Follow that bottle

Follow that bottle
The Green Heart Initiative is set to expire. Will this be the end of recycling on Dickson Street?
By Melissa Terry
You may have not have noticed, but several businesses, bars and restaurants are participating in Fayetteville’s first attempt to address commercial recycling. Although Fayetteville has a great residential recycling program, there have been no changes or expansions to include other customers in the past six years.
There has been talk among business owners about how to address commercial recycling and it seems that most have been left to figure out something for themselves. Some, like the Greenhouse Grille, have done just that.
For others, the Green Heart Initiative was created as a response to early questions for mayoral candidates from area businesses asking what could be done.
Walt Eilers, a business consultant who ran for mayor, said that when he heard that question, he thought: “Why don’t we start something now anyway and see what happens?”
Thus, the Green Heart Initiative was born. Eilers said he first sat down with four local business owners or managers, Brandon Karn of Jammin Java, Lisa Sharp of Nightbird Books, Dave Moser of Brewski’s and Julie Sill of Common Grounds and Hog Haus to discuss putting a plan into action.
The GHI pilot program accepts cardboard, chipboard, aluminum cans, steel cans, newspapers, magazines, junk mail, white paper, office paper, plastics and books in one container. Another container is set aside specifically for glass recycling.
The pilot project began in May and has grown from the original gang of four to include 52 participating businesses. As of Aug. 25, more than 36 tons have been processed and recycled, thanks to GHI.
Waste hauler, Roll-Off Services worked with GHI to handle the recycled glass, but the contract for the pilot project will expire on Nov. 30.
Tom Smith, the owner of Roll-Off Services, said that the glass recycling project will need to be a chargeable service due to the lack of market value for mixed glass.
“The single stream project is a process that we have rolled out to others in Northwest Arkansas,” Smith said. “The sort-line we installed for this pilot will need to be replaced with an automated system that will cost about $1.3 million. In order to justify a system like this, we would need to have most of the volume from Northwest Arkansas. If we invest in an automated system and a larger facility, the volume of the material and decrease in labor cost would drive the sorting cost down and make the operation feasible.”
Sill, a co-owner of Common Grounds and Hog Haus said that GHI was a success and good for the community.
“We would love to see the program continue,” Sill said. “If the city really wants to “go green,” then the restaurant/entertainment district is where you need to target recycling containers without making it an extra expense.
“If it becomes an extra expense, I feel the interest and support that was given during the pilot will fade.”
Sill said that the only problem she saw with the project involved employees or customers dumping trash into the receptacles. “No matter what you do some people just don’t care,” she said.
While there have been rumors that Roll Off cuts corners and throws some of the collected material into the landfill, Eilers said that’s not the case.
“That rumor is unfounded,” Eiler said. “The contamination levels are less than 10 percent. The project is more than 90 percent efficient.”
Feedback from program participants is positive, although more in-depth education is needed.
“There have been top-down communication issues and bottom-up communications issues,” said Dave Moser, manager of Brewski’s. “For example, during Bikes, Blues & BBQ, we had 55 gallon containers full of glass that we just had to throw in the dumpster because the GHI dumpsters were chained and locked, I guess because of potential contamination issues.”
“The city’s system has never been anything but complete chaos for Dickson Street bars and restaurants,” Moser said. “Dickson Street businesses used to throw their trash into individual dumpsters, which were their sole responsibility to use and pay for on a per-dump basis. However, with the Barber Legacy project on the horizon, the city decided to capitalize on available space by removing the individual dumpsters and replacing them with one central trash compactor.
“That proved to be problematic because every restaurant had to have a key to place trash in the compactor and it grew into an eyesore because of the mess left by employees who didn’t have the key leaving bagged trash next to the compactor. Then, the city removed the compactor and replaced it with a row of red dumpsters for businesses to share. So, now, businesses are charged a general fee, rather than for what the actually waste per business.”
Moser said that it’s hard for downtown businesses to realize cost savings from recycling, because no matter how much they reduce their waste stream, they still pay the same amount for waste, regardless of how much, or how little, they recycle. “It’s a labor of love at this point,” he said.
In the bar and restaurant world, things move fast and space is limited behind counters and server stations, so the success of the pilot project has depended largely on personal dedication from individual staff members and business owners.
“Without some kind of pay-as-you throw system in place, there is little financial incentive to justify the hassle of dealing with keeping a recycling system in place and disposing of it separately,” Moser said.
Brian Pugh, the city’s waste reduction coordinator, said that many Dickson Street customers share containers and the costs.
“We don’t have a “pay-as-you-throw” plan worked out on the commercial side,” Pugh said.
Although Pugh has no specific breakout numbers for Dickson Street waste, he estimates that the city collects approximately 30,000 tons of commercial waste each year and around 900 tons of glass.
While some readers may not recall, there used to be a time, when you could take your empty Coke bottle back to the store and get five cents for it. Now that’s not the case. Mayor Dan Coody has repeatedly lobbied for the re-instatement of a bottle bill in Arkansas. States with bottle bill programs do the best when it comes to glass recycling.
When asked about the possibilities of a permanent glass collection program for Fayetteville, Pugh said “Glass is becoming a real problem when trying to send it to a traditional glass market. We still send ours to Okmulgee, although with the cost of fuel it is becoming cost prohibitive to keep sending it to Oklahoma.
“I’d love to see the glass continue to go to a high value glass market to enjoy the energy savings from using recycled glass in the manufacture of new glass containers, but it is getting difficult in justifying doing that with transportation costs.”
Roll-Off’s Smith verified this cost factor.
“We have been sending a load of glass to Dlubak Glass in Okmulgee, Okla. monthly. The last load we sent them, they rejected and decided to discontinue accepting mixed colored glass. We brought the material back to our facility for inspection and found a responsible recycler in Neosho, Mo. that will use the mixed glass in their paving operation. The company that we use is Swift Recycling.”
As for city of Fayetteville services, Pugh said that the only other option is to pulverize [the glass] and turn it into aggregate, “if the city wants to continue with glass.”
“The city is currently evaluating the present program and conducting a feasibility study for expansion possibilities to address recycling expansion opportunities,” Pugh said.
Regional examples of the glass crushing concept have not been that inspiring. Pugh cited Bella Vista as an example of a program that stopped pulverizing glass because they were accumulating a large pile of pulverized glass with no place to go with it.

