Re: [GRRN] Switch to Biweekly curbside recycling collection
Thu, 5 Aug 1999 17:03:56 EDT

In defense of Philly (God love this town!) we have a very good program in
theory. Curbside recycling as it now stands collects commingled paper (except
OCC) in tied bundles or brown paper bags (that's newsprint with everything
from junk mail to cereal boxes); and then commingled glass and metal UFBCs.
We do not collect plastic. We did once but it was a financial disaster.
Plastic is mostly air no matter how you shake it when you aren't using
compactors. With plastic our trucks could barely carry 2 tons. Without the
best ones get 6+ a day (two loads).

We also bid out our processing contracts and have a floating price index
which allows us to collect revenues when markets are good. (During the last
paper boom the city collected nearly $800,000 - and that was just for news
since we hadn't started our mixed paper program). Right now the overall net
unit cost for the curbside program is hovering at near the unit cost for
trash (trash is a bit better in some parts of the city, recycling better in
other parts). When you factor
everything in, the cost per ton is roughly $95-$115 per ton. When disposal
costs go up, the margin shifts to recycling (disposal has gone down from
$85/ton in 1988 to $48/ton give or take in 1998). Most peoploe expect
disposal prices to go up by 15-20% the next time they put out a bid for
service (2002 I think).

As to why they went bi-weekly (and eliminated plastics), we were heading
toward full-scale city bankruptcy at the end of Wilson Goode's admin. but
state law also required that we expand our curbside program citywide. We had
no other resources...trucks, crews, etc. with which to expand. The only way
to do it was to eliminate plastics and go to bi-weekly. One of those ugly
decisions you had to make at the beginning of the 90s (pre-Clinton-Gore boom

Things have changed. I think the weekly pilot (and same day trash and
recycling) will ultimately be successful and that disposal prices will inch
up enough to make recycling a viable option again. If the markets were to
turn around for paper you'd probably also see enough revenues to begin a
pilot on plastic collection.

Is this program a success though? Not even!...the low participation and
general environmental apathy of Philadelphians is phenomenal! And the lack of
understanding of the need for consistent, long-term planning for education,
PR and outreach just keeps us mired in the same old same old. And it's not
the city recycling coordinator. Recycling here, like many places, is stuck in
a political time warp while elected officials jockey for power and appointed
officials exercise their whimsey (or is it the other way around?).

One mollifies oneself by knowing that the concept and system are good. It's
just the understanding of long-term committed application that is lacking.

Sorry for the diatribe. I'm late for a meeting.

David Biddle
Center for Solid Waste Research

In a message dated 8/5/99 3:28:48 AM Eastern Daylight Time,

<< At times when curbside recycling inculuded only cans glass and newspaper
bi-weekly collection made sense. Philadelphia has enough items on their
program that they should pickup weekly and should pickup the same day as
trash pickup.
Programs should allow loose containers or clear bags to be used as well.
Plastics and mixed paper in a recycling program should definately generate
enough volume that a weekly collection makes sense.

Philadelphia should consider mandating clear trash bags. Oswego County, NY
has done this. It makes it easier to enforce participation in my opinion.

Philadelphia should also (if not allready) accept commingled recyclables to
be placed in a recycling bin or labeled container or clear plastic bag and
accept mixed paper in a paper bag, labeled container or clear plastic bag.
Options make it easier for participation. So long as commingled
and mixed paper are separated into those two categories it shouldn't really
matter what type of container they're in. >>