Tag Archives: environment

State Capitals Recycling

Alaska – Juneau – Has curbside pickup and multiple dropoff centers

Arizona – Phoenix – multiple kinds of curbside pickup and the city of Phoenix has a goal to divert 40 percent of trash from the landfill by 2020; and to achieve zero waste by the year 2050.

Arkansas – Little Rock – has curbside recycling

California – Sacramento – has curbside recycling

Colorado – Denver – you don’t even have to ask

Connecticut – Hartford – small city, free curbside pickup

Delaware – Dover – website sucks, but they offer recycling

Florida – Tallahassee – Yes. Garbage and recycling containers can be placed at the curb (no earlier than) the day before your scheduled pickup and need to be returned to the storage area near your home no later than the day following your service.

Georgia – Atlanta – curbside in a cart

Hawaii – Honolulu – mobile and permanent dropoff centers

Idaho – Boise – they pick it up, nice “CurbIt” campaign and branding

Illinois – Springfield – Abraham Lincoln does it personally. Just kidding. Curbside, but they charge for it. “Residents living in single family homes of 3 units or less in addition to residents who live in multi-unit buildings may now obtain recycling service on site from their waste hauler at the monthly rate of $3 per unit.”

Indiana – Indianapolis – curbside and drop-off

Iowa – Des Moines – Another “Curb It!” program covering municipal Des Moines and Central Iowa curbside pickup.

Kansas – Topeka – The county does it. Forty tons a day.

Kentucky – Frankfort – Even Franklin. “Franklin County incurs the cost of residential curbside trash and recycling collection. This service is provided by Legacy Carting.”

Louisiana – Baton Rouge – Yes. And it’s surprisingly robust.

Maine – Augusta – Their website is ironically itself rubbish. Appears they stopped curbside recycling pickup on May 1, 2017. But there are still four city-maintained drop-off sites.

Maryland – Annapolis – It is MANDATORY.

Massachusetts – Boston – “You can mix recyclable materials together and place them on the curb outside of your home on your recycling day.” Great website.

Michigan – Lansing – Curbside. Funded by a fee. With virtual tour of their MRF.

Minnesota – St. Paul – Weekly collection. As if you had to ask.

Mississippi – Jackson – Even Jackson has curbside. Mississippi.

Missouri – Jefferson City – Yes.

Montana – Helena – Even Helena.

Nebraska – Lincoln – Seems like the city provides 23 drop-off sites and a bunch of companies offer curbside pickup. Doesn’t seem efficient to have a bunch of companies competing to do the pickup.

Nevada – Carson City – Curbside recycling is available through Waste Management. They can be reached at (775) 882-3380.

New Hampshire – Concord – Live Free or Die … and curbside recycle.

New Jersey – Trenton – Even this place has it.

New Mexico – Santa Fe – This is hilarious and on-point. Of course they have rolling curbside.

New York – Albany – Manages one of the region’s largest single stream recycling programs with a 50.1% diversion rate.

North Carolina – Raleigh – Raleigh’s Solid Waste Services launched its first downtown recycling program in 2006. Today more than 130 downtown businesses recycle materials with Solid Waste Services. The City’s residential curbside recycling program began as a pilot program in 1989.

North Dakota – Bismarck – Even North Dakota. Curbside.

Ohio – Columbus – Yes. RecyColumbus is really cool.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma City – They have Russell Westbrook. And curbside recycling bin pickup.

Oregon – Salem – Duh.

Pennsylvania – Harrisburg – Yes. And they want to do more.

Rhode Island – Providence – Cubrside bins in the capital of the nation’s smallest state.

South Carolina – Columbia – Strange wizard. They have curbside bins.

South Dakota – Pierre – Both Dakotas have curbside recycling in their capital cities.

Tennessee – Nashville – Curbside pickup and a well-designed site.

Texas – Austin – Duh.

Utah – Salt Lake City – Bins and drop-offs and landfill tours.

Vermont – Montpelier – Recycleables have been banned from the landfill in Vermont since July 1, 2015 as part of Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law. So … yeah.

Virginia – Richmond – Yes. Curbside covering 13 cities.

Washington – Olympia – Obviously. Curbside carts.

