Moab City Council delayed a vote Tuesday night that could revamp how the city recycles, punting its final decision three weeks down the road. The delay is meant to give city staff an opportunity to do more outreach about the proposed changes and to give residents an opportunity to respond.
If the changes are approved, Moab would join the majority of US cities that currently use single-stream recycling, a system that provides residents a recycling container that is regularly emptied by the city in addition to the standard landfill cart.
According to a report from Moab City Manager David Everitt, the new system could drastically improve the city’s “diversion rate,” the amount of material that is diverted away from landfills and instead sent to recycling facilities. “The city’s current landfill diversion rate of 13 percent is well below the national rate of 35 percent,” Everitt said. “Accordingly, the city desires to implement a waste minimization program that places a high emphasis on diverting more material away from landfill disposal and reducing the overall waste stream by increasing recycling volumes.”
Single-stream recycling would give Moab residents a familiar, easy way to recycle—a system where the recycling bin goes next to the trash bin at the street curb each week, and trucks come to empty them both out.
In an effort to meet its environmental goals and encourage more recycling, the city is considering a new requirement that all city residents receive a recycling bin and pay for recycling services.
For residents who already pay for recycling services through the city, the bill will remain about the same. For residents who do not, monthly fees will increase from $17 to about $29.
Council members discussed the idea of temporarily subsidizing the fee increase that residents may experience, perhaps by charging businesses a greater recycling fee, but no final decision on this was reached during the Jan. 22 board meeting.
In the proposed plan currently before city council, commercial recycling wouldn’t be mandated the way residential recycling would be, according to Dan Kirkpatrick, a managing partner at Monument Waste Services. For years, Moab has contracted its waste management services out to Monument, and this contract is currently up for renewal. Kirkpatrick cited high logistical costs that would come with mandating that businesses pay and utilize single-stream recycling as the reason it wasn’t included in the proposal. He said part of this was due to seasonal fluctuations in how much waste businesses generate, but also the question of where each business can put its recycling receptacle. (See related story on page B2, “Monument Waste to acquire Green Solutions.)
Critics of single-stream say that there is also an environmental cost to the system, since sorting facilities that handle the huge loads of recycling aren’t able to pick out everything. Machines and people work inside these facilities, watching streams of material roll down assembly lines. As recyclables come down the line, they must separate the glass from the cardboard and the aluminum from the office paper, as recycled materials are all reprocessed differently.
As wet paper and shards of glass come down these lines, they are picked out to be sent to the landfill, since they can’t be recycled. This “contamination,” as it is called, is common to single-stream recycling systems; it occurs when recyclable materials become non-recyclable due to degradation of the material.
Sara Melnicoff, founder of Moab Solutions, is one of the chief critics of the proposal for single-stream recycling. Moab Solutions is a local nonprofit that, according to the organization’s website, combines “homeless advocacy with environmental action” by rendering services to homeless individuals and conducting ecological restoration and recycling projects.
Melnicoff points to contamination, the requirement that all residents pay for recycling services and other issues as reasons that the city should not adopt single-stream. She also believes the system, although convenient for residents, can instill a lazy mindset toward recycling, rather than an active and invested mentality.
Melnicoff told The Times-Independent that she expected establishing single-stream recycling in Moab would put the Community Recycle Center on East Sand Flats Road out of business, since residents would be provided an easier means of recycling than currently exists at the location.
The recycle center offers self-sorting recycling services, a multi-stream (rather than single-stream) system that allows Grand County residents to bring recyclables to the center and drop them in bins corresponding to types of paper, plastic and other recyclable material.
Recycling experts say such multi-stream systems generate much less residual waste due to contamination compared to single-stream systems, one of the reasons Melnicoff hopes to keep the recycling center open.
Melnicoff said that, by letting residents sort their own recyclables, people get an opportunity to be more directly involved with recycling and understanding its positive environmental impacts. She also said that creating a single-stream system in Moab will force residents to pay for recycling services that they may not want. “I just think there’s better ways to attract people to recycling,” Melnicoff said in a phone interview Wednesday, Jan. 23.