Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fixing the DSWA's Inefficient Recycling Program

Back in June, when the General Assembly was considering statewide recycling, Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) director Pasquale Canzano admitted that the agency was losing $6 million on recycling, a sum he said the agency couldn't afford. In response to his comment, "We need to do something," I suggested that the DSWA should rethink its business model.
Today's News Journal reports that the DSWA is being forced by growing losses (now reaching $9 million) to revisit its inefficient recycling program:
DSWA commissioners are likely to consider cost-cutting moves early next month, during a scheduled series of briefings on budget and operating issues.
Options could include shifting weekly curbside pickups to every other week. Also under consideration is a switch to "single stream" mixed-good containers at Recycle Delaware drop-off centers, which would eliminate the need to sort and distribute materials among several large bins.
"That's certainly an option," said Rich von Stetten, Recycle Delaware manager. "We want to be able to put all kinds of options out there. The more we look into single-stream, the more it looks like it might make sense at the drop-offs."
DSWA already plans to eliminate sorting bags and bins from all its curbside recycling programs, allowing all subscribers to put cans, plastic bottles, paper, cardboard and glass in a single container.
Cutting costs should not mean cutting services. The current requirement that materials be sorted before being placed on the curb forces the DSWA to separately handle materials every step of the way, resulting in much higher processing costs. The DSWA should find support for changing the way it collects and processes recyclables:
Patricia H. Todd, a member of the Recycling Public Advisory Council and the League of Women Voters, said she opposes any cuts in services but supports moves that make household recycling easier for residents.
"They should go to single-stream, definitely," Todd said.
The DSWA's losses should not be taken to mean that recycling can't work. Consider the relative costs of Wilmington’s city-wide program versus the DSWA’s voluntary program. Right now the DWSA's recycling program, which requires residents to sort their material, for $3 a month.
The city now collects recyclables from 28,000 households, at a maximum cost to the city of $150,000 (which is not charged to residents) for the coming fiscal year. If the city achieves 50 percent diversion, the net cost drops to zero. The city's maximum cost comes to roughly $6 per household per year, one sixth of the DSWA's cost.
We can do more that hope the DSWA understands the need to fundamentally change its recycling program; we can speak out and remind the agency that others are finding cost effective ways to improve recycling and divert waste from landfills.

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