West Virginia – Charleston – Even West Virginia’s capital. Curbside.

Wisconsin – Madison – They publish a “Recyclopedia.” So, obviously.

Wyoming – Cheyenne – curbside recycling program was first implemented as a pilot program in January 2008. Service was first provided to 1500 residents in the Sun Valley area. The results were extremely favorable and city-wide recycling began in August 2010.

That means that we are the only state capital with no program. This is the link on the city-run site, that says that you can drive to one of two sites in the city to leave your recyclable materials with one of two private for-profit entities. So, just let those jugs and bottles pile up in your house for the weeks at a time that it will take you to have the time to drive to one of the two locations in this city that can recycle. We are the only state capital in this entire nation that is this pathetic at recycling. The only one. Every single other capital city has figured something out, whether they are larger than us, smaller than us, richer than us, or poorer than us. Everybody has figured it out except for us, and we have a giant empty shuttered recycling plant that was a bad idea before it was ever built and we just keep pumping our landfills more and more full every single day that goes by. All links current as of early May 2017.

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Plastic: A primer

When the City of Montgomery terminated its curbside recycling program, as an added “screw the Earth” bonus, it also slipped in the end of plastics recycling. As we noted a few months ago, the new inconvenient drop-off sites only accept cardboard and paper. If you’ve got glass, you’ll need to go to the Alabama Environmental Council facility up in Birmingham (although we’ve heard about some glass recycling in Auburn, but have yet to verify that – appreciate a lead from any of our readers).

If you want to recycle plastic, there’s always the AEC option. But driving to Birmingham makes a big old carbon footprint to recycle a few bottles. Other cities manage to recycle plastic just fine – ie, the surprisingly effective and progressive recycling program run by the nearby city of Troy (although they don’t do glass either).

There is, of course, a catch. The AEC and City of Troy don’t accept all plastics – just the ones with numbers 1 and 2 on the bottom. I was curious about what these numbers meant, and why the other numbers weren’t being accepted by Alabama’s pathetic meager recycling efforts.

Thanks to the Internets, I was able to figure out what the symbols mean (sort of – chemistry is not my strong suit by any means). I learned that all plastics are not the same (which I knew, but it was good to be reminded of why) and thus cannot in fact just be dumped into a big Recycl-o-Matic (such is my understanding of how this process works) to be remade into new plastic things. For those who are interested, here’s how the plastic numbers break down:

  • 1 – PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). Seems like this is the most common, especially for water and soda bottles, because it’s cheap. Evidently it is also easy to recycle – here’s a video of a plant if you’re interested in learning more (as I was … dig that crazy pan flute music!). These bottles get shredded and recycled into things like fabric and carpet. Generally, American consumers recycle somewhere between 12 and 20% of PET bottles.
  • 2 – HDPE (high density polyethylene). Milk jugs, trash bags, detergent bottles, cereal box liners, and so forth. Evidently it can be recycled into a bunch of stuff and is very durable. Seems like it’s tougher and longer-lasting than PET.
  • 3 – Vinyl or PVC. Evidently can be recycled into useful products like speed bumps. If it were recycled. Which it rarely is. Do not burn or use to prepare food unless you really like the taste of chlorine.
  • 4 – LDPE (low density polyethylene). Plastic shopping bags and those awful dry cleaning bags (although if you’re dry cleaning, you’re already willing to accept some level of enviro-poisoning). It’s also in carpet, some squeeze bottles, etc. Can be recycled into other plastic stuff like shipping envelopes.
  • 5 – PP (polypropylene). Evidently this stuff can stand high heat, so it is often used by people who need to pour hot contents into plastic. Also evidently it’s used in a lot of yogurt containers. You know, the little individual ones that animals get their heads stuck in and then die. The Internets inform me that this kind of plastic can be recycled into ice scrapers and brooms, among other useful products.
  • 6 – PS (polystyrene). Styrofoam is one kind of this. Also egg cartons and CD cases. In the 1980s, there was a huge battle over styrofoam use by companies like McDonald’s. Of course, lots of that had to do with CFCs and the ozone layer. And look how well all that turned out. Regardless, you’ll be lucky to find any place to recycle this stuff even if you’re living outside of the Southeast (and if you are, why the heck are you reading this blog?), and even if you get it recycled it’ll only be good for filling other plastic devices.
  • 7 – Other. This category includes everything else, including hard plastics with BPA – something that the FDA has recently said it’s going to take another look at despite previous assurances that it was perfectly safe.

