Alpharetta’s Glass Recycling Decision

 

A few weeks ago our Mayor and City Council instituted a new glass recycling program for every residential trash customer in the city of Alpharetta. As is often the case I was the lone dissenting voice in making the change.

Shortly after the decision my mother asked me why I had voted against the new program. After explaining my vote to her I realized that many of my constituents probably wondered why I had voted against it too.

So I wrote a blog article explaining my thought process. However I decided not to publish the article at the time because I figured it would just annoy my fellow council members and there was nothing to be gained by rehashing the topic.

Then last week Alpharetta residents began receiving their new trash bills. As a result I started getting numerous complaints from residents who are now being forced to pay for a service they did not want.

As a member of city council the public is now rightfully holding me accountable for a policy I did not support. So I decided to publicly explain why I did not support the change now.

The recycling discussion began last year when Alpharetta’s trash disposal company could no longer continue collecting glass under the existing conditions. Our mayor and council were told glass recycling had not been economically viable for some time.

We were also told that the recycling centers could no longer afford to sort through all of the material to remove glass from the other material. Therefore the City of Alpharetta needed to decide how we wanted to collect recyclables in the future. After discussions with the city’s waste disposal vendor the three options below were identified.

Option A: Residents Put Glass In The Trash

Under this option, you would simply place glass products into your trash rather than into your recycling container.  The option does not require any additional containers, provides the same level of convenience for residents as you have today, and comes at no additional cost to residents.
Option B: Residents Drop Glass Off At A Collection Center

Under this option, you would have to hold or store glass recyclables at your home.  Periodically, you would load them into your car, drive to a collection center that would be established at our Public Works Department located on Hembree Road, and unload the glass into the collection container.  Glass could not be placed into plastic bags or mixed with any other recyclable or waste product.  While the option comes at no additional cost to residents, it is less convenient than the curbside service you have today and requires you to temporarily store the glass at your home.
Option C: Continue Curbside Glass Recycling At Additional Cost

Under this option, you would be provided an additional 18 gallon plastic bin into which you would place any recyclable glass products.  On your normally scheduled collection day, you would place the bin at the curb along with your other trash and recyclables.  This option provides the convenience of curbside collection, but requires a third waste bin and a $3 per month increase in your waste service bill.  Additionally, it would require Republic to add another collection truck to the three already servicing each route, so there would be more heavy trucks in our neighborhoods.

So with those available options our mayor and council decided to seek public input before making a decision. In February of this year the city began soliciting feedback from residents to help inform our decision. The three possible options were presented to the public.

In March the city began a survey of residential trash service customers distributed in their bills and collected online. The City received 2,096 responses to the survey which represented approximately 13% of current customers. The results are below.

Recycling bar chartRecycling poll responses

As you can see Option A was the most popular option. Nearly 40% of the city’s customers who responded said that they would prefer to put their glass in the trash at no additional cost. That option would have effectively maintained the status quo. Glass would continue going into landfills with no additional bins, trucks, fees or inconvenience.

Option C had the second most supporters. About 37% of respondents preferred the option of having a separate bin for their glass which would be picked up by an additional truck at their curbside for an extra cost of $3 per month.

Option B had the fewest supporters at about 24% of respondents who preferred the option of a voluntary recycling program.  Under that proposal each resident would be responsible for collecting their own glass and taking it to collection centers.

Once the survey was completed the city staff presented the results to mayor and council in a public meeting. During that discussion it was clear that a majority of our council preferred Option C which was the second most popular choice among the opinions we received. It was also the only option that required all 16,000 of our customers to shoulder the additional financial burden for a new recycling program regardless of whether they wanted it or not.

During the meeting I pointed out that according to the survey 63% of our customers surveyed did not want the service they would be forced to pay for under Option C. I also explained that while I was sympathetic to recycling glass in an effort to keep it out of landfills, Option B would allow the 69% of people who wanted to recycle glass to do so at no additional charge without forcing thousands of households to pay for something they did not want.

It was my position that we should further investigate Option B which would avoid having to impose an extra $3 per month fee on all 16,000 of our customers. Most of whom don’t use much glass, didn’t want extra collection bins, didn’t want extra garbage trucks on the road or weren’t going to recycle glass anyway.

My suggestion to consider an option that seemed to provide the most flexibility and the least cost to all of our 16,000 customers found no support from the rest of council. So staff was directed to work out the details of implementing a plan that had received support from only 37% of our customers surveyed.

Several weeks later staff brought a proposal for weekly curbside glass recycling to us for a final decision. In the motion proposed I had to decide whether I supported imposing the most expensive, most intrusive and least efficient option available on all 16,000 of our customers at an additional cost to them of more than a half million dollars a year.

