|8/7/2012 12:53:00 PM|
Woman drawn into recycling research
|Karen Kassy has become a passionate advocate for recycling. photo by John Griffith|
|Recycle Center Research By Karen Kassy (city resident of Sisters), May 1, 2012|
|Submitted to Sisters City Council, City Manager, Paul Bertagna, Brad Bailey of High Country Disposal, Timm Schimke of Deschutes County Solid Waste, and "The Nugget"|
Quick Overview: With reduced funding options available from Deschutes County, questions on how to best operate the Sisters Recycling Center (subsequently referred to as SRC) have been before the council for approximately two years. In 2011 and January 2012, County Commissioners asked to see changes in the SRC. Actions requested include providing value to the County and residents at the most efficient cost. In response to community interest in SRC, local and out-of-state jurisdictions with recycling centers were contacted: 1) to provide research data on what works and what doesn't, and 2) to determine how a recycling center can best serve the Sisters community and city most efficiently.
Why Have a Recycling Center?
* According to former Mayor Brad Boyd, the new Recycling Center was opened in 2007 at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars and was designed to be self-service and open 24/7. (Paul Bertagna, Public Works, recalls a cost between $400,000-$500,000.) If it were to be sold, it would be at a fraction of the original cost, wasting taxpayer money.
* Timm Schimke, Deschutes County Dept. of Solid Waste, says his research shows more recycling means less trash in the landfill, extending its life and saving Deschutes County millions of dollars.
* Cities surveyed on why they have recycling centers, include: (in Oregon) The Dalles, Burns, Madras, and Sunriver. Karen also researched the Boulder, Colorado area. As a former resident, she felt that the smaller, nearby towns and topography resembled Sisters. The Boulder area has had a successful recycling program for 21 years.
* When asked why these towns offer recycling, answers include a variety of responses: It's the right thing to do. People want it. If you do it right, you actually make money at it. It saves us money and trash costs. We are mandated by law. We are not mandated by law, but people want it. It's the highest level of customer service possible.
Surveying the Public about Recycling Centers
In January, members of city council and county commissioners asked the city manager to survey Sisters and surrounding area within two months' time. Timm Schimke says that past surveys reveal consistent answers: the public loves recycling centers, wants them open more, but doesn't want increased fees to pay for it. This is true of many public services -parks, roads, etc. He says implement the best option with the funds available, and monitor.
* Brad Bailey, president, HCD, said at the previous center's much smaller, neighborhood location there were problems of cross-contamination and noise. Brad Boyd, former Mayor, concurs and says these problems are lessened at the new SRC because it is many times larger and in an industrial park location.
* According to Sunriver Recycling Center, they have contamination, overflow and neighborhood problems due to location and small size ("emptying the center every day is not enough"). On April 19, Sunriver completed a landswap with the intention to build a bigger center, among other goals.
* The question asked of businesses across the street from SRC: "How has it affected you and your business to be neighbors of the Recycling Center?" Sam Hernandez, owner of Central Bark and Sharie Peasley, owner of Cascade Liquidators, both said that they like having it. It brings them additional business. When it is closed, people come and ask, "When is it open?" Both said they would like to see it open more. No problems with noise or debris.
* Dumping increases when centers are not open. In Autumn, 2011, Karen Kassy asked George, HCD employee at the recycling center, "How are you?" In reply, he told Karen and two others, "It was my first day back after we were closed for the three days. It was a pig sty. I spent a whole hour cleaning up." Berthoud, Colorado (pop 2,000 with surrounding area of 13,000) went from being open 24/7 to three days a week and saw their recycling collection drop by 75% and dumping happening throughout the week when not open (per Dale Eckert, see below).
* Contamination and Illegal Dumping
* Dale Eckert, consultant to recycle centers across the U.S. and Business Manager of Ecocycle Boulder (established 1989), says for their bigger center (serving a city of 125,000), they are open 24/7 and someone ("can be Parks' staff, retired person, trash company employee, etc.") goes by 4 to 5 times a week for 20 to 30 minutes at a time to clean and straighten.
* Niwot, Colorado (pop. 3,500), open 24/7, has the trash employees drive by twice a week to check and see if there are problems. Someone cleans and straighten once a week for 20-30 minutes. Eckert says people do a good job sorting and there is very little contamination, especially once a center has been open for a few months and people get the hang of sorting. "Three to four times a year there is illegal dumping of items such as someone didn't want to take to the dump when they moved, a swing set, or an average of six garbage bags. A 95-gallon roll cart is on premise for items that are not trash; it fills every 2 weeks."
