Recycling program, fall hazardous waste collection both report jump in participation

Recycling program, fall hazardous waste collection both report jump in participation

URBANA — Local officials have some good news to report on two garbage-related fronts after tallies from 2012 were finalized this week.

The first: Urbana's U-Cycle recycling program reported a 27 percent increase in materials collected at curbsides and a 21 percent jump in materials collected in its multifamily housing program.

It is the first time since the mid-2000s that the city has seen those kinds of upticks, said recycling coordinator Courtney Rushforth, and she said one reason might be that the local economy is improving.

The logic is pretty simple: If people are buying more consumer goods, they will have more to throw away.

U-Cycle's curbside pickup primarily saw increases in paper collected, along with glass and Nos. 1 and 2 plastics. According to Rushforth, increases in No. 2 plastics may have come after U-Cycle contractors began accepting plastic bags.

Rushforth still encourages residents to consider whether they really need a plastic bag at checkout or if they can reuse it themselves before recycling it.

The multifamily program saw increases in paper, glass and metal recyclables. According to Rushforth, that is particularly encouraging because it is typically harder to encourage participation among transient apartment tenants.

In addition to the improving economy, she also attributes the increases to more outreach efforts. City officials have been focusing on awareness among apartment tenants, she said, and they have increased educational efforts among kindergartners through fifth-graders in Urbana schools.

The second bit of good news comes after numbers were finalized this week following a countywide hazardous household-waste collection held last September in Champaign.

According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, locals disposed of 205,127 pounds — or 509 55-gallon drums — of oils, paints, solvents, old gasoline, adhesives, sealers, flammables, mercury, asbestos, lead-acid batteries, poisons and pesticides.

Rushforth called it a success and a 121 percent increase over a similar event held in Urbana in 2006, when 92,690 pounds of materials were collected.

"This last year's event, we really went all out to publicize the event," Rushforth said.

She also said that could indicate a need for more regular hazardous-waste collections. They are not cheap; the 2012 and 2006 events were funded by the Illinois EPA, and the most recent collection cost the state agency $135,445.

That is how much it costs for staff to sort through the materials, send them off for refining and reuse or have them buried at special waste landfills.

Rushforth said county officials and city officials from both Urbana and Champaign have considered paying for more regular collection events.

"We've been discussing things and hoping that we could fund some of these programs ourselves in the near future," Rushforth said. "We're just in talks right now."

It is important that those hazardous materials are properly disposed rather than ending up in a municipal landfill, where there is a chance they might leak into groundwater or release toxins into the air.

The easiest solution, Rushforth said, is that residents make sure they do not have extra hazardous waste that they need to store in basements or garages.

"Only buy what you need," she said. "It's easier to deal with then."