Mixed opportunities

by Sharyn Dickerson


Athens-Clarke County is the third city-county in the state of Georgia to unify. We used to have a county landfill and the city Sanitation Department. When the counties unified back in 1991, we came together and started working toward the overall goal of making our landfill last longer. The cost of landfills was increasing, and it's hard to find property to put landfills on, and we're the smallest land-base county in the state of Georgia--125 square miles.

In addition, in 1990 the Georgia legislature passed the Solid Waste Management Act, and that set a 25 percent waste reduction goal for the state.

The other motivating factor is that we knew what the mix of waste going to our landfill was. We knew that only about a third of our landfilled waste was residential. That meant that the remaining waste was institutional, from the University of Georgia. We also have a large industrial base and small commercial businesses that we knew we had to tap into to meet that waste reduction goal.

THE COMMERCIAL DISTRICT. We have a downtown business district, just like a lot of small communities do. The mix of our downtown businesses is increasingly becoming more restaurant/bar related, but we do have a Fair number of retail offices and government offices downtown. We have about 438 commercial curbside customers. In a lot of downtown areas, you will not see places for Dumpsters. In some cases there are alleyways that businesses can use to place their garbage; but in a lot of cases, really all they have are their storefronts. The garbage and recycling are left in their businesses and brought out to the front for pick up.

As part of the Waste Reduction Program, our county implemented a pay-as-you-throw, subscription-based garbage program. It works just like a utility--the more garbage you put out, the more you pay.

The recycling component acts as an incentive, allowing the businesses to divert as much our of their garbage as they can into recycling so they can control how much they put out for disposal [and, therefore, how much they spend].

We decided to do a bag system because we felt that we could have them picked up pretty quickly--within an hour--and that took care of potential roll cart problems. We don't have a roll cart sitting out for any length of time.

The system uses a two-tiered fee system. There is a fixed base charge based on pick-up frequency, which ranges from twice weekly to as many as three times per day, six days per week and twice on Sunday.

The control opportunity is that they have to pay for that bag, which costs $1. We estimate that about 40 pounds of garbage will fit in that 38-gallon bag, give or take. At our tip-fee rate of $34 per ton, that is about 68 or 70 cents.

The businesses make the decision about how much garbage they put in their bags and whether or no t they recycle. Basically, everybody pays for recycling whether they use it or not. So, why not use it?

We also do a front-load Dumpster program. We have about 237 customers, with 95 customers, or 40 percent, participating in the recycling component.

From FY'01 and FY'02, tonnage from the Dumpster program decreased slightly (see chart below). I think that overall it has been Fairly stable for mixed paper. I am projecting that FY '04 figures will be higher than FY '02 figures at this point.

DUAL-STREAM COLLECTION. We pick up mixed paper and we pick up bottles and cans. Mixed paper is basically commercial mixed paper: corrugated, office paper, gray board. They have to place their recyclables out in transparent bags, which they have to purchase.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS. Since we started, we have had ups and downs along the way. I used fiscal year 1999 as a base year because for the years prior to that, we weren't keeping data separate for our commercial collections.

Since 1999 we have seen a 17.5 percent decrease in trash in the Commercial Business District. We estimate an 80 percent to 100 percent participation rate in the recycling program.

Mixed paper tonnages in the Commercial Business District declined between FY '01 and FY '02 (see chart on p. $34).

We also had problems with contamination and with our collectors. You see a huge tonnage number on paper collected from the Commercial Business District in FY'99. These numbers are what is coming into our facility, not what is going out of it. Keep in mind that we are getting contamination numbers in here. I can't tell you what percentage, typically we are within 4 percent and 5 percent contamination, but that is overall--it could have been higher in one sector and lower in another to come out with that average. We were a little lower than I'd hoped in FY '03. I don't have my numbers for FY '04 yet, but I am projecting that they will be closer to the FY '02 numbers at this point.

THE PROCESSING FACILITY. We have the only public-private partnership in the state of Georgia that accepts material in two streams.

We have a 10-year contract with FCR out of Charlotte, N.C. We actually have two five-year renewal options. We have a sliding tip-fee scale and pay a processing fee for the material coming across the scale. We also accept pre-sorted material.

Some neighboring counties collect source-separated material. Anything they can't get rid of locally because of the quantity they have or because of transportation difficulties, they will bring it to us in a presorted state. We pay a little less for that. We get the less desirable kind of stuff, but we still get the tonnage, so that's fine.

Our sorting system for the paper is manual. For the bottle and can stream, we do have two mechanical sorting devices, an eddy current machine for the aluminum and a magnetic steel separator belt that we use. The paper grades we market are ONP #8, OCC, mixed paper or all-grade board and sorted office paper.

MOTIVATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES. In order to motivate private waste haulers to reduce waste, we implemented some ordinance changes, including non-exclusive franchise or license agreements.

The licensed or franchised haulers pay a $50 renewal each year. New haulers pay a $100 application fee. The haulers are also required to offer the opportunity to recycle and are given a list of targeted materials they must collect.

Of course, educate, educate, educate. Our downtown program is unique and it takes a lot of education, particularly in light of student population turnover.

Athens Central Business District

Recycling Tonnage by Fiscal Year (July to June)

                    FY '99    FY '00    FY '01    FY '02    FY '03

Mixed Paper         265       199       248       164       133
Bottles & Cans      85        80        191       104       129
Totals              350       279       439       268       262

Athens Front-Load Dumpster Program

Recycling Tonnage by Fiscal Year (July to June)

                    FY '99    FY '00    FY '01    FY '02    FY '03

Mixed Paper         648       645       700       655       619
Bottles & Cans      21        35        98        21        47
Totals              669       680       798       676       666
The author is assistant director/waste reduction manager for Athens-Clarke County, Georgia. She can be contacted via e-mail at sharyn@acc-recycle.org.