All of which is more in the way of a for-your-information, since there’s really no way to recycle your numbers 1 and 2 plastic here in Montgomery anyway, unless you bundle them for business/recreational trips up to Birmingham (which is what we try to do, although that is more aspiration than reality right now – fortunately, we’ve got a great big shed out back to store stuff in).

Your waste plastic is your inter-generational legacy gift to the Earth if you don’t recycle them (or maybe even if you do, especially if other folks are using the old Montgomery collect-and-dump strategy). And that’s if you’re lucky. If not, your stupid little bottles and sheets and giblets may go straight to the Pacific Gyre. And then maybe one day dissolve, messing with the endocrine systems of our friends in the sea.

There is, of course, some debate about whether it’s a good idea to recycle at all. The most famous example of this argument was made by John Tierney a while ago. You can read his article here, and then consider one of the many critiques of his piece here. There are so many alternatives to buying plastic, but it would be nice to at least have the option to recycle here in the Capitol City. The city needs to figure out how to budget for more progressive trash policies rather than following the horrifying national trend of seeing Alabama as a trash dump.

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IMPORTANT NOTE: After this post was put up, alert pro-Earth commenter John P. pointed me to Mt. Scrap, which does take plastics #1 and 2. Thanks!

Montgomery: Recycling disaster

It’s been about six weeks since Mayor Todd Strange, ever mindful of ecomomics, stopped the city’s curbside recycling program. We (and our large group of friends) were quite saddened by this news. Even though we had our share of issues getting our hands on the official municipal orange recycling bags, we do recycle a lot, even collecting glass (which Montgomery never recycled … at least as long as we’ve lived here) and sending it to another nearby (more progressive) city for reprocessing.

So, we were prepared to be vehemently opposed to the end of curbside recycling, but instead were surprised to find ourselves somewhat lukewarm on the issue. Only a third of Montgomery households participated in the program. And we can vouch for the flexible definition of “participate” – while we regularly put out at least one full orange bag every week, other houses appeared to put out a bag with a few items in it every two weeks. Even if you are a strong believer in recycling, it’s hard to justify the fossil fuel use for trucks cruising up and down streets for the weekly recycling pickup when results are so meager.

It gets worse – turned out that city was using the McInnis Recycling Center (a business effort of the Montgomery Association for Retarded Citizens) to process the materials. That facility could only handle about a quarter of what it got through curbside pickup. The remainder was either sent to the Elmore County recycling program or to the landfill. Only 1% of the city’s waste was getting recycled.

Eliminating this massively ineffective recycling program saved the city $400,000 per year (so we were told by the local newspaper). The City was bleeding money, facing an $8 million budget shortfall and burning through the entirety of municipal reserves. In this fiscal crisis, with the city taking a bath on any number of budget items including the terrible Bobby Bright legacy lunch trolley (which was losing $75,000 per year), we found ourselves agreeing with reduced pickup. Or even eliminated pickup. The Mayor said that the city was moving toward drop-off sites that would be open twice a month on Saturday. Probably this reduced recycling input (conceding that ending curbside pickup would lead to decreased participation) would mean that all the recycling at least, you know, got recycled. Maybe the city should have thought about the capacity limitations of Montgomery’s retarded people before they set up the recycling program. We’re not saying those people shouldn’t have jobs (obviously), but if the McInnis facility can’t handle being the sole site of Montgomery’s recycling program, they shouldn’t be handed a job bigger than they can do.

In any case, we were less motivated to show up and complain about the end of curbside recycling once we found out how wretched the existing program was. That’s when Mayor Strange hit us with the one-two punch of his proposed alternatives.

