Civic-minded citizens along the Wasatch Front are finding that their recycling efforts are generating a mixed bag of results in a "wimpie, wimpie" market.
When the bottom fell out of the recycling business earlier this year, some communities' good intentions were nearly buried under the trash.In Bluffdale, for example, a group of citizens launched a recycling project in April with widespread support and enthusiasm. And while money was not the main incentive, they figured they would come out ahead financially as well as environmentally.
But then buyers began losing interest and recyclable materials began piling up in bins in the City Hall parking lot. Faced with the prospect of having to pay a recycler to haul the stuff away - a net loss of $60 per month - the group was ready to call it quits.
The project was saved this month after a representative from Smurfit Recycling, a national company with a plant in Woods Cross, heard a Bluffdale schoolteacher named Colleen Bliss describe the town's recycling woes at a Solid Waste Management Council meeting.
"We'll give it a shot," said Smurfit general manager Willie Lampe, who cautions that only well-managed proj-ects stand a chance of survival in the depressed recycling market.
Because the value of recyclable items is down, people who are in it for the money may have to adopt other motives, Lampe suggested.
"I collect newspapers and magazines, aluminum and glass products at my own home and bring them to the plant. I don't do it for the money; I do it because it's the right thing to do."
Profit was not the motive in Bluffdale either, said Bliss. "People out here live close to the land and know the value of our resources. They were thrilled to have the recycling center."Much of the town turned out for the festive opening ceremony, which featured optimistic speeches and a color guard from Camp Williams. Area schools contributed truckloads of recyclable goods. Civic clubs, Scouts, churches and individual citizens throughout southwest Salt Lake County joined in the post-Earth Day project.
"Basically, it (the center) was filling up faster than we could find someone to take the materials away," Bliss said.
The value of recyclable paper went from $80 to $35 per ton, minus the cost of hauling it to Oakland, Calif., reducing the up-front value to about $5 per ton. There was no local market at all for the plastic bottles and similar items the town collected.
Eventually, the only way the town could dispose of the materials was to pay a recycler to haul them away and incur a loss in the bargain. It was then that Bliss voiced her frustration at the Solid Waste Management meeting.
"I told them that it was cheaper and more convenient to throw these things away than it was to recycle them and that I thought the reverse should be true. Pretty soon, it won't be feasible to recycle here."
Bliss suggests that governments subsidize recycling programs with some of the money they now plow into landfills. One local recycler who collects 18,000 pounds of newspapers per month - paper that would have otherwise gone to the dump - is barely surviving, Bliss said.
"Taking that much material out of the waste stream ought to be worth something to us," she argued. However, she is not optimistic about winning support for a subsidized recycling system in Utah.
Despite the problems, Bluffdale's recycling group remains enthusiastic. "We're very proud of our recycling center," Bliss said.
Other communities face similar issues as they joining the recycling trend.
The recycling slump is slowing down plans to launch a recycling project, said Jack DeMann, executive assistant to Mayor Lynn Pett.
Earth Day focused attention on the need for recycling programs and increased participation, DeMann said, but the market didn't keep pace.
"If we lived nearer the West Coast, in the Midwest or East where there are plants that recycle, it would be more cost-effective," DeMann said. "The fact that we have to ship most of our materials great distances does not make it economically viable."
The only product that seems to have held its own in the recycling market is aluminum, said DeMann.
SOUTH SALT LAKE
Residents are being informed via the city's newsletter to drop off recyclable goods at a bin in the Times Square Industrial Park, 400 W. 2400 South. The city hopes to begin a new program next spring to recycle yard clippings and hazardous home-waste products, according D'Arcy Dixon, special projects administrator.
Harvey Margetts, chairman of the beautification committee, was recently asked by the mayor to head up a citywide recycling effort. He is inviting people interested in recycling to join the new committee.
The city is working with Reynolds Aluminum Recycling Center, which reimburses Sandy City for the cans turned in by city residents. A special city beautification account is boosted by monies from the recycling effort. The South Town Mall also has launched recycling effort and is looking for volunteers.
SALT LAKE CITY
The Environmental Protection Agency is giving the city a $30,000 grant for public service announcements on recycling, said Sheryl Gillilan, who heads the mayor's recycling committee.
The capital city currently doesn't have the capability to pick up recyclable items at a neighborhood level. Even if it did, there would be no market for the materials, Gillilan said.
"If we mandated curbside recycling, we'd have so much material the recycling people would not be able to make money off of it," she said.
The first phase of one of the most ambitious recycling programs in the state was begun this month in Davis County.
"Our goal is to have no recyclables or combustibles entering the landfill," said LeGrand Bitter, director of the county's solid-waste management and energy recovery district.
Much of the county's garbage, along with some from Morgan County, is hauled to the district's burn plant, which generates steam energy that is sold to Hill Air Force Base.
The first phase of the new recycling effort involves placement of bins in Clearfield, Kaysville, Fruit Heights, Farmington, Sunset and Morgan.
The market will determine what materials are recycled, Bitter said, conceding that the "soft" market may limit the success of the program.
Eventually, the county hopes to have curbside pick-up and development of a materials recovery facility at the burn plant to separate recyclables from combustibles.
-Urban issues writers Jay Evensen, Brent Israelsen and JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells contributed to this story.