Time to get serious about recycling

Marion County is planning a meeting May 28 to discuss curbside recycling with four of the five largest cities in the county — Peabody already has curbside recycling. The commission hopes to enlist the cities’ help to make recycling go as smoothly as trash pickup, with the idea that the transfer station could be closed to trash in favor of recycling either certain days of the week or certain hours of the day.

The county has been pondering one recycling plan or another since 2006. Over the past four years, it has tried, and ended, a pair of half-measure recycling programs, which required residents to take their recyclables to a collection point. Those kinds of programs primarily serve people who are committed recyclers who will go out of their way to recycle.

It takes convenience to really spur recycling on, though, and recycling collection sites don’t provide that convenience. If you make recycling something people can do at home without extra work or thought, participation goes up dramatically. Commissioner Roger Fleming has said several times that with curbside recycling when he lived in Newton, he recycled more than he threw away.

Recycling isn’t just about the environment; it’s also about economics — a different kind of “green.” Marion County pays Butler County Transfer Station $35 for every ton of trash it takes. The county sent 5,080 tons of “municipal solid waste” — ordinary trash — to the landfill in 2012.

The county could take recycling to a center in Hutchinson, using the same resources it uses to send trash to Butler County, free. It would probably take a little bit more fuel to make the trip, but that could be covered and then some by cutting out the landfill fees. An average load sent to the landfill is 20 tons, for a fee of $700 per trip to Butler County.

Marion currently has twice-weekly trash pickup. Changing to once a week each of trash and recycling would be a relatively minor change in the overall picture. Cities with once-weekly trash pickup could have bigger challenges to adding recycling, but it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable obstacle.

Transfer Station Director Rollin Schmidt doesn’t have any projections about how much curbside recycling would pick up, but even a 10 percent diversion from trash to recycling would save the county almost $18,000 per year in landfill fees.

City and county officials have more than a month before the May meeting. They would do well to arrive prepared to discuss how recycling may be implemented. That also gives residents plenty of time to talk to their elected officials about whether they want recycling, and if so, what it should look like.

— ADAM STEWART

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