* Burns, OR (pop. 2,300 plus surrounding Harney County. NOT mandated by law to offer recycling) center is open every day. Dave Cullen of Public Works says he has not had illegal dumping problems. Curbside recycling is not available or mandated by law.
* The Dalles (pop. 13,620; County 25,213) recycling center is open Mon-Sat, 9-5: "illegal dumping very rarely - every few months."
* Mike Holcomb with Madras (pop.5,000, plus surrounding county) says they're open 24/7 with no supervision. Contamination is low ("95% of the people do it right") and two times a week there are problems from illegal dumping.
* Sunriver recycling is open 7 days 8-8. They have problems with contamination because 1) facility is too small and hauling recyclables daily is not enough and 2) vacation rental people try to recycle things that are recyclable in their home area but not in Sunriver.
Revenue Increasing and Costs Savings
* It seems that there is a correlation between being open every day and the amount of recyclables that can be collected. The more days open, the more recyclables that are collected. This does increase hauling costs. For recycling sales, Brad at HCD states glass is currently a money loser or break-even. Other recyclables do make money. Some other areas surveyed do make money with glass. (i.e., Ecocycle sells to a brewery bottling plant and Owens Corning. The brewery buys glass from as far away as 400-500 miles.) There is cost savings in keeping recyclables out of the landfill, as noted above.
* Dale Eckert states that Eco-Cycle turns a profit on recyclables. Anne Midget, Funds Manager Eco-Cycle says, "If you do it right, you actually make money."
* There is a reduction in recycling use when days are reduced (such as the 75% in Berthoud, CO, pop. 5,000, mentioned above).
* Municipalities surveyed offer a variety of recycling services including: curbside or non-curbside, comingled, glass, cardboard, and/or motor oil.
* A sampling of some community input: A Sisters country resident told Karen, "When they reduced the days, I stopped recycling and so did many of my neighbors. Fryrear is also too far away." A local owner of a lodging facility said, "It is inconvenient. I am busy on weekends and I can't usually get there Friday-Monday."
* Timm Schimke, "Over the past 20 years, several hundred thousands of tons have been kept out of the landfill extending its life by a number of years which saves the county several millions of dollars."
In June of last year, Karen Kassy wrote a guest editorial in the Nugget. In response, Wendy Holzman, councilor, told Karen that "Significant" written citizen input was received by council. Karen clarified, and Wendy said if she recalled correctly, they heard from six people in writing, which is significant in Sisters.
* An informal, approximately two-week survey conducted in November 2011 by George, HCD employee of SRC, found that approximately 75% of the center was being used by county residents; 25% city. This brings county people to the city of Sisters.
* It stands to reason that since businesses near the center see it increase their business, that people who bring in recycling possibly patronize Sisters as well.
* In most other areas of the country, recycling is offered. When someone vacations or considers a move to Sisters, they are possibly looking for comparable public services (parks, roads, schools, recycling, etc.). Alan Unger, County Commissioner said in the January 2012 meeting that once someone has recycling, they continue to want it and they don't want it taken away from them. He cited his wife as an example.
* In January 2012, citizens voiced frustration at the recycle center sign saying the facility was open 7 days a week (as it was originally designed to be) but locked when it was there. Public Works said they rectified this with signage of closed Tues-Thurs. The new hours sign actually droops in front of the original. To be read, you have to get out of your car and physically lift it to read (see attached picture).
Observations Friday April 20 & April 21, 2012
Karen went to Recycling Center to ask George, HCD employee, questions. He was not there when she stopped by (Friday afternoon and Saturday morning); however the gate was open. Karen took pictures, attached. Karen saw no evidence of cross-contamination in photos (i.e., no cardboard in the glass, etc.) Additionally trash rollcarts held non-recyclable items (proving on-site educational signage is working). There were no trashbags or trash outside of any of the containers on the grounds. People drove up, recycled, and left. Karen tried again April 27 & 28 with the same results (see photos). George was not there. He told her his hours are Friday-Monday 9am -1pm or 1:30pm.
High Country Disposal
Brad Bailey: "It's a cost factor. I can run it anyway the city wants." He is not in favor of a 24/7 facility because he is concerned about liability, trash, or contamination. For example, on rare occasions, someone may try to go into the containers and take out glass or cans (to redeem for money).
