This article was originally published in the Teton Valley News on May 1, 2014. It is reposted with permission.
What would you do with 4.8 million dollars? According to LBA Associates, that’s how much money our region is losing by burying recyclable materials in landfills instead of recovering them. On April 17th, LBA Associates presented the findings from a regional recycling feasibility study that looked at the recycling potential in a four-county region that included Madison, Fremont, and Teton Counties in Idaho, and Teton County, Wyoming. They found that the region only recycles about 5% of its waste stream and diverts about 16%. They estimated that 36% of our waste stream consists of traditional household recyclables that could be recycled, such as cardboard, paper, metal cans, plastic bottles, and glass. Teton County, Idaho currently diverts 20% of our waste stream and recycles 6% using LBA Associates’ definition.
Recovering more recyclable materials would bring revenue and jobs to the region. The challenge is finding an efficient way to increase recycling. One option LBA investigated was the creation of a regional Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF (pronounced “murph”). Many cities collect all recyclables from households with a single, large bin. The recyclables are then taken to a MRF where a combination of machines and workers separate the recyclables into different commodities that can be sold. The convenience of putting everything in one bin increases participation in recycling. However, all of that equipment costs money. Because the population in Teton Valley is not large enough to support a multi-million dollar sorting facility, we ask residents to sort recyclables themselves.
Would it be possible to have a MRF if Teton County joined forces with surrounding communities to increase the population base? The answer is maybe. LBA Associates found that even if we combined the four-county region, we still wouldn’t have the critical mass of recyclables to make a MRF profitable. However, if we added more counties and included Idaho Falls, a regional MRF could succeed.
While having a regional MRF would make collection of recyclables easier, the counties involved would need to take steps to increase participation in recycling for a MRF to be profitable. LBA Associates suggested three policy changes that could help our community recover 50% of the valuable materials in our waste stream. First, they recommended offering residents who subscribe to waste hauling service different sized trash bins for varying prices. The economic incentive of a decrease in monthly fees could encourage some residents to recycle more of their waste. LBA Associates also recommended providing curbside recycling to all residents. Finally, they recommended banning some recyclable materials, such as cardboard, from the landfill.
4.8 million dollars is a lot the throw away. It certainly provides a compelling argument to recycle more. While the concept of a regional MRF is still just an idea, the potential for increasing recycling is real. Teton Valley Community Recycling works to increase participation in waste reduction and recycling programs; if you have ideas send them to email@example.com.
Tanya Anderson is the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information, visit tetonrecycling.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.