A QUIET CHANGE IN HOW ALBANY RECYCLES

In July, city stopped separating recyclables, started single-stream plan

JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Monday, August 15, 2011

ALBANY -- Soup can, meet old newspaper. Doughnut box, meet soda bottle.


Blue bin? Green bin? Doesn't matter anymore. Just recycle.


Last month, the city quietly stopped separating residents' recyclables, switching to a new single-stream method that made the city $13,000 in July alone and which officials hope will help keep even more trash out of the Rapp Road Landfill.


Mayor Jerry Jennings is scheduled to formally announce the change Tuesday morning at the Department of General Services headquarters.


But since the beginning of July, residents' carefully separated recyclables -- or, in some cases, the carelessly separated ones -- have been dumped together in back of city trucks headed to County Waste & Recycling's massive new recycling complex on South Pearl Street at the Port of Albany.


"Our slogan is: Green or blue. One bin. Recycling made easy," said DGS Commissioner Nicholas D'Antonio.


D'Antonio and city Recycling Director Frank Zeoli said the hope is that more people will recycle -- and recycle more -- if they're not required to parse their papers from their plastics.


Unlike County Waste's suburban customers in the region -- who switched to 65-gallon garbage-can-like recycling bins when the company began its transition to single-stream recycling last year -- city residents will be able to continue using their old bins.


D'Antonio said the new bins are costly, often require new trucks and that most city residents on smaller lots have less room to store them.


The switch to single-stream recycling is not just environmental.


Each ton of potentially recyclable material kept out of the landfill preserves precious space, which is currently expected to run out sometime in 2020. For a city that relies on landfill revenue to float its budget, more space means more money.


Albany's new contract with Sierra Fibers, the County Waste subsidiary that runs the recycling facility, also means more money for the city, D'Antonio said.


It cost Albany $150,000 in 2010 to expand its plastics recycling to include plastics numbered as high as seven, a move that helped significantly boost the amount of trash being diverted from the landfill.


But under the new deal, Sierra Fibers -- which ultimately sells the recyclables it processes to mills -- will now pay the city a varying per-ton rate dictated by a formula pegged to the market price.


The reversal was aided in part by County Waste's new $12 million recycling facility, which has helped increase the efficiency and quality of separation, a job once done laboriously by hand in the early days of recycling.


If market prices stay more or less the same, the contract could earn the city more than $100,000 in its first year -- if people recycle, said Assistant Corporation Counsel Brad Burns.


"The benefit is really coming back to them," D'Antonio said. "Preserving the landfill and bringing the money back to the city."


Recycling is measured by what's known as diversion rate, or the percentage of waste kept out of the landfill.


With the expanded plastics recycling in 2010, Albany saw its rate increase about eight percent over the previous year to 50.1 percent, Zeoli said.


Some of the nation's largest private haulers have reported large jumps in the amount of recyclables they collect after switching to a single-stream process.


The switch also comes as Albany is working with neighboring communities in hopes of forming a regional trash authority to determine where the garbage from as many as a million people in the greater Capital Region will once its landfills are full.


Whatever the outcome of that effort, recycling and composting organic material figure to be a much larger part of the solution than ever before.


For more information on what's recyclable and what isn't, visit www.capitalregionrecycling.com or call DGS at 434-2489.


Reach Jordan Carleo-Evangelist at 454-5445, jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com or on Twitter @JCEvangelist_TU.


PULLOUT:


The switch to single-stream recycling is not just environmental. Each ton of potentially recyclable material kept out of the landfill preserves precious space, which is currently expected to run out sometime in 2020.