Champaign's recycling program gaining ground, but slowly

Champaign's recycling program gaining ground, but slowly

CHAMPAIGN — At the two-year anniversary of the city-run recycling program, officials say residents are filling the blue recycling toters outside of apartment complexes and condominiums at increasing rates, but the numbers still have a way to go before reaching their goals.

Haulers had picked up more than 2,175 tons of recyclable waste as of December, after the "Feed The Thing" program had been in full operation for two years, according to numbers provided by the city.

The two-year total had not even reached officials' 2010 predictions that haulers would divert 2,600 tons of recyclable waste away from landfills annually.

But the positive news, said administrative services manager Elizabeth Hannan, is that residents are using the blue bins at higher rates.

They recycled 154 more tons in the program's second year compared to its first year, and she expects the numbers to continue trending that way.

"I don't think anybody thought we'd get there right away," Hannan said.

Most users are apartment residents, but the program serves any property with five or more dwelling units. That includes condominium complexes and shared housing like fraternities and sororities.

City council member Michael La Due was a strong supporter of the program as it made its way through the legislative process in 2010. He said he was disappointed to hear that the numbers have not yet reached the original projections, but it is a "work in progress."

"I think it's going pretty well," La Due said. "I haven't heard any complaints. We're seeing higher rates of utilization on campus, for instance. It took a while. We're seeing more true recyclables and less regular garbage in recycling bins."

But Jim Faron, the owner of Faron Properties, said he has some complaints.

"I have seen no reduction in garbage, definitely no reduction in garbage bills, and half the cans are empty," Faron said.

Faron said he was not happy with the way city officials set up the program, and he is even less enthused now. For one thing, he does not like the fee structure, which charges property owners the same $2.60-per-month bill for a one-bedroom, $400 apartment as it does for a four-bedroom, $2,000 apartment.

"Who's it punishing? The lower spectrum," Faron said.

Faron said he also thinks the program should apply either to everyone or no one, and not just properties with five or more units. While every smaller residence in the city of Champaign has the option to recycle through a private hauler, there are no publicly funded recycling programs in operation.

Last year, city administrators had informally talked about exploring a public recycling program for single-family homes, but La Due said he has heard no rumblings about moving forward with that initiative for months.

The multifamily recycling program is on budget, though. Property owners pay $2.60 per month, per dwelling unit — the owner of a building with 10 apartments, for example, would owe $26 per month for the program.

When the city council approved the program in 2010, it included an option for administrators to raise that fee to keep it in line with inflation, Hannan said. City officials have not yet needed to raise the fee to keep the program on budget.

"I think it's going well," Hannan said. "As long as our volumes continue to grow, I think we're happy with that."

La Due, who lives in a 27-unit building, said it is not uncommon to see a resident walking past the blue recycling bins to throw a recyclable in the Dumpster. That needs to change, he said.

"There are people who are aware of the recycling and just don't care," La Due said. "It frustrates me."

Hannan said city officials will continue to advertise the program to raise awareness. They have used brochures and billboards on Champaign buses, for example, and will continue to do so.

"Anything we can do to get the word out," she said.

La Due said he realizes that the city can only do so much.

"I think we're doing what we can given the constraints of the budget," he said.