Eureka Springs currently recycles more than 400 tons of glass a year. City workers run over the glass with a roller truck to bust it up before giving it away to contractors to use as fill material.
However, successful examples do exist at the national level says Robert Hunter, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality recycling coordinator, who cites the city of Lexington, Ky. as an example of how crushed glass can be used for products other than new bottles.
“Residents [of Lexington] are able to recycle all colors of glass,” Hunter said. “The city purchased a glass crushing system that grinds the material into three different sizes. Glass is used locally by residents, the city and county.”
This kind of reuse is a big step towards waste reduction at the source with a two-fold benefit: the glass stays out of the landfill and the gravel that would have been either excavated or quarried is replaced by the crushed glass product.
Although businesses like Brewski’s already reduce their glass waste by serving the majority of their beers on tap, they were also one of the initial core group dedicated to setting up some kind of bottle recycling program.
Even businesses like Walmart have realized that it’s a fool’s paradise to think that our resources are limitless. Having made great strides from their former ignorance of progressive environmental initiatives, Wal-Mart is now leading the way for corporate waste reduction and sustainable purchasing by making internal changes across the board at their headquarters and stores.
Waste reduction is a major element of sustainability and those who responded to an informal survey sent to participating GHI partners, all who responded gave a resounding “YES!” they do want to move toward sustainable practices.
When the GHI pilot project ends on Nov. 30, it will be up to the city to lead this initiative forward. The consensus is that in order to be effective, we must be determined and Fayetteville residents, business owners and corporate interests do seem dedicated to waste reduction. Most subscribe to the idea that “if we can use it, let’s keep it above ground.” It shouldn’t take another Great Depression to tell us that, right?

Categories: Features