Sunday, February 18, 2001

Handful of towns recycle in Ky.

Problems: low funding, volume

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        BRANDENBURG, Ky. — Shifting the forklift controls, Steve “Pee Wee” Pappas maneuvered an empty trash bin alongside a garbage truck.

        Moments later, a week's worth of discarded plastic bottles and jugs collected from all over Brandenburg poured into the large container. The truck soon disgorged heaps of aluminum cans and newspapers into separate bins.

        “This is the easy part,” Mr. Pappas said as he hopped off the forklift to pick up plastic jugs that spilled from an overflowing bin.

        Workers later sorted, baled and stacked material for shipment to recyclers as near as Louisville and as far away as Florida.

        The process is repeated weekly in this Ohio River town, praised by Kentucky environmental regulators as a model for recycling.

        For residents of the Meade County community, participation is as easy as collecting paper, cans and plastic jugs and hauling the stuff to the curb for pickup by Brandenburg's private trash hauler.

"Just matter of time'

               Kentucky House Majority Floor Leader Greg Stumbo would like to see other communities follow Brandenburg's lead.

        Mr. Stumbo thinks Kentuckians have the will to recycle. Finding a way has been difficult without money to underwrite programs or the volume of material to make it profitable for private businesses.

        “We know Kentuckians want it, we know it's extremely popular and it's just a matter of time before it happens,” said Mr. Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

        It's doubtful whether the General Assembly will throw its weight behind bankrolling recycling programs during its 30-day session.

        In an initiative to clean up Kentucky, Gov. Paul Patton said the state needs $30 million for a comprehensive program to combat litter, undertake a statewide recycling plan and clean up illegal dumps. Mr. Patton's proposal would require counties to clean up illegal dumps or begin curbside garbage collection. The plan leaves out recycling, which Mr. Patton acknowledges will have to wait for more comprehensive legislation later.

Works for town

               But a local recyling plan has been a reality for years in Brandenburg. The town offers the kind of voluntary curbside recycling program common in large cities like Louisville and Lexington but unusual in smaller communities.

        Recycling collects about 5 tons each week in Brandenburg that is hauled to the county recycling center, proof of the program's popularity in the town of 1,800, said Dan Sundeen, Meade County solid waste coordinator.

        Vast collections of recyclables are stockpiled until the next upswing in market prices for the raw materials. Like a stock trader, Mr. Sundeen scans the Internet for prices.

        “Recycling will never pay for itself, but by recycling you're stopping a lot of that stuff from going to the landfill,” Mr. Sundeen said.

        With no landfill of its own, Meade County's garbage goes to Hardin County. Meade County pays a monthly fee to a company to collect and haul off its trash, an amount that would be much larger if recycled goods ended up in the landfill, Mr. Sundeen said.

        Brandenburg is among several small- to mid-sized communities with effective recycling programs, said Sara D. Evans, a state Division of Waste Management regulator who heads its resource conservation branch.

        Kentucky collected about 1.2 million tons of refuse for recycling each year between 1995 and 1999, Ms. Evans said.

        “We're about average nationwide,” she said.

        Curbside recycling in Kentucky has increased, Ms. Evans said. But obstacles remain.

Few opportunities

               The state offers no grants to encourage recycling. Low-interest loans are available from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, but recycling must compete with other solid-waste programs for funding, she said.

        The state's General Fund budget devotes a scant $150,000 each year for recycling efforts. The money allows state environmental workers to do little more than put together newsletters and make appearances across Kentucky to tout recycling, Ms. Evans said.

        Fewer than half of Kentucky's counties offer recycling for aluminum, glass or plastic beverage containers, she said.

        Kentucky's low landfill fees, along with ample landfill space, make it difficult for recycling to gain a foothold in some areas, said Rich Green, another Division Waste Management official.

"Bottle bill' touted

               Mr. Stumbo said the “bottle bill” he has touted for years would give recycling more momentum by generating large volumes of recyclable containers.

        Mr. Stumbo's latest proposal, a hybrid of the “bottle bill,” would impose a half-cent “environmental impact fee” on containers from 4 ounces to a gallon, and on each fast-food cup. The fee would not be collected on containers for milk or some nutritional products.

        “We are not going to clean up Kentucky until we decide we are going to pay for it,” Mr. Stumbo said.

        Despite the difficulties, Kentucky has made progress in recycling.

        In Morehead, a new recycling center opened late last year, the result of a unique partnership. The center is funded and operated by the city, Rowan County and Morehead State University.

        State officials encourage such partnerships to widen the reach of recycling.

        The Morehead center was financed with a loan from the state.

        “Without that, and the cooperation among everybody, it would have never happened,” said April Haight, chairman of the local recycling board and energy conservation manager at Morehead State.

        One regular at the drop-off center is a woman about 90 years old who is tethered to an oxygen line, Ms. Haight said.

        “If she can get everything in her car and get down there, it seems like everybody else could,” Ms. Haight said.


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