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Recycling gains some momentum

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Environment > Residential waste reduced by eight percent in 2012

By Arin McKenna

Los Alamos County’s stepped up recycling efforts have netted a mixed bag of results thus far. Residential recycling efforts have yielded far better results as opposed to those aimed at businesses.

Environmental Services Specialist Tom Nagawiecki writes that “2012 was an exciting year for waste and recycling in Los Alamos County.” Los Alamos County saw an eight percent decline in residential waste in 2012 and a residential recycling increase of nine percent over 2011.

The county’s attempt to increase business recycling has been less successful.

To incentivize recycling for businesses, churches, schools or apartment complexes, the county council approved sharply reduced rates in August.

The new rates eliminate an $18.20 assessment for each recycling dumpster pickup, which means businesses can set up a recycling dumpster for just $19.05 a month. The monthly recycling roll cart fee was reduced from $20 to $5 per month. The new program also waives the initial set up fee.

The new rates reduce the cost for a collecting a cardboard or mixed recycling dumpster once a week from $1,100 to $229 per year. Some businesses may also be able to eliminate one trash dumpster pickup per week, a savings of approximately $940 per year.

The results of the incentive program have been disappointing.

“So far we have not seen any major uptick since our reduced recycling rates,” Nagawiecki said. “I’m working with the environmental sustainability board to get the message out there a little better to make sure businesses are aware. I’ll be writing an article that will be going in a Chamber of Commerce publication to help get the word out.”

One significant change in 2012 was the reintroduction of glass recycling. Nagawiecki stresses that this is not part of the curbside recycling program.

“Glass cannot, should not, will not go in your blue curbside recycling roll cart,” Nagawiecki said. “All the roadside material goes to Santa Fe, and they have a million-dollar facility where they sort the different recyclables into their commodity streams. When glass is mixed with that, it can get into the gears and other parts of the equipment and lead to increased wear and tear on their equipment, which is a huge problem.”

Nagawiecki warns that putting glass in curbside bins could result in a load of recyclables being sent to the landfill.

Residents can drop off glass bottles and jars of all colors at yellow dumpsters in three locations: Los Alamos County Eco Station, Sullivan Field or Overlook Park.

The bottles should be empty, lids should be removed and no bags or boxes should be placed in the bins.

The recycled glass is fed into a glass pulverizer, where it is crushed and tumbled to create smooth glass cullet. The cullet is free to residents for use in landscaping or art projects.

In the four months the program has been in existence, the county has recycled 40 tons of glass. Shipping less waste to a landfill has netted both financial and environmental gains.

The Los Alamos Cooperative Market also launched a recycling program in August for commonly unrecyclable waste.

The co-op collects chip bags, cereal box liners, bagged cereal bags and all packaging from Bear Naked Products to recycle through a company called TerraCycle. Co-op volunteers sort and package the materials and ships it to TerraCycle, where it is repurposed into new products.

The program not only helps keeps the materials out of the landfill, it gives back to the community. The co-op receives credits for the waste it ships that can be turned into donations to local nonprofits. Customers can vote on which nonprofit to donate to.

Learn more about the TerraCycle program at losalamos.coop or by calling 695-1579.

Nagawiecki said he is pleased with the success of the county’s recycling efforts.

“I feel, overall, that we’re definitely heading in the right direction when it comes to our recycling program, and I think 2013 is going to bring a lot of wonderful opportunities to increase our recycling,” he said.

One addition in 2013 is the new composting facility, tentatively scheduled to open in late summer or early fall.

“Our new composting facility coming online will help us recapture green waste, and that will also give us the opportunity to eventually get into a food waste recycling program,” Nagawiecki said. “That’s something that probably won’t go into effect in 2013.”

The county is building the new facility in Bayo Canyon at the old wastewater treatment plant. Finished compost will be brought to the Eco Station for residents to pick up.

The county is also looking at the possibility of expanding the types of materials collected through the curbside recycling program.

A new material recovery facility scheduled to open in Albuquerque in May will accept one through seven plastics (the current program only accepts one and two bottles), paper board such as cereal and cracker boxes and aseptic cartons used for orange juice or milk cartons.

Nagawiecki is in talks with the vendor to determine pricing, any cost savings and additional shipping costs. He plans to present that information to the Sustainability Board and the public to decide whether to implement the program.

For additional information about county recycling programs, go to losalamosnm.us/gogreen or call 662-8383.