Recycling In Broome County

As part of our 2008 Thinking Green series, WSKG featured stories from a collaboration of northeast public radio stations.

How does Broome County’s recycling rate compare to other counties in the state? According to Maureen Wren, NY State Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman, how a county compares with other counties depends on the types of metrics being used for comparison. “Broome County usually does well on most recycling parameters, more likely in the top 10 counties depending on the parameter,” Wren wrote in an email message.

We asked Wren the average recycling rate for the state. When the total solid waste stream is considered, the state recycling rate is about 45-50%.

Q: Why did Broome County switch to single stream collection, where all recyclables are mixed together in a bin rather than being individually sorted in 2002?
A: We were one of the first counties in the state to switch to single stream. There were a lot of benefits to doing so, not just making it easier for residents to recycle and to hopefully increase participation but there were a lot of benefits for the garbage haulers themselves including maximizing loads.

I think the single stream collection was a great option for the county. We’ve seen more residents asking for second and third bins. And some people have switched haulers because they wanted the single stream collection.

Q: What were some of the results of switching to single stream collection?
A: We added hard cover books, pizza bags, margarine, and yogurt containers as acceptable materials to recycle.

Q: Is recycling mandatory in Broome County?
A: Yes. Recycling is part of our local law, its required whether you are a resident, a business, or an institution.

Q: Is there any enforcement?
A: Enforcement is strictly through our security division or your local law enforcement. What happens is I’m the only person who handles recycling for the county. So I work with all the businesses or schools. If a complaint comes to me, we work with them to get them either an improved recycling program or to get them up and running with one.
As far as enforcement, we’ve really tried to go along with re-education rather than fine, because if we can get them working right, that is really what we prefer to do.

Q: What is the county’s recycling rate?
A: That’s always a tricky question, a wishy washy number. We are anywhere between 55 to 57%. That is a hard number because to calculate it, I put out letters and make calls…trying to get businesses to report…I can only base it on what I can get people to report back to me…even once they do, a lot of them are just estimates. Is that number the best? No, because there is a lot I cannot account for. We could be doing better than even that number.
Our residents really do an outstanding job participating in recycling. We probably have at least an 80% participation rate in Broome County [for residents]. Its really more the schools and the businesses that we are trying to focus on this year to get them to improve their recycling efforts

Q: What do you think the rate is with the businesses and the schools?
A: I really don’t have sense of that.

Q: How does Broome County compare with other counties in the state?
A: We are still one of the leading counties in the state.

Q: What other recycling programs does Broome County have besides curbside?
A: Batteries, household hazardous waste, we are one of few counties that has a free, year round program for that. Yard waste is composted and the compost is offered for free. We have a give back program for wood palettes that materials are stacked on, a tire program. Also oil and antifreeze and oil filters which is also free.

Q: What do people not know that they can recycle?
A: They don’t realize that pizza boxes, that frozen food boxes are recyclable. And some people don’t realize that they are not supposed to put plastic bags and Styrofoam in their bins. The number one cause of confusion is plastics. We take food and beverage, detergent and shampoo bottles. Things we are not looking for are potted plants, old dish racks, plastic clam shells from fast food takeout, and any kind of disposable utensils or cups.

Q: What is your department’s goal when it comes to recycling?
A: Our goal is to increase recycling, we want to do it as effectively as we can, to conserve landfill space…also promote waste reduction, reusable bags and buying products from recycled materials.

Q: Is it environmentally worth it to recycle?
A: Yes because the energy savings when you look at the electricity, water or oil that you save by recycling items…there definitely is a great value there. When you look at the trees you can save… it definitely has environmental benefits that outweigh any possible negatives there may be.

Q: Any message you have for the Broome County community?
A: Keep up the great job of recycling, continue being environmentally friendly, bring in household hazardous waste, its free, its for you, its one of the things that makes Broome County an outstanding place to live

Q: What else can be done to help avoid putting materials into landfills?
A: Looking at what you are purchasing, your waste reduction efforts. You as a consumer have the most power to make change. You can voice concerns about packaging, buy things that are durable, reusable. Composting at home…and avoid paper plastic plates for regular dishes.