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The Economics of Going Green in Ga.

By Titus Falodun | 4/18/2014, 12:30 p.m.
“In Georgia, if you told someone that, they’d look at you funny. Recycling is not free, any step of the way. When the city of Atlanta cranked their trucks this morning, and the guys clocked-in, that was the first cost in the puzzle.” Photo by Titus Falodun.

ATLANTA – After you finished consuming what’s in that container, you think you’re doing the decent thing by just throwing it away in the nearest trash bin. Not so fast.

On average, a person generates about 4.4 pounds of trash each day, and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year, according to statistics provided by US Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, 75 percent of that solid waste is recyclable, but only 30 percent is actually recycled.

The lifecycle of most of the materials used does not end at the trash bin. And that’s exactly what the City of Atlanta officials want their citizens to understand.

“It’s not just a throwaway society; it’s a reuse society,” said Richard Mendoza Commissioner for the City of Atlanta Department of Public Works in an interview with The Atlanta Voice.

When Mayor Kasim Reed set a lofty goal of having Atlanta be a top 10 city in recycling by 2020, the standard was set and the pressure was on.

Major cities, such as San Francisco, Portland, and New York lead the way in the recycling of municipal solid waste, with diversion rates between 40 and 80 percent.

Currently, Georgia has a diversion rate between 20 and 25 percent, which includes a 10 percent increase from last year, according to Commissioner Mendoza.

“For us to reach that top 10, we need to improve on both our tonnage and volume of recyclables collected each year, as well as the rate of our participation of our residents this year,” he explained.

In October of 2012, the City of Atlanta rolled out the Cartlanta program, which was an estimated $2.5 million full blitz recycling effort that got city residents more involved in the process. Residents were educated on the financial and environmental benefits of recycling, which included magnets, 96-gallon carts, door-to-door visits, incentives and much more.

This effort led to the10 percent increase in the recycling volume, from 12,000 to 20,000 tons.

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According to Brian McMichen of Waste Pro, Georgia is one of the rare cases where it is cheaper to throw stuff away than recycle.

“Georgia is the second largest market for in-users, which means we have large manufacturers right here who need those items,” City of Atlanta Department of Public Works senior-recycling coordinator Jacquelyn E. Bridges told The Atlanta Voice. “Coca-Cola wants your cans back. Novelis wants your aluminum back. And when they can’t get those items, they have to go to other states. That’s a cost that’s eventually passed onto consumer.”

In fact, Coca-Cola invested money in the pilot incentivized program ReCart, which ran from 2009-2012 and included the distribution of the 10,000 carts.

“Rather than pay $29 a ton to dispose of those materials in the landfills, we were actually being paid $30 a ton to recycle,” Mendoza said. “So, it was actually a commodity, something of value for the city.”

Recycling benefits the city with more income, stabilizing waste taxes, as well as by stimulating job growth.

“But in the South, we have so much open space and open land, it’s very cheap to throw stuff away,” Brian McMichen, division manager of Waste Pro, a municipal waste removal service company told The Atlanta Voice.