  • Option One: Sort All The Trash. The Mayor was talking for a while about a program like the one being set up in Baldwin County by Team Green Recycling. TGR is a private company building a plant to take in all of Baldwin County’s trash, unsorted, and sort it before it goes to the landfill. They make money by selling the recyclables, and the city makes money by reducing landfill costs. Turns out it’s not cheap for cities to handle solid waste, and it makes financial sense for cities to reduce their trash output (though landfill fees are still inordinately cheap, especially in communities without an interest in forcing “true pricing,” taking pay-later externalities into account). In any case, this approach seemed credible and reasonable, having been tried before in other similar communities. But we haven’t heard much about it since October, and maybe that’s because TGR’s money is all tied up getting the Baldwin County project off the ground, so they’re not ready to invest up here.
  • Option Two: The Plasma Plant. A “plasma plant?” Sounds like some of that geoengineering crap that people float to avoid having to deal with the pressing need to actually reduce consumption and carbon emissions. Without knowing anything at all about how this works, we can only say for sure that the city’s has recently agreed to do a one-year “feasibility study,” after which we may build a plant which may be ready in three years.The idea of these things is that they use very high temperatures on the solid waste, recyclables and all. No special curbside pickup. No sorting. No consumer effort at all. Organic stuff vaporizes and makes steam to run a turbine, so gasification plants are supposed to generate power to sell back to the grid. Other stuff that doesn’t “gasify” ends up being reduced into “slag,” which industry sites assure us can be used for many purposes, including building blocks and roads. The plants don’t produce ash. One of the major problems is that no municipality in the US has a running plasma plant now. The first one, in Florida, is expected to be running by 2011. There is a plant in Huntsville that uses plasma technology, but it’s basically just an incinerator and produces ash. And we have no information on what this means as far as air emissions when you go around and burn up an entire city’s worth of milk jugs and disposable diapers and glass jars and old cell phones and batteries and all the other shit that people put into their trash cans.

The Mayor said he’d get back to us on these options. The City Council said fine. Then we received Picture 1this flyer in the mail informing us of the recycling drop-off locations, and including the fine print that plastic would no longer be recycled by the city. Only paper and cardboard and aluminum. This seemed like some kind of sick joke. Recycle two days a month, paper and cardboard and aluminum only. Plus, it turned out that at least one of the schools had Saturday school, causing some unpleasantness (or at least jockeying for parking) between the school attendees’ parents and local recycling aficionados.

All of which has left us with a number of questions. Such as:

1. If the city is so super broke, how are we going to afford cutting-edge plasma technology that NO OTHER CITY IN THE UNITED STATES HAS?

2. What are we going to do if the feasibility study comes back in one year and indicates that a plasma plant isn’t an ideal solution? What if they cost more than we expect, or don’t work? Or they leave poison in the ground where they are built? Or emit lots of air pollution? Or blow up regularly, killing all the workers who work there?

3. What are we going to do in the meantime? Fill our landfills with glass and plastic simply because the City of Montgomery can’t seem to set up a recycling system like the one in Troy, Alabama, population 12,000 or so? A tiny town 45 minutes to the south of us has figured out how to do curbside recycling of glass, metal, paper, cardboard, and plastic, and not bleed money and go bankrupt? What’s our problem up here?

4. Can’t we just stop our absurd twice-a-week trash pickup and do a single day of the week to pick up trash and a single day of the week to pick up recycling? And start doing glass? And plastic? And somehow not exclusively rely on McInnis to sort it all? And maybe even find a way to sell the recycled goods on the private market and make it into a revenue stream for the city? Or if not, just declare that this is a service (like free parks, for example) that makes our city worth living in and it’s worth it to lose money on since it makes our city a more attractive place to live?

Recycling – low and high technology

345897594_272bf58cc9Montgomery’s curbside recycling program is something to be proud of. Sure, they don’t take glass (and the closest place to drop your glass seems to be in Prattville? Anyone got a tip on in-city glass recycling?). But compared to Tuscaloosa, where you had to tote your recycling to the ONE sorting trailer in town that took recycling and was invariably overflowing with phone books, soda bottles, and tattered copies of Sports Illustrated, and still didn’t take glass (for THAT, you had to drive to Birmingham), Montgomery’s program is top-notch.

Basically, you get orange bags tied to your city-issued trash can. These bags can be filled with mixed recycling (steel cans, plastic, paper, cardboard boxes cut to lay flat, etc.), and the city won’t pick up any recycling that is not in one of these orange bags. Which are surprisingly flimsy. Like rip, basically, upon contact with cardboard. Fortunately they can be reinforced with duct tape, if need be. Your trash gets picked up twice a week, and only one of those days is your recycling pick-up day.

