Arch Allies: Gateway To Recycling

St. Louis County, working closely with its municipalities, waste collection companies, the recycling industry, community organizations and a citizen task force, uses proceeds from its landfill surcharge to fund innovative programs that encourage recycling and reduce the amount of materials discarded.

For example, the county offers:

* educational materials and out-reach activities to support groups promoting recycling;

* a grant program providing recycling incentives for municipalities, businesses and groups in unincorporated county areas;

* a market development program that helps expand industrial applications' demand for recovered feedstocks; and

* alliances with community organizations to stimulate comprehensive waste management strategies.

In the past, there was limited recycling processing capacity with few material recovery facilities (MRFs) in the region. However, within the past year, the completion of three privately financed and operated MRFs increased the regional processing capacity by 600 percent.

Since landfilling cost continues to be low compared to elsewhere, the immediate challenge is to substantially and economically increase recyclables collection to feed new facilities. The longer-term job is to prepare for the day when landfilling costs will rise.

Starting With The Basics According to a 1996 comprehensive survey conducted in unincorporated St. Louis County, residents want to recycle more, but need more information about the options available. So, the county pursued several initiatives.

Under the umbrella theme "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ... Naturally," printed materials - including a brochure series, a comprehensive recycling how-to guide and direct mail fliers - were produced for groups interested in increasing recycling awareness.

In addition, the county conducts public relations activities, advertising, radio appearances and promotional events. Educational exhibits highlighting recycling and source reduction also were designed for shopping malls, libraries, city halls and for use by grantees and other organizations at community events.

One exhibit features an interactive game while another is information-oriented. Working with the local paint and coatings association, the county also created a costumed paint can mascot (see pg. 69) to make appearances in conjunction with the traveling displays.

The county also adopted other creative ways to inform and educate selected audiences including: a recycling hotline; slides in movie theaters; advertising on buses traveling in targeted areas; and organizing guest appearances on radio drive-time and talk shows.

Getting Down To Business One of the county's largest recycling initiatives, the Recycling and Source Reduction Grant Program, now in its third year, provides municipalities and organizations in unincorporated areas funding for collection equipment and outreach efforts to begin or expand their recycling programs.

For example, one municipality used grant funds to develop a state-of-the-art, 100 percent recycled-content park complete with picnic tables, playground equipment and a running track, using old tires and discarded plastic. Another municipality's residential hauler received a grant to partially fund a specially designed truck to provide a weight-based refuse collection system.

This pilot project's goal, done in concert with curbside recycling service, was to increase recycling participation. And after one year, the project succeeded: The municipality, previously known for its low recycling rate, has reported a 20 percent recycling increase in the pilot area.

A different project will result in a multi-year program to expand both residential and multi-family recycling. As part of the project, the community has signed an exclusive trash service contract where the basic service fee saves the average household 30 percent while expanding recycling and yard waste services. So far, the pilot program has resulted in an 89 percent participation rate and 1,051 tons of recyclables collected.

Several grant projects focus on increasing residential participation in backyard composting. Backyard compost bins, a composting demonstration site, training and educational materials all have been partially funded from county landfill surcharges. Training programs by Master Composters and bin distribution events have more than doubled since last year. These programs serve several municipalities and unincorporated areas.

One county school district received a grant to purchase recycling collection equipment and perform recycling education programs for students and teachers.

The results were a nearly 9 percent drop in the amount of waste generated in the district (which already had a nationally acclaimed recycling program) and a 10 percent increase in the amount of materials recycled. The program, which serves the district's 34 buildings, is a model for other schools.

Market Development, Creative Alliances St. Louis County has encouraged investment and modernization through its Recycling Market Development Program. The program's main goal is to strengthen the recycling industry and to expand the demand for recovered materials and materials that may be diverted from the landfill.

Low-interest loans, for example, are available to encourage the use of recovered materials in manufacturing operations and businesses. The loan programs fund St. Louis County-based projects and result in either:

* the final processing or conversion of recovered materials into industrial feedstocks; or

* the manufacture of products from those feedstocks.

St. Louis County also has had success through its alliances. For example, its Comprehensive School District Recycling Program is designed to strengthen recycling education both in school and in the community. It has two goals:

* incorporate recycling and source reduction education into school curricula; and

* incorporate recycling into school district waste collection services.

The model school district will feature "buy recycled" training courses for purchasing staff and teacher training on solid waste management.

Through another school-based alliance, one of the largest landfills in Missouri now supplies methane, at no charge, for heating a St. Louis County high school. The landfill's commitment, a county grant and state funding helped make this project possible.

The local solid waste district funds a popular and cost saving cooperative yard waste management equipment project which serves 13 municipalities and the County Parks Department.

Here, the county contracts with private operators for tubgrinding and compost screening services. This program saves potential operating costs of up to 60 percent, and the resulting landscape mulch, valued at $18 per yard, is given free-of-charge to participants.

The Bulky Item Recycling Day pilot program gave residents of unincorporated St. Louis County an opportunity to recycle bulky items and appliances - lawnmowers, carpeting, residential white goods, tires, bicycles, furniture and mattresses - for free. More than 1,500 cubic yards of material was diverted from landfills.

Additionally, with grant funding support, one local paint remanufacturer has organized several community-wide paint collection days, which has helped develop a recycling market for this hard-to-manage product.

Grant funding also enables a portion of the remanufactured paint to be made available to not-for-profit groups and organizations in St. Louis County.