Changes are coming for Petersburg’s curbside recycling program. The borough this fall is asking customers to keep glass separate from the other recycled materials and will re-purpose the glass at the local landfill. Early next year the borough expects to hand out collection carts that will replace the blue plastic bags for curbside collection.
Starting November 1st the borough’s sanitation department wants local recycling customers to leave glass bottles and jars and other glass out of the blue plastic bags used for curbside collection. Instead, recycled glass can be dropped off in a dumpster at the borough’s public works’s building on Second Street. That glass will then be used to cover other waste at the borough’s landfill.
Public works director Karl Hagerman said including glass in Petersburg’s recycling stream has dropped the value of those products. “When the glass goes to our bailer it turns into many, many very small pieces of glass, which make it very hard to separate,” he said. “And so consequently it is very expensive for our recycler to deal with and because of that it reduces the rebate value that we get for our co-mingled stream quite a bit.”
Petersburg’s recycling is called co-mingled, with materials not sorted, but mixed together in bags and shipped to Seattle. That makes it easier for customers to recycle but it also means Petersburg gets less of a financial return for keeping that paper, plastic and cardboard out of the landfill in eastern Washington.
Based on the market for materials, Petersburg gets a rebate for recyclables and that number can fluctuate. If that rebate falls below $26 a ton, it actually starts costing the borough more to separate recyclables than to ship the material along with other garbage to the landfill.
Hagerman said the rebate amount is dropped by the unsorted broken glass and blue plastic bags that make up part of Petersburg’s shipment. “So this effort is an attempt to remove those materials from our co-mingled stream, make sure that we can maintain a high rebate value for the co-mingled recycles we do send to Seattle,” he said. “And in the long term it will pretty much solidify the recycling program in Petersburg and allow us to meet our goals for a sustainable program.”
After the elimination of glass next month, the borough is also planning to cut the blue plastic bags out of the equation. Since the start of the program in early 2014, curbside pickup has been handled by a private contractor, but that will change once the borough gets a new collection truck this winter. Borough employees will be taking over that curbside collection using that new truck and new containers that are already at the bailer and awaiting distribution. Originally scheduled for this fall, the container roll out has been delayed.
“It will happen but it keeps getting pushed back further and further,” Hagerman said. “The truck is being built. The latest estimate for its completion off the assembly line is late November. Chances are that it wont get to Petersburg until mid-December and then we’re into the holiday season.” Hagerman thinks the container distribution and the end of blue plastic bags could happen in mid-January.
Participation in the program has plateaued with around 1100 customers in Petersburg. The overall recycling rate, the weight of waste by no longer going to the landfill was at 19 percent last year. This year it’s around 17 percent. The borough’s goal is 30 percent by 2017.
“The co-mingled program itself is just so easy, I hear that over and over again,” Hagerman said. “It’s an easy process for folks. Really hoping the carts will even make it easier for some and we’ll continue to improve our recycling rate in Petersburg which will ultimately help the longevity of the program.”
Blue plastic bags with glass inside will be red-tagged starting November 1st and customers will have to remove that glass. Customers can also just toss the glass in the garbage can again. That drop-off dumpster for glass at the public works yard on Second Street will be open round-the-clock, seven days a week.
Hagerman thinks there should be a few more items allowed in the recycling bags later this year. He expects to update the borough’s recycling guide with that information.