley residents.

One major problem with the current system is that the recycling center is losing money, Nelson said. Operating expenses run $278,000 per year for the center, which brings in an average of $168,540 in revenue.

Nelson said one way to help the center's finances would be by increasing the amount of materials residents recycle, which would bring in more revenue. But how to do that is another matter.

"What concerns me is that we're preaching to the choir here, people who already recycle," said Erika Greenberg, Wood River High School student. "A lot of people don't recycle. It's easier to buy a bigger trash can."

Some residents at the meeting, including several members of the Wood River High School environmental club, W.A.T.E.R, said moving from a complicated sorting system to a single- or dual-stream recycling system might prompt more people to recycle.

"When I [lived in] Oregon, we recycled a lot more because we had single stream," said Chase England, a Wood River High School Student and Indian Creek resident. "I feel like single-stream would be better."

Single-stream—also known as co-mingled recycling—is when aluminum, paper, plastic and cardboard are all collected in the same bin.

Unlike the current curbside sort program, residents would not need to separate anything except glass, saving time and possibly increasing the amount of material that they recycle. The material gained from single-stream recycling does not collect as much revenue per ton, however.

Nelson pointed out that single-stream would not allow residents to recycle glass, and dual-stream recycling would require residents to remove both cardboard and glass from other recyclables.

Lex Shapiro, a Hailey resident and Wood River High School student, said she thought more residents would be willing to participate in single- or dual-stream, as it's far more convenient than the current system.

"At my house, we have six bins," she said. "If people could throw [all recyclables] into one bin, they would."

However, other participants pointed out that there are both upsides and downsides to single-stream recycling. Patricia Weaver, Hailey resident, said people who are willing to use multiple bins to sort recyclables tend to be more conscientious about recycling practices—including avoiding contamination and rinsing out bottles and cans before disposal. She said people might get sloppy if they could dump everything in one bin.

Nelson pointed out that there is not a facility in Idaho that processes material from single-stream recycling, and that the material would need to be shipped to facilities on the West Coast.

Sunny Grant, a Hailey homeowner and a secretary in the county Recorder's Office, said she understood the fossil fuel use involved, but that it was still better than the alternative.

"It also costs money to ship our waste to the landfill," she said. "Then we have to worry about the land the landfill is in, and closing the landfill and buying more land, and contaminating our groundwater. There are all kinds of costs on both sides."

Some residents said they didn't mind the inconvenience of sorting, and maybe the solution to increasing recycling in the county lies in public education.

"If you don't educate, you're still going to have the same problems," Greenberg said.

She added that the club had a number of problems at the high school with proper recycling procedures until it increased awareness.

"Unfortunately, this is a time when people need a big, fat sign in front of their faces," she said. "If you don't take steps to educate the public, nothing will change."

Nelson said a citizen advisory committee will consider public comment and all available options before presenting a recycling plan to the Blaine County Board of County Commissioners this summer.

Katherine Wutz:

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