Local recycling task force disbandsAfter years of planning, organizing and developing a curbside recycling plan for Jamestown, the group behind all the work is disbanding — and with no curbside pickup to show for it.
After years of planning, organizing and developing a curbside recycling plan for Jamestown, the group behind all the work is disbanding — and with no curbside pickup to show for it.
Members of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce’s Recycling Task Force began meeting in summer 2009. Under direction of the Chamber of Commerce’s Beautification Committee, the goal of the task force was to research a curbside recycling plan for the City Council to consider and implement.
But despite the group’s efforts, implementing a curbside pickup program was halted for several reasons — including the cost to city taxpayers, expected noncompliance from residents and recent water issues — which consume the majority of city officials’ time.
“Our hands are tied at this point,” said Paulette Ritter, member of the Recycling Task Force. “There’s nothing more that we can do.”
That’s because the city has other issues to face, and those issues take a higher priority, city officials said.
If city residents can’t flush their toilets, for example, they won’t care about recycling, Mayor Katie Andersen said at a recent Chamber of Commerce regional issues meeting. The city’s sanitary sewer system is strained, she said, and that’s why the city staff doesn’t have time to implement a recycling program.
The excess water entering the sanitary system from three high-water years taxes the capacity of the lift stations and has lead to concerns the sewer system could fail, meaning residents wouldn’t have running water and couldn’t use their toilets or anything else that would drain into the sewer. Repairing the sanitary sewer system takes priority over a recycling program, Andersen said.
But although the city considers the sanitary sewer system a crisis, the Recycling Task Force believes the city’s landfill might also reach a crisis.
According to the Recycling Task Force, North Dakota has 14 landfills in existence today, compared to more than 100 20 years ago. And the average North Dakotan throws more away (5.84 pounds per day) than the national average (4.7 pounds per day).
The recycling center
Although it doesn’t have a curbside pickup or pay-as-you-throw program, the city does have a recycling center.
Ralph Friebel owns Renaissance Recycling in downtown Jamestown, which is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings. Residents haul their materials to the center and sort the plastic from the cardboard from the aluminum cans themselves — a method even Friebel calls “inconvenient.”
Renaissance is a private business, but it receives a $5,000 monthly subsidy from the city.
Friebel has said for years that Renaissance suffers due to low commodity prices and not enough volume. If more residents recycled their materials however, he said, his business would improve. Hence, the city is considering curbside pickup and pay-as-you-throw programs.
Curbside pickup allows residents to dispose of their recyclable materials similarly to the way they throw away regular garbage. Residents would put trash out in one container and recyclable materials in another. For residents’ convenience, crews would collect both materials in the same location: each resident’s curbside.
The pay-as-you throw system gives residents an economic incentive to recycle. It charges residents for garbage pickup based on how much trash they throw away instead of the straight $10 or so per month fee each household pays now. Under the pay-as-you-throw method, residents would not be charged to recycle. Therefore, the program encourages residents to recycle and reuse materials rather than to trash them.
The city landfill
The city’s current mixed solid waste landfill is expected to last five to eight years but the city already plotted another landfill, which is expected to last about 100 years. Of the amount of material people throw away, 40 percent could be recycled, said Roger Mayhew, city sanitation foreman.
Already, the baler has adopted some practices to recycle what it can. That saves space as well as increases revenue for the city, Mayhew said.
“We pull metal out like you wouldn’t believe,” he said, saying the baler collects some of the metal residents throw away and sell it for scrap. The city earns about $290 every 10-12 days on the scrap metal it recycles.
Recycling is one of the city’s top 10 priorities listed on its five-year strategic plan, but Joan Morris, member of the Jamestown Recycling Task Force, said the wording on the strategic plan is too vague.
The city’s strategic plan says it will explore the implementation of curbside recycling and sanitation collection system upgrades by 2013.
Morris questioned what “explore” means and said without an implementation date, curbside recycling may never come to fruition. Or if it does, the city may have to wait several years, Morris said, and if Renaissance closes, that may mean the city has no recycling option at all.
Friebel said he’s considered closing, but it’s not an immediate threat.
Morris’ employer, Agri-Cover, Inc., offered the city free engineering services to speed up implementation and assist with a solid waste study.
The city did not accept it. Schwartzkopf said he was unsure why.
The Recycling Task Force points to packed city meetings regarding the issue and two city surveys in which more than 90 percent of respondents indicated interest in a curbside recycling program. That’s evidence, the coalition says, that the city should expedite implementing curbside and pay-as-you-throw recycling programs.
Other cities across the country and state have recycling programs too. Eighteen locations in North Dakota have already implemented curbside recycling, the Task Force says.
Mayhew said he supports recycling but he said he hesitates to trust any survey with such one-sided results.
Schwartzkopf said he too supports recycling. He’s recycled since 1982.
“The bottom line is, we’re going to try to do everything we can to get some form of a residential recycling program installed within the city,” Schwartzkopf said.
But the Recycling Task Force is hoping for more than “try.” Without a recycling program, money is left on the table, Morris said.
“And as a CPA (certified public accountant), that bothers me,” she said.
Friebel was the lone bidder at an April meeting in which the city had asked businesses to propose a plan for curbside pickup. The request for proposals from the city did not include a request for a pay-as-you-throw program.
Friebel said Renaissance Recycling could implement a program here for about $4.80 per month per residence.
That was too much money according to feedback from the public and City Council members.
So the council tasked the city to research and implement a comprehensive garbage pickup program that would include a recycling component, Schwartzkopf said.
Schwartzkopf said he hopes to present a new garbage pickup program with a recycling element to the city in spring and implement it in 2013. But given the recent flood events of the last three years, those dates might be delayed.
“We’re running like banshees trying to get everything done (regarding flood water) before freeze up,” Schwartzkopf said.
One of the misnomers with recycling is the amount of money it will save the city, according to Jeff Fuchs, city administrator. Many, like Morris, believe recycling will save space in the landfill which will, in turn, save the city thousands of dollars each year.
But recycling, even with a pay-as-you-throw system, is actually cost-neutral, Fuchs said. The city loses out on revenue it once generated from collecting garbage from the city residents as well as from surrounding communities when its garbage collectors pay to dispose of materials here.
That’s why the city wants to incorporate recycling into its plan to re-do garbage pickup in general, said City Council member Ramone Gumke. For him, it needs to be all-or-nothing plan.
“If it doesn’t result in a gain of some kind… it’s kind of a waste of money,” he said.
Plus, the costs just to implement a recycling program are “unbelievable” Mayhew said. One truck alone costs about $125,000.
Although the city’s current mixed solid waste landfill is only expected to last 5-8 years, the city already has an additional space for a new landfill, which would last the city about 100 years based on current trends.
Trends, however, can change.
The volume at the landfill increased 15 percent between 2009 and 2010 and 12 percent in 2008-2009. But city officials said they believe the landfill has always acquired that much volume. Due to new quality-control methods and a different mindset from the sanitation department supervisor, the baler has employed tighter accounting techniques since Mayhew took over the position in 2009, Schwartzkopf said.
Schwartzkopf declined to comment on what he meant by “quality control methods” and “different mindset.”
Although members of the coalition have expressed disappointment, the potential for curbside pickup and pay-as-you throw programs still exists, said Charlie Kourajian, City Council member.
“The guys (city staff) have been under a lot of work these last couple years,” Kourajian said.
Kourajian is also a long-time recycling advocate.
“It’s not a dead issue. It’s just at the low end of the priority list,” he said.
Sun reporter Katie Ryan-Anderson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at kryananderson@ jamestownsun.com