RECYCLING: Communities Set Waste Reduction Records

Would you like a few tips to turn your landfill disposal rates backward? More than a dozen communities stand ready to help in a new report, "Cutting the Waste Stream in Half: Community Record Setters Show How."

The report, which was produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), both based in Washington, D.C., features 18 cities and counties with 40 percent to 65 percent residential or municipal solid waste reduction levels. The communities represent a cross-section of the United States, including rural, urban and suburban areas, and have populations from 2,000 to 73,000.

Each of the record-setters have designed a unique waste reduction and diversion system, but share many program characteristics. Communities that want to reduce their waste disposal can learn from these proven strategies:

* Target a wide range of recovery materials. Accepting many materials increases the waste available for recovery. Recovering more than just bottles and cans, these communities gathered 17 to 31 different types of materials, including reusable household goods, polystyrene packaging and textiles.

Accepting paper and yard trimmings was important to reach high diversion levels. Twelve percent to 45 percent of diverted material was paper, and between 17 percent to 43 percent of these communities' total residential waste was composted.

* Compost yard debris. For 10 of the 18 record-setters, composting accounts for more than half of all residential waste reduction. Leaf collection may be the single largest contributor to waste reduction in communities with fall seasons. For example, in suburban Falls Church, Va., leaves account for more than 30 percent of its total residential waste.

* Design for convenience. Residents are more likely to participate if set-out requirements are uncomplicated and collection is frequent. Providing adequate containers for material storage and set-out also improves convenience. Providing both curbside collection and drop-off sites for materials gives residents more recycling options. On-site recycling at multi-family buildings makes recycling easy for more residents.

* Implement pay-as-you-throw trash (PAYT) fees. Eleven record-setters use PAYT fees, which allow residents to pay by volume or weight for trash set on the curb. The fees serve as an economic incentive to reduce trash and recover as much as possible. In 1990, the year before Dover, N.H., instituted its PAYT system, the average household produced 6.2 pounds of trash per day and recycled 3 percent of it. By 1996, household waste generation dropped to 4.7 pounds per household per day with a 52 percent recovery rate.

* Require resident participation. Local requirements and mandates encourage program participation. Eleven of the record-setters have some type of local ordinance requiring separating materials or banning setting out certain materials with trash.

How expensive is it to reach these high recovery rates? These record-setters' experiences indicate that recycling and composting contribute to cost-effective waste management and save communities money.

In fact, 13 of the 14 profiled communities where the information was available, reduced or stabilized their solid waste management costs since beginning their programs. For example, Seattle increased residential recycling from 19 percent in 1987 to 49 percent in 1996 while maintaining an average waste management cost of $155 dollars per household.

How do record-setters contain waste management costs?

* "Right-sizing" the trash collection system. By decreasing trash disposal, record-setters have reduced trash collection costs. For example, Madison, Wis., was able to reduce its number and size of refuse trucks by diverting 50 percent of its residential waste.

* Composting yard debris. Collecting yard trimmings costs less than recyclables because the material is homogeneous and needs low-tech processing.

* Implementing PAYT trash programs. In Dover, N.H., trash collection and disposal costs dropped from $1.1 million in 1990 to $480,000 in 1996 while adding more than 1,000 customers.

* Augmenting curbside collection with drop-off sites. Curbside collection maximizes participation and recovery levels; however, drop-off collection often is cheaper for the community.

For example, Ann Arbor, Mich.'s., comprehensive drop-off centers accept materials not collected at the curbside, such as building materials, hardcover books and appliances. Also, the city's collection drop-off costs were $14 per ton cheaper than curbside collection and increased the city's waste reduction by 3 percent.

* Implement dual collection. Loveland, Co., and Visalia, Calif., have integrated recycling into their solid waste management systems by using dual-collection vehicles. This allows recyclables and trash to be collected in separate compartments in one truck. Dual-collection eliminates the need for two separate truck fleets, and increases crew productivity.

"This report convinces me that many other communities will be able to reduce their waste streams by more than half while reducing costs at the same time," says Bob Dellinger, Director of EPA's Municipal and Industrial Solid Waste Division.

To receive a free copy of "Cutting the Waste Stream in Half: Community Record Setters Show How," call the RCRA hotline at (800) 424-9346.