When Susan Bilo moved to Salt Lake City last July to accept a job with the Office of Energy Services, she was underwhelmed by the state office's effort to recycle its voluminous paper waste.
Yes, there were bins for newspapers, aluminum cans and white paper. But there were still a lot of other paper products finding their way into the trash that could easily have been recycled. Participation in the recycling program by her fellow employees was spotty at best.Now, less than a year later, Bilo estimates that 98 percent of the state employees in the Office of Energy Services actively participate in the recycling program, which has been expanded to include most waste that previously worked its way to the county landfill.
The program has proven so successful that Bilo and other recycling advocates in the state office were invited by David Winder, director of the Department of Community and Economic De-ve-lop-ment, to share their recycling experience with other divisions in the department.
"We have found champions in the other divisions who have created an awareness of recycling," Bilo said. "The trend is encouraging."
Encouraging maybe, but with Earth Day 1998 looming Wednesday, recycling remains difficult in Utah. Most places along the Wasatch Front still do not offer curb-side pickup, andin most places that do, residents have to pay extra.
Still, more and more Utahns are jumping aboard the recycling band-wagon. Bins for recycling are commonplace in many work-places, and there is increasing demand for recycling services by home-owners.
Three years ago, only Salt Lake City offered curb-side pickup of recyclable trash. Today, curb-side pickup is offered in Draper, Sandy, Riverton, South Jordan, West Jordan, West Valley, Holladay and Murray.
The Logan City Council will vote Wednesday on a curb-side recycling program, and Ogden is now considering it, too.
"It's becoming more and more a part of people's lifestyles," said Jennifer Ott, executive director of the Recycling Coalition of Utah. "The trend is encouraging and it's only going to get better."
It will get better, she said, because as more people recycle, it creates a Utah market for recycled materials that can be used in the manufacturing process. Currently, most recyclable trash is shipped to Denver or Los Angeles, making transportation costs the single biggest deterrent to a thriving Utah market in recycled materials.
The lack of an economic incentive has certainly contributed to urban Utahns being less sensitive to recycling concerns than are residents of other cities. Many cities have mandatory recycling programs with stiff fines for failure to recycle. Others make it so easy to recycle that residents have no excuse not to recycle.
"We are starting to do a lot of things right, but we have a ways to go," Ott said. "Utah is lacking in state and local funding for recycling programs. A lot of states have a recycling coordinator paid for by the state but we don't. A lot of states have recycling goals, something which we don't have. And some have bans on yard waste in the landfills, which we don't have."
But Utah has taken one progressive step other states have not. The Utah Legislature passed a law a couple of years back that creates "recycling market development zones," which is government-speak for a tax credit to businesses that will use recycled materials in the manufacture of their products or will actually recycle the materials themselves.
Five development zones have recently been approved, and 18 Utah communities have now expressed interest in creating the development zones.
"Recycling is supposed to be a circle," Ott explained. "First you collect the materials, then they get processed into new products and then they get used again. (The tax credit) essentially closes the loop by encouraging businesses to use the recycled materials in their products."
That financial incentive helps offset the higher cost of many recycled materials, itself a deterrent to recycling.
Creating a market for recycled materials is one thing. Getting Utahns to embrace recycling is another. It can be a tough sell to city councils and county commissions once they realize that recycling costs money and garbage fees might need to be raised to cover the costs.
"Recycling is like maintenance, it's something that has to be done as a public service, not because it generates money," Ott said. "For the most part, community recycling programs are an environmental issue."
Compliance varies from city to city. West Jordan is boasting an 80 percent participation rate with its curb-side recycling program, and most other cities that offer the recycling bins are in the 70 percent range. In Salt Lake City, where homeowners have to request the bins, compliance is about 60 percent.
Those rates are "remarkable" given the fact compliance is entirely voluntary, explains Margaret Grochocki, executive director of the Salt Lake Valley Solid Waste Management Facility.
"When you consider we have no end-users of recycled products, that everything has to be shipped out of state (for reprocessing), that landfill costs are still low and there is no real financial incentive yet to recycle, you'd have to say 70 percent participation is pretty good," Grochocki said. "We do it because it is the right thing to do."