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Garbage down, recycling up in Salt Lake County

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012 7:31 a.m. MST

Saul Lopez drives a recycling truck for Salt Lake County in Magna, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. Lopez was named National Driver of the Year for the Public Sector by the National Environmental Industry Associations.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As the economy struggles to create jobs, there is one impact of a struggling economy not often thought of: garbage.

"Everything is down in tonnage this year, and we attribute that mainly to the economy dip. People are buying less so they are throwing away less," Ryan Dyer said.

Dyer, the program manager for the Salt Lake County recycling program, said that while people may not be throwing as much into the garbage, they are recycling more.

"Recycling tonnages have actually increased," he said. "Not a great deal, but there is an increase nonetheless. It's about a 5 to 7 percent increase in recycle tonnage."

Because of high demand, Salt Lake County switched from a recycling schedule of every other week to a weekly recycling schedule this year. That has motivated residents to recycle more.

"We didn't see as big a jump in 2012 that we expected with opening the avenue to weekly," Dyer said. "But there is actually more of an increase than what we've measured simply because all of our other programs' tonnages are down, which tells us people are throwing away as much but recycle tonnage has increased."

When the county introduced weekly recycling pickup, it anticipated as much as a 50 percent increase based on preliminary estimates. But Dyer said a 5 percent increase isn't as poor as it sounds because garbage is down 5 percent as well.

"Realistically, you can say there's a possibility there that opening up the avenue in the first year, without the adequate education programs, we've seen a 10 percent increase in recycling as compared to garbage collection over the last year," he said.

County officials estimate that recycling will increase even further when it introduces a recycling education program next year.

Between 2009 and 2011, Salt Lake County recycling — which serves the cities of Herriman, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Taylorsville, and parts of Murray as well as all unincorporated areas of the county — saw a 3 percent increase from 19,779 tons of recyclables in 2009 to 20,400 tons in 2011.

In contrast to Salt Lake County, Draper took over control of its garbage collection in December of 2009 and switched its recycle pickup schedule from weekly to biweekly. In the two years since the city switched, there has been an almost 6 percent drop in recycling tonnages and is on track to decrease another 1.5 percent in 2012.

Even though Salt Lake County has continued to recycle more on an annual basis, Dyer said 59 percent, by volume, of the garbage the county collects is recyclable.

"We're still having a lot of recyclables in the waste stream," Dyer said. "What people just don't understand is it is really easy to (believe) that recycling just isn't important."

Recycling is not only good for the environment, it is good for the economy, he said.

Collecting garbage costs the same as collecting recyclables. The collection truck has its expenses and the employees collecting it have a cost, but the difference comes in after the collecting is done.

"Right now we are paying $26 a ton for garbage. There's a potential increase of $8 per ton, which could put it up to $34 a ton," he said. "Or we can take it to the recycle facility and get — the money we get on recyclables is based on the commodity levels — for last month we got $20 a ton for our recyclables."

To keep offering waste removal services for the same fees that currently exist, he said, the county has to offset increasing fees to dump at the landfill, and recycling is the best way to do that because it goes from expenditure to revenue.

"When our landfill is full and we have to ship the material out of the valley, we're not going to be looking at $26 or $34 a ton. We are going to be looking at closer to $100 a ton," he said. "That alone is reason enough to divert recyclables out of the waste stream."

"We want to promote recycling not only for the environmental impact but the economic impact as well," Dyer said.

Chris Bond, vice president of marketing for Metro Recycling, said he thinks people are recycling more.

"I think it has become easier for them to recycle with the cities doing the curbside recycling, but also there are a lot more recycling centers in the valley," Bond said.

Metro Recycling deals in metal recycling, both commercial and residential, and Bond said people are willing to recycle when it is easy.

"Most people, I think, if you asked them if it were easy and cost-effective and rewarding in some way, would you do it," he said. "Mostly people want to do the right thing. They want to help out. It is just making it easy. They want it to be very easy."

If it is not complicated and convenient, "Most people will say, 'You know what? I'll do it.'"

As for what to recycle, both Dyer and Bond said the more that people recycle, the more they will realize that there is a lot they throw away that doesn't have to be put in the garbage.

Twitter: @FinleyJY

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