Big recycling bins a big hit, spur recycling surge - Big recycling bins a big hit, spur recycling surge

Big recycling bins a big hit, spur recycling surge

The clunky, 64-gallon bins that have been turning up on curbs in recent months
may not look all that impressive.

But they are taking recycling to a new level.

About two dozen communities in the St. Louis metro area have delivered these
large, plastic containers to their residents, most of them in the last year.
Included were instructions to use them for "single-stream" recycling, in which
all items are mingled without the need to sort by type of material: paper,
plastic or metal.

The combination has sent volumes soaring.

In Northwoods, the average monthly amount recycled per person in 2006 was less
than one pound.

After the village supplied the bins to residents last year, the rate jumped to
seven pounds.

Olivette had already been among the area's recycling leaders before it switched
last year from 18-gallon containers to 64-gallon models on wheels. Since then,
its monthly rate jumped to 19 pounds per person from 11 pounds per person.

All of last year, one waste hauler, American Eagle Waste Co., collected 149
tons of recyclables from 17,000 households in unincorporated south St. Louis

Last month, those households got big bins from St. Louis County. Now, American
Eagle is collecting recyclables at the rate of 45 tons a week, and climbing.

Firms that collect the materials are investing millions of dollars in equipment
and labor to handle the surge.

"As we get more grant money to buy these bins, I think that within the next
five years we are going to see curbside recycling overtake the volume of trash
in most areas," said Dave Berger, 51, the director of the regional Waste
Management District that covers St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties
and the city of St. Louis. "And that time can't come too soon, because we're
fast running out of space in the landfills."

But the bins and the single-stream system have their critics.

Hundreds of residents in unincorporated St. Louis County who object to new
rules that force them to pay for recycling pickups have asked the county to
take back their containers.

And some environmentalists contend that poor sorting of the material renders
much of it useless for manufacturing.

Potential drawbacks aside, Berger sees the widespread proliferation of the bins
as inevitable. The only thing holding the process up, he said, is funding. The
bins are not cheap, about $45 each wholesale.

Communities have paid for them with grant money from tipping fees charged to
waste haulers at landfills. Some cities, such as Ferguson, have received enough
bins for each household. Others, such as the city of St. Louis, have received
only enough grant money to provide the bins to a fraction of their total

Officials in Madison, St. Clair and Jefferson counties said they had not yet
supplied such large containers to their residents.


With the convenience of recycling in large containers, many homeowners have
seen a complete turnaround in what they take to their curbs every week.

Jackie Kestler, 42, estimated that her family recycled about 10 percent of its
waste before her city of O'Fallon, Mo., supplied residents with 64-gallon
containers and then switched to single-streaming.

"Now, it's about 50 percent," she said.

This month, St. Louis County finished delivering about 105,000 of the bins to
residences in unincorporated areas. The move was part of the county's mandate
to increase total recycling to 50 percent by the year 2010.

The county also began requiring once-a-week recycling pickups in both
municipalities and unincorporated areas.

Carol Bradley, 46, of south St. Louis County, said recycling at her home had
jumped "tenfold" since the county dropped off a container.

"I thought I was doing well when I was filling up our little tub every week,
but now we're recycling more than we throw away," Bradley said. "We're down
some weeks to just one bag of trash."

Under the new county rule, waste haulers are now allowed to increase prices to
provide the recycling service. That angered some people.

The county reports that about 7 percent of residents have asked to have their
bins taken away. Another 3 percent have asked to swap their 64-gallon bins for
35-gallon models.

"Why should I pay somebody $8 a month to pick up my recyclables when I can get
paid for them myself?" asked Bob Meurer, 75, a retiree who lives in South
County. "They should be paying me!"

He said he sold his aluminum cans for 70 cents a pound and donated newspapers
to his church.

Waste hauler Bryan Barcom, 41, who owns American Eagle Waste Co., said Meurer's
was a common complaint.

"What people need to realize is that the recyclables are not so valuable that I
can afford to pay for them," he said. "I can't pay for gas, labor and benefits
for my workers and upkeep of my trucks if I don't charge for these pickups."

Haulers don't have to pay to dump recyclables, whereas they pay $30 a ton to
dump trash into landfills, he said. Meanwhile, plants that process the
recyclables are paying haulers about $25 a ton for the materials.


Gary Gilliam, 58, of Resource Management Companies in Earth City, the largest
materials recovery facility in the area, said volume was up about 30 tons a day
at the plant over last year.

He attributes the increase to the bigger bins.

"Every time another city gets on board with the 64-gallon containers, we see
the volume jump at the plant; it's instantaneous."

Gilliam noted that even among cities that don't have the bins, such as
Chesterfield and Overland, residents are recycling more every year. He said
Chesterfield had risen to 11 pounds per person in 2007 from nine pounds per
person in 2006. Overland saw its rate rise to six pounds last year from four
pounds in 2006.

Gilliam said the company had invested "several million dollars" since last fall
to accommodate the surge. The money has gone to hire workers and for equipment
that sorts the materials.

Brent Batliner, with QRS Recycling in South County, said his plant, on Bayless
Avenue, had invested more than $1 million in recent months in their plants in
South County and Hazelwood to handle a 40 percent increase in volume.

Gilliam said the rising price of oil and other commodities had made the
collection business more lucrative. This week, his plant was selling plastic
for about $200 a ton and paper for about $100 a ton.

But although haulers, recycling companies and many residents appreciate the
convenience and the profitability of single-stream recycling, environmentalists
contend that the sorting process needs to be refined.

"People think that the collection of materials constitutes recycling," said
Susan Kinsella, with the nonprofit group Conservatree, based in San Francisco.
"But materials are not really recycled until they get made into new products.
If that doesn't happen, then what we think is recycling is just landfilling by
a longer route."

The problem, she said, is that many manufacturers reject materials from the
processing plants over such problems as plastic infused with bits of glass, or
paper infused with plastic.

Gilliam said the Resource Management plant had reduced its contamination rate
to about 8 percent.

One of the plant's customers, KW Plastics Recycling in Alabama, the world's
largest plastics recycler, said contamination tended to run higher than that

"I can't say exactly how clean the stuff is that we've been getting from St.
Louis," said the company's sales manager, Scott Saunders. "But on the whole,
for every 1,000 pounds that we get, about 200 pounds is too contaminated to
use. And it goes right back into the landfills." | 314-727-6234

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