By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – With mandatory citywide recycling and ever-changing prices for recyclables, city officials have locked in collection rates to keep annual costs level, keep budgets in line and protect sanitation millage dollars.
Sean Adams, assistant superintendent for the city’s residential services department, said the city protects itself from the volatility of the recyclable commodity market by agreeing on a base price for fixed recycling collection and processing costs with Republic Services. Dearborn has contracted with Republic Services since 2010, when automated curbside trash and recycling cart usage began.
Republic Services, which takes the recyclables to Great Lakes Recycling in Huron Township, has a price escalation clause with them.
Adams said this keeps city budget expenses stable when prices paid for recyclables are low, but the city does not benefit if prices paid for recyclables increase.
“The base (collection) price is immune to the recyclable commodity market, protecting Dearborn from exaggerated processing costs borne from market volatility,” Adams said. “However, this does not allow the city to greatly benefit from favorable commodity markets, either.”
Adams said the base contract protects tax dollars generated by the sanitation millage, and lets the city plan for a stable sanitation budget every year.
“The market for recyclables has changed, so the incentive for recycling is a little different from when we first began,” said Mary Laundroche, the city’s department of information director.
For the 2015 calendar year, Adams said the total cost to the city for waste collection per household, per week, is $2.765 for weekly trash collection, bi-weekly recycling collection, in-season weekly yard waste collection, and limited bulk waste collection. Of that, he said $0.522 is the cost for collecting and transporting recycling.
Adams said city officials want more households to recycle, and they want all households to place appropriate recyclable materials in the green carts, since the city is already paying for recycling for all households.
The Dearborn Code of Ordinance, section 16-7, Recycling Program, states, “All persons who are owners, lessees, or occupants of any site of generation shall separate recyclable materials, excluding yard waste, from solid waste and place them in the recycle cart.”
A complete list of recycling rules is on the city’s website, cityofdearborn.org, or call 313-943-2433 with specific questions.
Adams said that recently, the city has experienced an increase in recycling bin contamination, with trash and improper materials placed in the green recycling carts.
He said the city receives a daily report from Republic Services listing households where they were unable to complete the sanitation collection.
“We call it an ‘oops’ list,” Adams said. “General household trash is the biggest issue that we have in our recycling bins, and Styrofoam.”
He said Dearborn neighborhood service inspectors work with identified households to decontaminate their household recycling cart, tell them what materials may be recycled, and to get households to stop putting recycling in improper containers, like cardboard boxes, on the easement.
“The city is focused on proper participation, prevention of contaminated materials, and enhanced participation (of) households that currently don’t participate,” Adams said. “On average, 70 percent of households regularly participate in recycling.”
He said while the city is currently not fining residents for most violations, if warnings are an insufficient deterrent, city officials could levy fines against offenders.
Adams said the collection trucks have counters that determine how many lifts each trash, recycling, and yard waste truck performs with respect to the maximum number of households on a route.
“Our cost for service is based on the maximum number of households, for all of the services that happen,” Adams said. “It is important that all of our citizens participate, because that is what we are paying for. We have to pay for the maximum amount of participation, regardless of whether they participate or not.”
Residents can make recycling easier, and more convenient, Adams said, if they have smaller containers inside their house to sort the waste stream into three components: trash, recyclables, and returnable beverage containers.
Recyclable materials should be clean, Adams said. He added that residents can use their dishwashers to clean recyclable cans, glass bottles and plastic food containers before placing them in a collection bin.
He said household waste in the gray carts must be in trash bags, but recyclables should not.
The original gray and green carts were supplied to residents as part of a sanitation millage, Adams said. Property owners of homesteads and rental units should call the city and lease a new cart if the original is missing or damaged.
If residents occasionally have too many trash bags to fit into their gray cart, they may leave them next the cart on the easement. Once the first cartful is emptied into the truck, Republic Services employees will refill the cart with the remaining trash bags and empty the cart a second time.
Adams emphasized that residents who repeatedly have more should lease an additional unit. Additional gray trash or green recycling carts are available from the city by calling 313-943-2433, with a one-time lease fee of $55 per cart. The city delivers the cart to the resident, and subsidizes part of the actual cost, which is closer to $80. There is no extra cost for the weekly pick up of materials from an additional cart.
Adams said it is less expensive for the city to pick up recyclables every other week, based on typical usage, and if residents need more capacity, they should lease a second recycling cart.
Adams said that before the current recycling program with carts began, household recycling averaged 236.75 lbs. per year. Presently the average is 376.77 lbs per year per household.
“It is heartening to know that people do, for the most part, care about recycling, and that we have always been a leader community regarding recycling,” Laundroche said. “So the fact that we have these systems in place, there is no reason that we could not get up to 100 percent.”