* As mentioned above, George, HCD employee, said he spent one hour cleaning up the "pig sty" after he was off for 3 days.
* HCD's Brad Bailey said his guestimate as to hauling cost being increased by several thousand dollars if someone other than an SRC employee is used (i.e. public works, volunteer, etc.), are because he believes there may be cross-contamination.
* The municipalities surveyed utilize a variety of staffing and non-supervision, including public works, parks, garbage employees, recycling employees and volunteers.
* Dale Eckert says in the Boulder area, and the places throughout the country for whom he has consulted, there is no difference in contamination of recyclables or cleanliness of centers utilizing volunteers, paid staff, public works, or retired people, etc.
* Paul with Public Works says comingled took care of most contamination problems. Cardboard being contaminated with styrofoam is a bigger problem. George at HCD says people from California think it's recyclable. Paul believes they need a place to put it and we might need bigger trash containers with possible additional signage. George says there are Styrofoam problems every few weeks.
* A consistent finding from other municipalities seems to be a few minutes every few days is enough to clean and straighten a center of this size. Visual checks more often can be helpful.
* As a means of diversion, Dale Eckert cited cost savings by both the city of Lincoln Nebraska Downtown Zone and Boulder's Pearl Street Mall Downtown Zone, among others. For example, approximate cost savings percentages using theoretical numbers: Say Lincoln is spending $1,000 a month on trash downtown. Adding one recycling container (for plastic and cans) next to each trash container saved them 30% per month ($300). They then sell the recyclables (for net $300 a month) savings an additional 30%. Trash costs of $1,000 then to $400 - a 60% savings in costs. Additionally, for these tourist areas it was deemed important to provide an environmentally-conscious choice for their visitors.
* A simple way to implement this in Sisters (by following what has worked elsewhere): During the Cascade Avenue Improvement Project, at every trash receptacle, put a recycling receptacle, side by side. Paint each a different color and label "trash" or "recycling." The recycling container has a domed lid (so trash cannot be set upon it) with a round hole in the top to help eliminate non-recyclables. This would save the city of Sisters money. It may also portray to visitors an appealing environmental-consciousness. The Folk Fest offered this last year. As Sisters continues to attract tourists (cyclists, fly fishers, hikers, natural beauty, birdwatchers, outdoor lifestyle and art & music events) they value and expect these types of programs. People considering moving to Sisters may like seeing recycling offered.
* Do not survey. Instead, get real data that is collectable and verifiable. Do a trial program of 3 months that is monitored. Then, adjust based on real-world data.
* Change hours to 7 days a week, 7 am to 5 pm for the public's convenience. This works with Public Works' schedule.
* Eliminate SRC HCD employee position to save $15,000. Instead, have Public Works open and close the gate morning and night (they already do this) and do a quick straightening of facility. Keep a log of their time and findings.Public Works has a daily schedule currently (wells check, sewer check, parks bathrooms). Add the SRC as one more stop on schedule. Keep the signs at the center that are currently there (video surveillance in place) to help limit illegal dumping.
* Have HCD answer these questions: 1) How much are the hauling fees during this trial period? 2) Recyclables have value. How much money does HCD make from recyclables during this time? 3) Any problems they are having with contamination/dumping or neighborhood complaints should be conveyed to the city immediately and documented.
* According to Lisa Young, finance manager for city of Sisters, currently the city is part of an annual 3-way agreement (City, County, HCD) that ends June 30, 2012. The county pays $25,000 to HCD toward operational costs of Recycle Center. Currently the city doesn't put money towards SRC, but the City has some operational responsibilities with daily site inspections, signage, opening and closing gate by Public Works.
* HCD pays for George's salary of $15,000.
* Lisa Young says the city receives from HCD as a franchise fee 4% of what they charge residents for trash pickup. For 2012, the projected amount is $17,000 and it goes to the general fund. For 2013, it is projected to be $18,000.
* HCD also receives an unknown amount selling recyclables.
* Per same document, if open 7 days, cost is $13,800 Public Works staff (2 hours a day/14 hours a week). Research is showing that this is much more than is needed. Even at the maximum shown by similar-sized towns, two times a week at 30 minutes each, plus opening and closing gates/site check might be 4 hours a week at the most. $19 per hour Public Works x 4 hours is $76 a week or less than $4,000 per year. Thus, the city of Sisters is projected to receive $18,000 and spends $4,000-$5,000.
