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Recycling hits plateau 

Waste Management looking to increase public interest.

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We don’t all drive hybrid cars or ride bikes or take public transportation, but there is one positive environmental step that much of the public participates in: Recycling.

But that participation is leveling off, Carol Bevis, deputy director and recycling coordinator for the county’s Regional Solid Waste Management District, said. In Pulaski County, our recycled trash made up 29 percent of the total waste stream in 2005, the most recent year for which numbers are available. That’s just one percentage point higher than in 2001.

Waste Management’s annual reports record a dramatic difference in tonnage: About county 20,000 tons were recycled in 1998, compared to only about 8,500 in 2005.

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality reports that 40 percent of the state’s solid waste stream is recycled each year, which puts Arkansas ahead of the national average of 32 percent.

An editorial in the industry publication Waste Age says “recycling is in good shape,” but needs to be “energized.”

Why? Because, a chart produced by the county’s Regional Solid Waste Management District says, one ton of recycled newspapers saves 17 trees; one ton of recycled steel cans saves about 2,500 pounds of iron ore. The energy it takes to produce a single glass bottle can light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours; the energy it takes to produce an aluminum can will operate a computer for three hours. Reuse makes sense — though some would argue that it since takes energy to recycle, we may not be coming out too far ahead.

But, Bevis said, “It’s hard to pull in enough new people [each year] to alter the numbers.”

The county contracts with Recycle America, a for-profit facility, to gather, sort and bale the recyclables for shipping to mills. Cardboard is shipped to Oklahoma; newspapers and steel cans are sent to Alabama; aluminum goes to Tennessee, and plastic is sold to various markets, including China, Rusty Miller of Recycle America said. There are no mills in Arkansas.

In other cities across the country, local governments have begun charging more for trash collection than for recycling to increase numbers of recyclers.

Fayetteville has imposed a pay-as-you-throw system: Residents pay according to the amount of trash that they have, said Brian Pugh, waste reduction coordinator for the Solid Waste and Recycling department there. Residents choose whether they want a small, medium, or large sized trash cart and prices range from $8.75 to $18.96 a month; however, when residents go over their limit, they are charged an extra $6 for each bag of trash placed outside of the cart, Pugh explains.

Curbside recycling is included in the monthly charge for trash pick up, and there is no limit on the amount of residents’ recyclables, he said.

Adding Sherwood to the list of cities that offer curbside pick up of recyclables would be one way to boost recycling numbers in Pulaski County, Bevis said.

Sherwood Mayor Danny Stedman said curbside pick-up is something that interests residents and the city is looking into what it would cost. He hopes it’s something the city will offer in the future.

Bevis also said that the district would like to offer more drop-off centers to increase recycling, but expense is a big factor. Someone has to man the centers, she explained, to keep unwanted items, such as dead animals or old mattresses, from being dumped.

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