Petersburg residents could be seeing an upgrade to community’s curbside recycling program in 2015. The borough assembly Monday directed staff to budget for new household containers and a collection truck in the upcoming year.

Petersburg started the curbside recycling pickup last February. Residents bag up glass, plastics cardboards and other goods and that material gets shipped south to be reused, instead of going to a landfill in Washington state.
Public works director Karl Hagerman gave an update to Petersburg’s borough assembly. “The program has been successful,” Hagerman said. “And it’s my opinion that it needs to stay voluntary. We should not make it mandatory to keep our folks in Petersburg feeling good about the program and get their participation willingly instead of begrudgingly. That’s all gonna help make those numbers go up and get to that recycling rate that we need to achieve.”

Public works has set a goal of 30 percent of the solid waste shipped out of town be shipped to the recycling plant instead of the landfill by 2017. It costs the municipality about 96 dollars more a ton to send the material to the landfill in eastern Washington than to the recycling center in Seattle.

The borough put up an online survey on the program this fall and received back 104 responses. Hagerman says residential customers were pretty satisfied with the service. He said it was clear there could be improvements. “The suggested improvements from the public were wide ranging but most were centered on transitioning to a cart-based program away from the bags,” he said. “Although the bags got a fair amount of support as well. There were requests for changes in delivery of bags, distributing more bags at a time, using better bags for the bag program.”

The borough contracted with a private company for the first year of the service but Hagerman recommended having borough employees take over that collection to save the contract costs. He also recommended purchasing new 96 gallon containers similar to the larger garbage cans already in use. And he said the borough would have to purchase a new truck in order to take over weekly pickup.

Those one time purchases will total almost three hundred thousand dollars and the new truck will have annual upkeep costs. But the borough would no longer have to pay an annual contract for collection or the cost of new bags on a regular basis. Those two costs total over 100 thousand dollars and would be an annual expense if the borough continues with the current program.

Hagerman noted that the borough saves money for every ton that is sent to the recycling center instead of the landfill. “The savings that we’re seeing from sending materials, 96 dollars a ton over our solid waste really speaks for itself,” Hagerman said. “We need to do whatever we can to push material through the recycling side. And that means to me, increase public education efforts, offering continuous feedback to the community regarding division rates and how to keep those rules clarified so that everything that they can put into the recycling bin goes in the recycling bin.”

Hagerman said the current diversion rate does not offset the costs of the service. He also noted that nearly 100 percent of households were participating. Businesses are also recycling but staff noted possibilities for recycling more material from merchants and restaurants as well as harbor users.
Assembly members were generally supportive of Hagerman’s recommendation. But John Havrilek wanted to have alternating trash and recycling collection from week to week, in order to save on the upfront costs. “If we did the every other week option we wouldn’t have to be adding, staff, truck, etc.,” Havrilek said. “That seems like it saves well over 100,000 dollars. And the other thing, just because my experience in this other area, I know by doing the every other week thing that would force people to recycle because their garbage was getting full.”

Some survey respondents did not like the idea of having garbage around for two weeks during the warmer months and when bears might be looking for a snack. Other assembly members wanted to have a smaller container option for the collection.

Nonetheless, assembly members voted to support Hagerman’s recommendation as he prepares his budget. The vote was 4-2 with Havrilek and Bob Lynn voting against that motion. It’s not a totally done deal, the assembly will still have to vote on the actual purchase of the truck and new collection containers, as well as the budget itself in 2015.