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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