By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
Strasburg has kicked off a year-long initiative aimed at increasing participation in the town's recycling program. Strasburg set a goal of recycling 400 tons of material by June 30, 2013, Town Manager Judson Rex told council members at a work session Monday.
For 2011 the town sent approximately 2,000 tons of garbage to the landfill in Shenandoah County, according to Rex. Using that figure, 400 tons of recyclable material equals roughly 20 percent of the trash haul.
"It's a pretty lofty goal and to help sort of encourage that the two collection routes are gonna compete with each other and see who can collect the most over the next year," Rex told council.
Then next July the town would open the pool to residents free of charge and give recognition to the route collecting the most recyclable material, according to Rex.
Strasburg began its recycling program three years ago and in 2009 the town separated about 10.5 percent of recyclable material from the trash, according to Rex. That amount increased to 13 percent in 2010, then started to fall to 11 percent in 2011 and, so far this year, the town has recycled only 10 percent of its trash, Rex said.
Rex told council he spoke to a resident who expressed concerns about the increase in the recycling fee and the town manager explained "we just don't recycle enough."
However, to reap benefits from recycling the town needs to at least double the 10 percent collected, Rex said. Many communities in the state recycle 30-50 percent and some as much as 70-75 percent, according to Rex.
"It's definitely possible and I feel as a community we can come together and reach the goal," Rex said.
Long Enterprises now gives Strasburg and residents new or used recycling bins at no cost, according to Rex. Residents may pick up bins at Town Hall.
Mayor Timothy Taylor asked Rex if the town had contacted the schools regarding the initiative, noting that student participation often leads to parent involvement.
"I think it's good to get the schools involved in some way because I guarantee the kids are pushing and talking about it," Taylor said.
Rex estimated the town could save approximately $14,000 on landfill fees. That amount would offset the $6,000 increase in garbage collection fees passed on to residents for the current fiscal year, according to Rex.
By separating the recycling from the rest of the garbage taken to the landfill, which costs the town $36 per ton, Strasburg saves money, Rex explained. Instead the town receives money for the recycling it gives to the company.
Woodstock started a recycling collection program this past fiscal year by joining Strasburg in a joint request for proposal to provide the service and entered into a similar contract with Long Enterprises, according to town Finance Director Mandy Belyea.
Woodstock recycled approximately 135 tons in the first year, Belyea said, which amounted to approximately 10 percent of the total garbage collected. The town also saved approximately 10 percent in what it paid Long to dispose of the garbage, according to Belyea. Woodstock paid $46,900 for garbage disposal in the past fiscal year compared to $52,000 the previous period. Belyea said she couldn't attribute the cost reduction entirely to recycling but could surmise it does have some impact.
"Not only is it important for our environment but it does help with some of the budgetary issues that we face," Belyea said and lauded Strasburg's efforts to increase recycling.
At the work session, Strasburg resident Kim Bishop spoke about the recycling initiative which she said she supported. However, Bishop noted in the material sent to residents that the town saved $8,500 on the cost of trash collection by the contracted company. Bishop asked why the town did not pass that savings back to residents charged for the collection service or a reduction in the recycling fee.
"I think with all the money we're spending on things it might be nice to give the taxpayers a break," Bishop said.
Long Enterprises, which pays the tipping fee to drop Strasburg's trash at the county landfill, sought a rate increase for the current fiscal year. Town Council debated the request and whether to pass along the increase to residents but ultimately approved raising the fee to $2.06 for recycling pickup which went into effect July 1.
Woodstock received the same notice from Long, Belyea said.
"Because of the decrease in our landfill [costs] we didn't need to increase the fee," Belyea said.
Woodstock charges $8 for refuse collection but that levy doesn't cover the $11.25-$11.50 the town pays in landfill fees per resident, according to Belyea. The director said the town absorbs the extra cost for the service but this means Woodstock likely would not reach a point where it could pass along to residents any savings in landfill fees through recycling.
"Obviously if [recycling] were such a successful program that we could get it so we would have to charge $8 we would," Belyea said.
Strasburg Councilwoman Sarah Mauck noted Bishop's point and asked if, by the middle of the fiscal year, the town could assess how much it had saved on recycling and whether Strasburg could reduce the collection fee.
Rex explained that Long would charge $2.06 for recycling regardless. The town could analyze mid-year the reduction in the landfill fees charged to Strasburg and the amount of recyclable material collected to determine if a savings could be passed on to residents.
The town's contract with Long does not call for the firm to pass on to Strasburg any increase in revenue it gains by selling the recyclables, Rex said. But as Rex noted the more recycling separated from the garbage collected the greater likelihood that Long would lower what Strasburg pays it to take trash to the landfill.
Councilman Robert Baker said he suspected that would happen only if Long had no competition. Baker warned that the town shouldn't give residents the misconception they might see "great savings" by recycling.
"I've been careful in the language not to make promises," Rex said. "It's more just setting a goal."
"Setting the goal is fine but don't tell the citizens if that goal is achieved they're going to save x-number of dollars," Baker said.
Councilman Rich Orndorff Jr. expressed his concerns with the increase in recycling and tipping fees. Orndorff expanded his comment to include criticism of a perceived incongruity between what the towns pay to dispose of garbage and the cost to county residents.
"That was my initial heartburn at budget time was the fact that citizens felt like they were sold a bill of goods that we recycle it's gonna be this amount of money, if we recycle more it'll go down and finally it will pay for itself," said Councilman Rich Orndorff Jr. "Instead it has gone up and, of course I have a big problem with the tipping fees and I'll make that clear again."
As Orndorff explained he, as a town resident, pays the cost of dumping trash at the county landfill as determined by the weight. However, were he to put the same amount of garbage into a Dumpster used by county residents and ultimately dumped at the landfill he would not have to pay.
Orndorff said he still doesn't buy the explanation given by county officials about the system.