Reno residents lament our poor curbside recycling options, but there may be a green dawn coming in the new year
It’s Tuesday morning. For Andy Horstmanshoff and Kevin Cooper, that means trash day. This particular Tuesday, the men also put their green and yellow recycling crates on the curb for collection by Waste Management, Inc.
Horstmanshoff and Cooper are like many Reno residents who take advantage of biweekly curbside recycling. Waste Management’s optional service allows customers to recycle a limited amount of material from home—mostly bottles, no lids, along with aluminum and tin cans and a paper bag of newspaper. Through this recycling program, Washoe County has achieved about a 30 percent recycling rate.
Waste Management hopes to dramatically increase that number.
Justin Caporusso, communications manager for Waste Management of Northern Nevada, says the company plans to completely revamp recycling and waste collection in the area.
“Of the total amount of material that households in the Truckee Meadows place at the curb, 20 to 30 percent of that is recycled,” Caporusso said. “That diversion rate is pretty consistent with that type of program, but it’s too low for what we can do now.”
The company hopes to renegotiate its franchise agreement with the city of Reno to replace the current green and yellow crate system with what’s called “single-stream recycling.” Single-stream means all recyclable materials could be placed in one cart. No sorting. The system would provide residents with one cart to recycle newspaper, magazines, junk mail, glass, aluminum, tin/steel cans, cardboard, chipboard, paper, and plastics No. 1 through 7. A second cart would be provided for regular garbage, food waste.
The [recycled] glass is always greener
Horstmanshoff and Cooper say they care about keeping waste out of the landfill. They even compost food scraps. But they say the current recycling program has too many rules, like removing lids. It confuses them because they are not sure what can be recycled.
“We would recycle a lot more if we were better informed,” Horstmanshoff said.
And if it were more convenient, Cooper says. The men say they only recently discovered they could take cardboard to Commercial Row for recycling. Sometimes they put their No. 5 yogurt containers in the curbside mix, but they’re not sure if that’s acceptable. It’s all plastic, right?
Caporusso says Waste Management’s single-stream proposal will alleviate the difficulties residents experience and enable the company to accept more recyclable material. Right now if No. 5 plastic yogurt containers end up in the yellow curbside crates the containers may go to the landfill, especially if they’re not rinsed very well. Waste Management’s contract specifies the company recycle only No. 1 and No. 2 plastic bottles, so that’s what their local facility was built to support. Caporusso says the company used to send all other plastics to the landfill. But recently they have been trying to salvage them and ship them to a different region for processing.
“It’s a huge cost for us to do that, but it’s the right thing to do,” Caporusso said. “That’s another reason we want to enhance this program, so we can continue to do that and really build it locally and process it locally.”
Additionally, the company plans to expand its Commercial Row transfer station to include an eco-industrial center. The Ecocenter would provide centralized collection of all recyclables as well as non-standard waste materials like electronics and cleaning solvents. It would also house a waste-oriented community education center.
Caporusso says the plan has been in the works for three years. Waste Management holds separate franchise agreements with Reno, Sparks and Washoe County. Each long-term contract has to be independently negotiated. The city councils and county commission have to allow the contracts to be opened up for discussion on new terms. Only then can changes be made to the contracts, he says.
“We’re hearing it from the community every day about how they want better recycling,” Caporusso said. “They’re thinking that it’s us in charge of making that happen and flipping a switch and we can’t do that.”
Residents need to step up
Reno City Councilman Dave Aiazzi says Waste Management doesn’t need to wait to build the Ecocenter. They already own the property.
“But to build that, that’s where they’re going to come in and say we need to raise rates, for the initial money to build the building,” Aiazzi said. “That’s where we’ll have to get the pulse of the citizenry to see if they’re willing to do that.”
Reno’s franchise agreement doesn’t expire for eight years. Caporusso says Waste Management’s goal is to obtain a Reno City Council vote to open up contract discussions as early as the first quarter of 2012. But convincing Reno City Council the time has come to take a second look at Reno’s recycling program may prove difficult.
Councilman Aiazzi, who represents northwest Reno, says in his 15 years on City Council, he hasn’t really heard people express frustration with the current recycling program.
“Some groups say we should do more,” Aiazzi said. “Everybody’s hot on getting a new single-stream in, but that’s not universal.”
In 2007, Waste Management ran a three-month single-stream test pilot program in the King’s Row area of Aiazzi’s district. Caporusso says the pilot doubled recycling participation rates and allowed Waste Management to collect three times the normal recyclable material. Aiazzi says his constituents haven’t reached out to him demanding the program be reinstated.
“I think we have a good recycling program, if people choose to use it,” Aiazzi said. “The crates are there, the cartons are there. If people don’t want to use it, I’m not here to try and force people into doing something.”
To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump
Lee Salgado is a registered environmental health specialist for the Environmental Health Services Division of the Washoe County Health District. She echoes Aiazzi’s observation that people aren’t taking advantage of recycling services currently available to them.
“Recycling, that extra fee that’s on everyone’s bill, only 40 percent of residents even have the recycling bins and services, and the other 60 percent is paying for something they’re not even using,” Salgado said.
Salgado, who deals with solid waste management, says her office gets calls every day from residents frustrated because they want to divert their waste from the landfill, but they don’t know where to take it. Curbside collection is limited. For people living in multi-family dwellings like apartments or condominiums, on-site recycling options are non-existent. Household hazardous waste and electronic waste disposal require another, separate effort. While the state definition of recycling includes organic matter and green waste diverted from the landfill, there is no program for those materials. Yet the state has had recycling legislation in place since 1991, when it adopted a 25 percent waste diversion goal and laid out population-driven recycling requirements for Nevada’s counties. Washoe County has consistently exceeded the state’s goal (nevadarecycles.gov). But achieving a 30 percent recycling rate means we dump the other 70 percent in Lockwood Regional Landfill.
“It’s so cheap to throw away stuff here that people ship stuff from California,” Salgado said.
Because of the cheap landfill fees, Reno residents pay a nominal amount for garbage collection. Horstmanshoff and Cooper pay $44.16 every three months for garbage and recycling services. They say their current rate is only slightly higher than it was in 2003. They wouldn’t mind paying up to $5 extra per month if it means they can recycle more from their home.
“People always want the services but don’t want to pay for it,” Horstmanshoff said. “But I realize we have to pay for it. We would be excited to have the single-stream service.”
Waste Management hopes to renegotiate its contract with the city of Reno early next year. Then the company would move forward in talks with Sparks and Washoe County to renegotiate those franchise agreements, too. But if residents want the new program, they’ll have to speak up.
“We always hear from the people that don’t want it,” Councilman Aiazzi said. “If people want the recycling, you’ve got to be active and tell us, ‘I’m willing to pay more.’ Quite honestly it’s all going to come down to price. You follow the money.”