* HCD believes their hauling cost will increase ($3,000 or 11%) with a public works employee instead of George, the part-time HCD employee, due to contamination. This is not borne out by research of other municipalities. (Note, currently George is paid $15,000 -$3,000 possible hauling increase is a savings of $12,000 to HCD). By implementing a trial program, we will be able to come up with an accurate picture. Costs may be less and amount of money made by HCD for recycling should be requested and included as part of funding picture.
* During the trial period, with increased recycling and evaluation of hauling costs, a truer picture will emerge for HCD about how much is net cost for a 7 day a week center.
* Currently, the County Commissioners have given Sisters one more year of some funding for the 2013 budget for recycling center. For future years, Commissioner Tammy Baney said they want to see changes when requests for funding are brought to them next time. Timm Schimke says, "I serve at the pleasure of the county commissioners. $25,000 is not a deal killer and something I'm not opposed to going from my budget at Solid Waste to support the Sisters Recycling Center. At this point, that support is reconsidered on an annual basis. I encourage moving to a long term solution for funding the recycling depot."
Sisters ends up with a low-cost, high-efficiency, high-level of customer service solution. There is cost, because Public Works opens and closes the gate, cleans, straightens and monitors. These costs are more than offset by the $18,000 in franchise fees. Deschutes County and HCD share hauling fees. This saves the County money by reducing trash in landfill and extending the landfill's useful life. We will collect more recyclables and keep more trash out of the landfill than if we just have Fryrear. It is valuable to HCD because they own all the recyclables, which have value. It is viewed positively by tourists, and possibly improves business. Additionally, people relocating from other areas expect these types of services. And, Sisters improves their recycling center so that it can best serve the county, Sisters community and city most efficiently.
By John GriffithLike many other folks in Sisters Country, Karen Kassy is something of an accidental activist.
"I moved to Sisters two years ago, and the interesting thing is that Sisters is so small that you can be aware of things, and one person can make a difference," she said.
"I have never been a political person," said Kassy. But when her partner, former Sisters mayor Brad Boyd, showed her the recycle center, built during his tenure with the city, he noticed that it had been fenced.
"I am concerned," said Boyd, and a project was born.
Kassy said, "I didn't set out to save it (the recycle center), I just wanted to know, is this worthwhile? I didn't want to see (it) closed without someone checking into, is it really an asset.
"I knew the joint meeting with the county commissioners was coming up in January and I hadn't heard or seen anything new about the recycle center, so in December 2011 I filed a public information request to see what progress had been made," said Kassy.
She found that nothing had happened. Kassy attended the January meeting.
"The commissioners were very clear that they wanted to see some changes (at the recycling center) but still nothing was happening," said Kassy.
At the January meeting the county commissioners pledged to cover all but $4,000 of the city's net costs for one more year of operation (approximately $36,000). Commission chair Tammy Baney tempered the county's commitment with the need for Sisters to have a long-term plan for the facility by January of 2013.
At that point two city councilors that she knew, Wendy Holzman and Sharlene Weed, asked Kassy to do some research on the viability of community recycling centers. Kassy reported being told, "If you don't do it, no one will."
In May 2012 Kassy presented the results of her extensive research to the city (see the web version of this story at www.nuggetnews.com for the full text of the report).
"I would like to thank the city staff for all their help," said Kassy. "Citizens can call the city and get their help. The cool thing about Sisters is that the council people are approachable."
As of July 1, the city is has initiated a six-month pilot project which has the recycling center open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The city will be collecting and reporting data monthly on hauling costs, volume and resale receipts of collected materials. The city will also be compiling and reporting the results of a user survey conducted earlier this year through High Country Disposal billings.
The city's work, combined with Kassy's research, should yield the answers to a number of open questions: Is there a net profit in recycling for Sisters? What is the best use of the current facility that the city already owns? How can the city improve the use of the recycle center through signage and education?
"We already have it..." said Kassy. "We invested in a big land swap to get the center. Other cities surveyed (like Boulder) have been making a profit on recycling for years. Why can't we?"
Kassy was born and raised in Colorado and moved to Central Oregon in 2000 "...because it is a beautiful place and much less crowded," said Kassy. "I love the outdoors and I love to get outdoors. I love that I can walk everywhere. Sisters has super-nice people."
With two degrees in business, Kassy was director of conferences for Sounds True, a Boulder-based multi-media publishing company "...embracing the world's major spiritual traditions, as well as the arts and humanities embodied by the leading authors, teachers, and visionary artists of our time."
Kassy now works as a health consultant.
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