So far so good. Except that if you’re like us, you recycle a lot, and some weeks more than others. But it’s surprisingly hard to get more bags from the city. We recently had a major influx of cardboard into the house (the Amazon wedding registry, it turns out, involves a lot of giant boxes containing other boxes containing single items packed with unnecessary air bags), and needed to get rid of it. So I called the city sanitation department to see if I could swing by there for more orange bags. No such luck. They do not allow you to come by the office to get more bags, despite obviously having bags in the office. They said they would mail them to me. This was a week ago. Today I logged on to their website to try again, and was surprised to find a technological upgrade! You can now click on a button to order more bags! This button generates an email you can fill out and send including your address and preferred number of extra bags. Great. Except that the email gets promptly bounced back as undeliverable. Ah, Montgomery.

One thing coming up in the city is the annual Electronics Recycling Event, where folks can bring in all their old keyboards, copy machines, etc. (and TVs, for an extra $10 per television) to be recycled. I was happy, because I have a few non-functional electronic items here in the office to get rid of, but suspicious, because like many people I saw this horrifying 60 Minutes episode about the secret, evil work of many electronics recycling companies.

The company Montgomery is contracting with to haul the waste away is Ecovery LLC. They have a nice website, but I was concerned because they do not appear on the list of electronics recycling companies that have taken the Basel Action Network pledge. BAN’s E-Stewards Initiative is an attempt to get electronics recyclers to adhere to tough standards regarding the treatment and disposal of toxic waste. It doesn’t have any teeth, though – so far all you have to do to get on BAN’s E-Steward list is to take the pledge. There’s no certification program or auditing associated with the program, although BAN says that by 2010 all of that will be put into place.

There is only one E-Steward company in Alabama, and it isn’t Ecovery LLC. It’s Huntsville-based MARS LLC. I called over to Ecovery to find out why weren’t on the E-Steward list, and had a nice conversation with their CEO, Brock Norris. Brock was somewhat critical of the BAN program because of its lack of teeth. He was proud to say that Ecovery is certified through the RIOS program (Recycling Industry Operating Standard – a certification program of the industry association, ISRI), which he described as a comprehensive and auditable program, unlike the E-Steward initiative. He did say that once BAN’s program evolved into an audited certification program, Ecovery would try to get that certification as well.

On the one hand, I was impressed by talking to Brock about his company. Only a year old, Ecovery does all of its processing in Loxley, AL. Even the cathode ray tubes are processed there, and only the glass is sent out for cleaning at a separate facility. This seems promising. I like the idea of electronics recycling being done locally rather than shipped off to some poor country so child and imprisoned workers can die of cancers after stripping down our electronics so we can feel marginally better about the new computer we just HAD to have.

But I’m still a little wary of Brock’s argument, for two reasons. First, it turns out that the RIOS standards are MUCH lower and less stringent than the E-Steward standards. It’s also lower than the EPA’s R2 standards (which seem to be basically the same as RIOS). Check out this BAN brochure (it’s a PDF) for a side-by-side comparison. So compliance with RIOS is a far cry from complicance with what BAN is suggesting.This strikes me as pretty par for the course for industry “self-regulation.” There are a million examples of industries that take pre-emptive action to stall momentum for strict regulation, and their regulations are always weaker than what is being suggested by outside parties. I looked on the ISRI site for reactions to the BAN standards and found this letter (PDF) from former ISRI President Robin Weiner sent to 60 Minutes after the recycling story aired. It criticizes the segment for, basically, spotlighting the work of a few bad apples. Other than that there don’t seem to be any official ISRI documents (on the site at least) responding to the BAN standards.

The second problem I had with Brock’s argument was that it seemed a bit hollow. Recall that he said the problem with the BAN pledge is that it lacks enforcement. But if you agree that these standards are good, what would you have to lose by taking the pledge? Seems like getting on the E-Steward list couldn’t be anything but good for business. Especially when nosy hippies like me call you up to demand information about your Basel Convention compliance before they will give you an old crappy photocopier.