Group wants to take city recycling to ‘next level’

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

January 19, 2014

Athletes and coaches constantly speak of needing to take things to the proverbial next level — the same is being sought for Mount Airy’s curbside recycling program, with a new initiative announced to achieve this.

Many citizens agree the program has been beneficial since it was launched on Jan. 31, 2012, according to a 2013 survey of city residents which was distributed with water bills.

Curbside recycling, which allows items such as paper products, plastic containers, glass bottles and more to be recycled directly from homes, has enjoyed a generally positive response from the public based on the survey by the Mount Airy Recycling Advisory Committee.

“This is the best thing the city has done in years,” was offered as a summary statement for those results by committee official Ken Klamfoth when updating the city council on the program Thursday night.

It would be even nicer if that apparent appeal translated into higher participation rates, Klamfoth said. Citing figures for the last year and a half, he said the user level has topped out at around 51 percent on a weekly basis.

However, Klamfoth said the participation, while steady, is hard to pinpoint from a numbers standpoint due to the varying user patterns involved.

For example, a single person will generate much less recyclables than a family and might only set out the blue recycling cart, issued to each household, on a monthly rather than every-other-week basis. This sporadic use is hard to calculate in an overall user percentage, Klamfoth said.

Curbside recycling participation also varies from place to place. “Some neighborhoods lead over other neighborhoods — there are some neighborhoods that are lagging,” Klamfoth said.

Figures for December showing the percentage of carts placed at curbs differs among the “Gold” and “Blue” routes of the program. These ranged from a high last month of 67 percent of the total carts issued for one particular route to a low of 30 percent for another.

In the 2012-2013 fiscal year (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013), 466 tons of single-stream recyclables were collected in Mount Airy through curbside recycling. Figures for the period from July 2013 through December (224 tons) indicate that the city is on pace for a drop in annual tonnage from the previous fiscal year.

Forty-four tons were collected in December 2012, compared to 35 tons in December 2013.

“One of the things the committee has taken on is, we’re at one level — how do we get to the next level?” Klamfoth said of the desire to increase participation.

Three-Pronged Approach

A series of steps has been unveiled to make more people aware of the curbside recycling program and its benefits, such as reducing landfill use and helping the environment.

One step will involve greater visibility at well-attended city events such as the Autumn Leaves Festival and Mayberry Days. This is expected to include visual displays with the blue carts and even the special recycling truck bought for the program.

“So that there’s a constant reminder about the recycling effort the city has undertaken,” Klamfoth said of such appearances.

Another plan will involve committee members giving presentations to local civic clubs to explain the program. “There’s an educational effort we always have to make,” Klamfoth said.

The third step includes greater involvement with Mount Airy City Schools and Millennium Charter Academy.

Given that young people already have been exposed to recycling, through school and other programs, than the average adult, they are seen as a key in getting the message to others in society.

Jennifer Nester, another member of the recycling committee, whose family has been an avid recycler both here and in a previous community it moved from, said various contests are envisioned to help accomplish this.

“We don’t have a logo, we don’t have a slogan,” Nester said during Thursday night’s commissioners meeting in specifying how school involvement can meet those needs.

The committee believes developing such materials is a job best left to local youths rather than paying a professional marketing agency to do so, Nester said.

“Dr. (Greg) Little is 100 percent on board,” she added of the city schools’ superintendent.

Meanwhile, a K-5 art teacher at Millennium Charter Academy will be taking on the curbside recycling promotions as a class project there, said Nester. She offered a perspective from a person who has lived in a place where curbside recycling apparently was widespread, which is what the committee wants to happen in Mount Airy.

“All of this was a part of our life,” Nester said of her family’s recycling habits.

“When we moved here, it was a little different.”

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