Petersburg is moving forward with a more extensive curbside recycling program. The borough assembly this week gave staff the green light for a switch to co-mingled recycling. That’s where no separation is required and all materials can be mixed together by residents and businesses.

The change is meant to encourage more people to recycle and ultimately reduce borough costs by cutting down on the amount of trash it has to ship out of town. The program would remain voluntary but borough officials hope to increase participation by making trash collection a bit more expensive for those who choose not to recycle. Matt Lichtenstein reports:

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“The fact is that as we pay for solid waste disposal, the more recycling we can do, the lower our costs will be in the long term. So that stabilizes our local costs and is better for the community and the environment as a whole,” said Public Works Director Karl Hagerman who presented the recycling recommendations to the borough Assembly Monday. He said co-mingled recycling is the best way to dramatically increase local recycling rates.

“Our current effort of 10.5 percent recycling rate is just not going to cut it as far as stabilizing costs in the long run.”

Petersburg had a net loss of over 13 thousand dollars for current the recycling program this past year. In his written report to the assembly, Hagerman estimated that a recycling rate boosted to 40 percent could save the borough over 70 thousand dollars a year on waste disposal. He was hopeful that could happen in the next five years.

The Borough conducted a trial program of co-mingled recycling with a limited number of residents and a wider range of recyclables this summer. Hagerman called it a success.

“People that participated in that really did see the benefits of that co-mingled system. It was easy for them to do which is a big part of increasing recycling rates as well, making it simple (and) easily understood. (It) helps people do the right thing and sign up for the program.”

The co-mingled recycling program would remain free and it would include residential and commercial customers. Large businesses and the harbor would use borough dumpsters. Most other participants, like homeowners and small businesses, would use special plastic bags for curbside pick-up by a contractor. The borough would accept a wide range of materials and they would all go in the same bag.

“So we would have all recyclable plastics with the exception of styrofoam and plastic film like cellophane or plastic bags. Food containers would have to be rinsed and we don’t want lids or caps in there. Tin cans would be included, rinsed with labels removed. Aluminum cans. junk mail, catalogs, phone books, magazines, office paper, basically mixed paper would go in the bag as well. We would accept unbroken bottles and jars. No plate glass. It’s too dangerous for collection personnel. An any cardboard that can be broken down and placed inside of the bag would be accepted too. We don’t want cardboard left out in the weather,” Hagerman said.

In the long-run, Hagerman wants to transition to a special recycling containers, or carts, which are used by residents and businesses in most other communities around the country.

“The cart system, versus bags, I’ve been going back and forth a lot in my office on the pros and cons of those. The carts force us to use automated collection trucks which is a large expense. Contractors here in town don’t have that infrastructure. So it pretty much would take the contractor out of the equation if we went to carts. The bags keep the contractor involved and also decrease initial capital costs quite a bit.”

Hagerman said the reason he was recommending the borough start with bags was to try to develop the customer base and keep the program voluntary. If participation doesn’t increase enough, according to Hagerman, it would be less feasible to buy the recycling carts as well as a new truck or other equipment.

“I’m not recommending that we go to a mandatory recycling system that we force people to recycle. We want people to make that choice. There are incentives that make that choice pretty clear.”

The primary incentive would be lower costs for garbage collection. Those who don’t recycle would see a 20 percent increase in the garbage collection rate for a 32 gallon can, which is the size used by the majority of customers. That would mean paying about 5 dollars more a month.

“So basically, anybody that recycles, their rates would remain the same. They’d still be subject to future increases that are contained in the ordinance for solid waste rates but the folks that choose not to recycle for any reason would end up paying higher costs that would help fund the program and the people that are recycling and increasing our diversion rate would be doing their part to pay for the system.”

The contract for recycling pick-up would go out to competitive bid and Hagerman recommended the borough implement the program no later than March 31st of next year.

The assembly had a handful of questions and suggestions but the members voted unanimously to give Public works permission to move ahead with the recommendations.

A formal ordinance on the plan could come up in its first reading before the assembly as early as November 4th.