Consultant: Curbside recycling should wait

September 19, 2019

Expanded program not recommended until markets improve

By Kelli Williams
City of Bartlesville

A consultant company contracted by the City of Bartlesville to conduct a public survey regarding the City’s solid waste services is recommending no action be taken to implement a curbside recycling program — at least until depressed recycling markets rebound.

Dave Yanke of NewGen Strategies and Solutions presented findings from the long-awaited Solid Waste Survey to the Bartlesville City Council during a special meeting held Sept. 17. NewGen was contracted to conduct the public survey in an effort to help determine which solid waste services Bartlesville residents would like to see expanded, if any, and whether they would be willing to pay for additional services.

Yanke said 2,144 residents participated in the survey, which was launched in May and concluded June 30. That number represents about 12 percent of the 17,000 residential accounts — an impressive showing, he said.

“That’s really a good turnout for a survey,” Yanke told the council. “Twelve percent blows away statistical significance. It gives you a very good idea of what people are thinking.”

The survey listed 11 questions pertaining to recycling, bulky waste collection, street sweeping and other temporary or seasonal collection or drop-off programs. The questions were developed after numerous consultations with City staff, and high level financial analyses were developed for each of the service areas and factored into the report’s findings.

One of the most highly anticipated aspects of the report — recycling — was discussed at length during the meeting. The City currently offers access to a drop-off recycling center, located on 10th Street just east of Virginia Avenue. Items deposited at the center are transported to a recycling processor in Tulsa, Tulsa Recycling and Transfer.

Yanke said results show that approximately 55 percent of the survey respondents use the drop-off service while about 45 percent do not. Of those who said they do not use the service, “about a third of them didn’t know where (the center) was.” Yanke recommended the City consider conducting an educational campaign to help raise awareness of the drop-off service and center location.

Respondents were asked to weigh in on whether they would utilize a curbside recycling program, which the City operated somewhat briefly several years ago but discontinued due to cost. Yanke said the cost analysis for curbside service today was conducted prior to the survey and included in the survey questions.

“We had a good idea what the costs would be so we could put those in the survey and feel comfortable about that,” he said.

Curbside recycling one time per week collection

  • Total estimated annual cost $875,925
  • Number of households 16,870
  • Estimated annual rate increase $15.92
  • Monthly rate increase $4.33

Every other week collections costs

  • Total estimated annual cost $688,729
  • Number of households 16,870
  • Estimated annual rate increase $40.83
  • Monthly rate increase $3.40

Yanke said a high percentage of survey respondents said they wanted curbside recycling, but the percentage of people willing to pay for it was much lower.

“We found there was a significant percentage that were interested in curbside recycling — 75 percent said, Yes, they would be interested,” Yanke said. “Of course, as we looked at the price and we looked at $3.50 per month per household and $4.50 per household, that (percentage) started to drop down a little bit as far as who was willing to pay for it.”

According to the report, 1,587 respondents said they want the City to offer curbside recycling. Of those people, 1,152 were willing to pay $3.50 per month for the service and only 800 were willing to pay $4.50 per month.

“So backing up to where you started, where you said, ‘Do you want to offer a curbside recycling program,’ almost 1,600 people out of 2,100 said Yes,” Yanke told the council. “And then, when you got to $3.50 you had 1,100, so roughly 50-55 percent of the people said they would be willing to pay for that. And that’s great. But that means there’s probably 45 percent that may not want to do that. And, again, extrapolating that over your population probably makes sense based on the sample size we had.”

Yanke said given these percentages — coupled with the fact that recycling markets are down considerably for U.S. recyclables — a curbside service is not recommended at this time.

“I don’t know how familiar everybody is with awareness on the recycling markets, but China about two years ago started banning recyclables from the United States because of contamination issues in the bales they were receiving,” he said. “As a result, they basically have shut the market down, and now we have some material going to India and East Asia. But, bottom line, there’s a lot more supply here stateside versus demand … Bottom line, (the market) is depressed.

“I am a big proponent of recycling — I recycle passionately at home. But I would not recommend to you entering into the market at this time.”

Yanke said the emergence of liner-board companies gearing up for construction in the near future could have a significant impact on recycling markets and turn the tide upward in two to three years.

“In my opinion, the markets have started to bottom out and they are going to come up, as we have a lot of these liner-board facilities that are coming online in 2021-22,” he said. “I think you will see the prices start to go up. That’s why my recommendation right now is just stay with what you have, operate the drop-off center, and if the prices start going up, then look at it.”

Yanke said the City’s current recycling resource, Tulsa Recycling and Transfer is “excellent” and recommended continued services with TRT.

“I’ve talked with Robert Perkins there, and they have a very good program,” Yanke said. “They’re one of the lower priced processing facilities that I’ve dealt with around the U.S., so you have a good resource there. But I just wouldn’t expand the program right now.”

The council heard the presentation but took no action on the agenda item.

To view the presentation in its entirety, see (item 10). For more information, see Council to hear survey results, election plans.