I voted no. The decision passed 6-1.

Was I right? Was I wrong? Who knows?

But I am satisfied I represented my constituents well. And after explaining why I voted the way I did to my Mom, she was satisfied too.

That’s good enough for me.

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Alpharetta’s Glass Recycling Decision

  1. I’m glad at least you read the survey results. You voted correctly, I also voted B. Following through on that option would of satisfied the most people. Thanks for trying!

  2. Hi Jim. Didn’t the city decide to add an opt-out option if you did not want to participate in the program? Or is the opt out just for the container but we’ll be charged anyway. I hate this whole thing. Most folks don’t have glass and don’t want the extra bill. But, tone deaf city officials are just that — tone deaf and completely out of touch,

    • Customers can opt out of receiving a glass recycling bin but the fee is mandatory for everyone. And while I don’t agree with your characterization of my fellow council members I know you are not alone in your frustration.

      • I know. I might have sounded harsh, but I’m really getting fed up. Thanks for the clarification.

  3. As usual, Jimmy, your constituents spoke, you listened. I’m proud you voted on behalf of the majority who made their wishes known. Love, Mom

  4. Thank you for continuing to put residents first. You really do represent your community. Unfortunately, you appear to be in the minority on the council (and yes, this is frustration talking).

  5. Jim,

    I view the numbers differently: 61% of respondents said they want to recycle glass. I don’t think it’s fair to count the respondents who voted to drop off glass as being opposed to paying the monthly charge. My guess is that if people desire strongly enough to recycle glass that they are willing to drive to drop it off, then there is a good likelihood that would be willing to pay a monthly fee if that was the only option for recycling. So I view the responses as showing a majority in favor of recycling.

    By having three questions, the survey may have produced results that can’t be defined with certainty. I think if the survey had only two questions (Do you want to throw glass in the trash? Do you want to recycle glass?), then there would have been a more accurate gauge of sentiment as to whether people want to recycle. Such a survey could have had subquestions under the “Do you want to recycle glass?” question (such as Would you prefer to pay $3.00 a month or drop it off?) to allow those who want to recycle express their preference as to how they want to recycle.

    Howard Salk

    • Howard, I appreciate your comment and acknowledge many of your points. Had the rest of council agreed to do more research on the matter I would have gladly agreed.

      However I was forced to make a decision based solely on the information presented which was consistent with anecdotal comments I received from constituents. I always supported recycling. I just opposed settling for the solution presented without further exploring less expensive options.

  6. I want to commend the other 6 Council members for caring about our environment and our future. A cost of $3 per month is cheaper than one Starbuck’s coffee, and people are complaining about that? Think about our children and grandchildren. Think about Alpharetta. Maybe doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing it.

  7. The recent focus on recyling changes has made me think now would be a good time for me to ask the city staff about the possibility of improving/expanding the plastics recycling. At one time I thought we were allowed to recycle plastics marked #1-7. Per the flyer on the Alpharetta website regarding what Republic Services allows for plastics recycling, it’s limited to plastic milk jugs and plastic bottles with necks. I imagine there are many items households often use that come in plastic containers (our household accumulates more plastic containers than glass) that aren’t allowed in the recycling. It would be great – and we’d get more bang for our increased recycling bucks – if Republic Services could also expand their plastics recycling.

  8. Paying for an extra truck and recycle bins is NOT good for the environment. The amount of recycled glass will not offset the damage to the environment from the truck and plastic container. Glass continues to decline as a portion of municipal waste. City Council should reverse this wasteful decision before more damage is done. Total waste of money. It is symbolic because it only appears to be green. I would say that this is one of the worst decisions that City Council has made, but then I think about all the apartments that this Council has approved.

  9. …. and the most difficult thing for me to understand is how did they solicit the citizens for their opinion? Because I don’t recall seeing anything on it until I saw in the bill a few months back they were considering the options. I called city hall and told them I didn’t want a 3rd bin in my already small space, and I certainly didn’t want to pay more – so I told the lady I would be happy to take my glass to the recycle center. No where, however, did I see an actual survey to complete and return. If the city wants input from citizens, it needs to be clearly indicated on an envelope, if it is mailed out, that that a survey is inside. How can 13% of the citizens make a decision affecting 100% of the population? The same is true for the master plan developed. I never received, and neither did my mother, anything that said “Hey, we want your input on this”. And no matter how many angry citizens post on the facebook page (or I’m sure call, come to speak out in person, etc.) the city is hell bent on doing what they, and not the citizens want. Thank you for being the one to stand up for the majority of citizens here. You should run for mayor. Can any of this stuff be reversed?

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