PRESCOTT-- Take an early-morning drive down almost any street in Prescott on trash pickup day, and you will encounter a sea of blue and green.
Standing at the curbs in front of more than 10,000 homes in the city will be two Dumpsters: a green one for normal household garbage, and a blue one for the recyclable materials.
On a weekly basis, residents all over the community carefully sort out their plastic containers, aluminum cans, paper products, and a host of other recyclables from the rest of their trash.
And according to Solid Waste Superintendent Chad McDowell, the effort is paying off. Today, he said, Prescott homes and businesses are generating about 220 tons of recyclables per month. That is up from about 150 tons per month just five years ago.
McDowell and other city officials are hoping that the rising participation in the program will result in a better deal for local recycling. The city is currently out for bid for the handling of its residential recyclables, and plans to open the bids on Nov. 6. With the higher amount of materials, officials say, the local program should be in line to get a better rate.
Up to this point, McDowell said, recycling "hasn't really made us much money." But he noted that the "more tons of recyclables you have," the better chance the system has of turning a profit.
Currently, Prescott offers curbside recycling to all of its 15,000 residential trash customers. Along with the green containers for garbage, the city also automatically distributes a blue recycling container.
Then, it's up to the individual households to choose whether to participate. McDowell estimates that about 80 percent of the 15,000 households do. Most of those fill up their 32- or 65-gallon recycling containers about every other week.
After city trucks pick up the recyclables, they transport the materials first to the city's transfer station on Sundog Ranch Road. Then, the city pays a hauler to take the materials to Flagstaff, where they end up in a "material recovery facility." The city currently has a contract with the City of Flagstaff to handle its recyclables.
Even as McDowell acknowledges that recycling is not a big moneymaker for the city, he also cautions that expenses and revenues do not tell the whole story.
By McDowell's estimate, the city spends about$1 million per year on its recycling program, which includes about $140,000 in hauling costs and tipping fees in Flagstaff. Meanwhile, Prescott earns about $30,000 per year in revenues for the recyclable commodities.
But at the same time, the city is saving a substantial amount by not having to dispose all of the recyclables in the landfill. While the city pays $34 per ton for handling of its recyclables, it pays $37 per ton for disposing of garbage in the Grey Wolf Landfill in Dewey.
And ultimately, McDowell said, recycling "is the right thing to do for the environment."
City equipment operator Dan Rogers expressed similar views, as he navigated a truck through the streets this past week, collecting the recyclables from the blue containers.
"Our department prides itself on customer service," Rogers said, noting that he tries to ensure that as much material as possible makes it into the recycling program. For instance, Rogers said, he will make an extra effort in special situations, such as picking up moving boxes for newly arrived residents.
For customers who might be using the system improperly -- city officials say they frequently encounter regular garbage in the recycle bins -- Rogers said he leaves a how-to reminder in the recycle containers.
The city recently began converting its small 32-gallon recycling bins to 65-gallon containers -- a move that McDowell said has contributed to the growth in materials. As an incentive for residents to use the program, he said, the city does not charge for the larger recycling containers, but does charge extra if residents request an additional Dumpster for their regular garbage.
Along with the city's residential recycling, it recently added commercial recycling, which also has contributed to the increase in materials.
McDowell said 76 businesses now participate in the commercial program, which started out just more than a year ago with 10 commercial Dumpsters. The city contracts with Mattera Enterprises for handling its commercial recyclables.
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