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Boise Recycling Gets a Makeover

Boise's new program aims to get everyone on the recycled bandwagon


For years, environmentalists have been preaching the importance of recycling, but all the good advice in the world doesn't make much of a difference if no one follows it.

The City of Boise is hoping that by making recycling easier, more residents will jump on the biodegradable bandwagon. The city and its trash service contractor, Allied Waste, are just a few weeks into the introduction of a revamped trash and recycling program, to which they have given the marketable name Curb It.

Soon all Boise streets will be lined with gray and blue, city-approved trash and recycling cans each trash day. The new containers mean trash pickup will be almost fully automated and residents will no longer have to sort their recyclables.

The no-sort recycling option was one of the top priorities identified three years ago by a citizens' advisory committee looking at solid waste issues in the City of Trees. It's also the first of the action items the city can check off its to-do list, said Vince Trimboli, spokesperson for the City of Boise Public Works Department.

And the program seems to be getting the attention of the non-recyclers in the community. Of the roughly 67,000 households the city bills, 60,000 are participating in the recycling program--an increase of roughly 3,000 in just the last few months.

"The reception has been fabulous," said Rachele Klein, manager of business development at Allied Waste. "The community is thirsty for change as far as recycling and green changes."

While some believe the change to a no-sort recycling program was a result of abysmal participation in Boise, Klein said the city has always been a recycle-friendly sort of place. In fact, thanks to the change over, Allied Waste learned there were more households recycling than were signed on to the program.

Klein speculates that people had somehow ended up with one of the old blue recycling tubs and started putting them on the curb. Now, those people are calling wondering where their new recycling bins are.

No-sort recycling is also designed to increase the volume of materials being recycled. Klein said while many people might have only recycled newspapers or cans before, they are now dumping everything possible in the containers.

"People were uncertain about the sort program, so they held back," Klein said.

Recycled materials are now collected and baled in massive, mixed lots and then shipped to a processing facility in Oregon. The bales are then broken open and automatically sorted using a combination of powerful magnets, screens, optic scanners and air pressure.

"They're different than the old sort lines," Klein said.

Recyclers still need to hold back the glass and take it to a recycling center themselves, but one exclusion to the throw-it-all-in rule that has caught attention from the public is yard waste.

In many large cities with recycling programs, like Portland, Ore., yard waste is collected in a separate bin, which is then taken to a composting facility. But surprisingly, in Boise the greener option is to continue to take it to the landfill.

"The current EPA model does not support a green waste program," Klein said.

Reason No. 1: the methane gas collection program at the Hidden Hollow Sanitary Landfill. The area's landfill uses technology to capture methane gas caused by decomposing organic material. The methane is then burned to create electricity. The cost of purchasing a third fleet of trucks to pick up yard waste, combined with the cost of losing methane-production potential, would actually offset the benefits of running a yard waste program, Klein said.

"It's not bad to send grass to the trash," she said.

Still, residents are being encouraged to compost at home. As part of the initial rollout of the trash program, customers had the chance to buy composters at a reduced rate, and Klein said many people took advantage of the offer. Additionally, both the city and Allied Waste's composting information Web sites have seen a dramatic increase in hits.

The city is also trying to address the yard waste issue--as well as heavy trash weeks--through the use of an overflow sticker. Each residential customer is given five free overflow stickers every year that can be placed on old trash cans or bundled batches of branches. Trash crews will pick up the stickered items. Additional overflow stickers can be purchased for $1 each.

Also, during the week after Christmas and the last week of April, customers can set out as much trash as they want (as long as it's in a container) free of charge. The city will also continue to offer free bagged leaf pickup in the fall, as well as Christmas tree removal.

And while the overflow options help, Trimboli said it's still not the ideal. In accordance with the wishes of the previous citizen advisory group, the city is considering building some sort of composting facility within the next three to five years, he said.

But a new program means breaking decades-long habits. No longer can trash bags be set out on the sidewalk, nor can heaping trash cans be left precariously balanced on curbs. Trash has to fit inside the can, with the lid closed. Additionally, curbside recycling service will only come around once every other week.

So far, Klein said she's been impressed by how well people are following their trash collection Ps and Qs, although the every-other-week schedule seems to have confused some customers.

Trimboli admitted there have been a few hiccups during the rollout process, but overall, customers have been excited to get their new containers. Unfortunately, those who ordered cans smaller than the standard 95-gallon size are having to wait a little longer.

Crews delivering the 65- and 48-gallon sizes have fallen behind schedule, due partially to the fact that far more people requested the smaller size than expected.

"That's good," Trimboli said. "That means we have a lot of people who don't put out a lot of trash."

Residents will have the chance to exchange their containers for different sizes for no charge in September and October, although anyone who wants the smallest size may have to wait a while. Trimboli said only enough of the 48-gallon cans were brought in to cover the pre-orders.

For the time being, Boise is the only city in Idaho to switch over to the no-sort recycling program, but other cities in the Treasure Valley are carefully watching to see how it goes.

Klein said Allied Waste has already seen "significant interest" from Eagle, Garden City, Nampa and Star, as well as unincorporated Ada County. Additionally, Trimboli said the City of Meridian is close to launching a similar program.

Klein proudly points to the fact that Boise has the first fleet of trucks in the state to run on compressed natural gas. Allied has 10 of the trucks running in the area, and as older trucks are retired, they will be replaced by the cleaner-burning versions.

Allied is also building Boise's first on-site compressed natural gas fueling station, with plans of adding a public-accessible pump within the next year.

The company has also partnered with the Treasure Valley Clean Cities Coalition to submit an EPA grant to fund new infrastructure and cleaner trucks in Canyon County.

As the residential recycling program gets going, Allied is switching its focus to getting more businesses to recycle. The company has recently hired a recycling representative to work with businesses to show them their recycling options. The effort has resulted in 50 new businesses joining the program in the last month.

Boise City Hall is also serving as the prototype of a new program called Go Green at Work, which places recycling containers in all work spaces. The effort has led to a 35 percent increase in recycling at City Hall, Trimboli said.

Still, the most common call he has received lately has been people wondering when they'll get their new trash carts.

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