Raleigh looks to increase recycling

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

— Residents here lag behind the national average for recycling, and city leaders are looking at ways to encourage less trash for the landfill.

Solid Waste Director Fred Battle explained several potential programs to the Raleigh City Council last week, ranging from mandatory recycling to a “pay as you throw” pricing for garbage service. A council committee voiced interest in several of the possibilities at a meeting Tuesday.

“There is room to get the recycling numbers up,” he said.

Raleigh customers average 0.1 tons of recycling per year; the national average is 0.25 tons per customer. But Raleigh’s trash disposal per household is slightly lower than the national rate.

Here’s a look at the possibilities:

Ban recyclables from the garbage: Battle noted that some West Coast and Northeastern communities legally require their residents to recycle. He said those laws aren’t common in this area because landfills don’t charge as much to cities. The biggest challenge with mandatory recycling, he added, is enforcement. The city would likely have to add staff for a law to have any teeth.

“Pay as you throw”: Raleigh residents currently pay a flat rate for weekly garbage pickup, providing little incentive to sort out the recyclables. With “pay as you throw,” residents could opt for smaller garbage cans and pay a lower rate. A similar option that wouldn’t require new rollout carts is a rebate program offering a credit for recycling. That would be tracked by computer chips inserted in the carts that would be scanned by city solid waste crews.

Add more recycling locations: Battle said the recycling receptables downtown have been popular, so installing more “recycling on the go” facilities throughout the city could help. He also wants to bring hundreds more apartment and condominium complexes into Raleigh’s recycling program.

Composting: Some cities will pick up food waste for composting, and Raleigh began collecting used cooking oil from residents and places of worship Nov. 1. If Raleigh expanded its efforts into food waste, Battle suggested a small pilot program with local restaurants. “This is a very expensive proposition if we try to do this,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mayor Nancy McFarlane asked for a full report within six month looking at the costs of the options. A financially risky new program could make it harder for the city’s solid waste department to become self-sustaining. The service is currently subsidized by property taxes, and the city hopes to end those subsidies within 10 years.

“This can be a complicated business model,” interim City Manager Perry James said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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