The Lake City is aiming to become a less wasteful city.
The city of Coeur d’Alene’s recycling program is expanding through a system that is sweeping the nation. New 64-gallon blue bins recently began showing up curbside at 14,000 homes, ushering in the start this week of single-stream recycling. With five times the capacity of the old crates, the carts boost the amount of collectables accepted from seven to more than 15.
The Solid Waste Department, which manages the city’s waste removal, added the program in a contract extension approved by the Kootenai County Commissioners in June. Single-stream recycling, launching first in Coeur d’Alene before going countywide at an undetermined date, represents a partnership between the city, Kootenai County, Waste Management and the local recycler Bluebird Recycling, said Roger Saterfiel, director of the Solid Waste Department.
It’s also one of the biggest leaps in the history of waste management in the county, he added.
“It’s quite an effort just to get it kicked off,” he explained. “We’re hoping it will expand throughout the county. … As with any program, you have your little glitches and stuff that you have to perfect. We want to kind of perfect what we’re doing in Coeur d’Alene and then we’ll start promoting it in other areas.”
Before the project – in development for more than a year – could be set in motion, two important hurdles had to be cleared, Saterfiel said.
First was the expense.
“Waste Management stepped up to the plate and offered to provide this service at no extra cost. They did get an extension on their contract, but you’re looking at ($750,000) minimum to provide these carts and it’s not going to cost the citizens of Coeur d’Alene any more money,” he said.
The second item that needed to be addressed was the processing plant’s ability to handle the mixed materials.
Unlike the city’s previous curbside recycling program, where workers hand-sorted the items into different compartments on the truck before they were hauled off, single-stream utilizes the same automated arm as the current trucks in regular garbage pickup. That eliminates the need for additional garbage collectors, but the items instead have to be separated by workers at the recycling facility.
Plant could open in spring
To meet the new demand, Bluebird Recycling is in the beginning phases of constructing a new plant in the Coeur d’Alene Industrial Park. The 4,800-square-foot facility could be operational in early spring, said Willie Lampe, president of the company.
“Single-stream is the future of recycling. It’s pretty exciting,” Lampe said. “The majority of the nation is moving toward a co-mingled stream and it’s the future of the industry, and if you want to move forward you set yourself up to handle it.”
In the meantime, the recyclables will be taken to the Spokane Valley plant to be split up. “For a recycler to commit to essentially dig through it and separate it is a pretty big commitment on their part,” Waste Management’s Saterfiel said.
In moving to the single-stream method, recycling is shifting toward a common goal: convenience for the public.
Residents can toss just about everything into the recycling carts, which will be emptied every other week. The list of accepted materials has expanded to include cereal boxes, junk mail, dairy tubs, tin cans, laundry detergent bottles, and a wider variety of beverage containers such as wide-mouth bottles and plastic cups. Oversized cardboard can be set next to the bin for pickup. The only items that can’t be recycled at the curb are glass and plastic bags.
Under the old recycling system, Waste Management found people were less willing to sort through their trash and set reusable items aside, according to Steve Wulf, principal planner at the county Solid Waste Department.
Convenience spurs use
“We knew that we had problems and we could see that the participation rate was going down, so we looked at other systems. The single-stream system has been happening nationwide and people have been really happy with it. It’s simple and convenient,” he said.
As with the curbside program, though, there are a few important tips for residents to remember.
“The biggest thing is you have to rinse the materials and don’t put the caps on,” Saterfiel said, “because it creates havoc with the mechanisms at the recycling plant, clogging gears and belts.”
Motor oil and pesticide containers should also be left out of the bin. Otherwise, “if they can make it fit in the bin, it’s good to go,” he said, referring to the old method of having to cut cardboard into smaller sheets so they would fit in the recycle box.
In areas where single-stream has been implemented, such as Boise, participation rates quickly surged. West of the state capital in the city of Meridian, waste removal services witnessed a three-fold increase in monthly recyclables, jumping from 100 tons to 300 tons.
“In Boise, what really stuck with us is the participation rate – you’re seeing 96 percent participation. It’s just huge,” Saterfiel said, comparing it to the 26 to 27 percent in Kootenai County. “We’re hearing and seeing anywhere from a 30 to 60 percent increase in recycling because of this system. You can’t get more convenient for people: Here it is folks, throw it all in there.”
A longer life for landfills
The ease-of-use should also equal a longer life for the local landfill. If residents and businesses, which will receive the blue carts in the coming months, latch onto the program, material that’s slow to decompose is less likely to enter the landfill, saving space and encouraging decomposition from organic items. That will help produce more methane gas, too, increasing from enough to power 1,200 homes to about 3,000 homes in the coming year. “Now that we are going to sell methane gas to generate electricity – and we didn’t think about it while we were doing this – it’s actually going to help the decomposition process so that we can generate a steadier flow of methane gas,” Saterfiel said.
The gas is sold to Kootenai Electric.
At nearly $450,000 to develop an acre of landfill, including liner and a leach-aid system, and an additional $200,000 to close it, the initial cost of the expanded recycling program is well worth it for future generations, he said.
“It’s not just today money they are saving,” Saterfiel said, “it’s long-term money they are going to be saving by recycling.”