Friday, April 9, 2010


If managed correctly, recycling programs should cost cities (and taxpayers) less than garbage disposal for any given equivalent amount of material. The city of Saint Paul currently partners with a Twin Cities based nonprofit, Eureka Recycling, to administer its recycling program.

In Saint Paul, Eureka Recycling provides curbside recycling for single family and multi family homes of under ten units. For commercial properties and large apartment complexes, they operate a pick-up on demand program with a communal 95-gallon recycling cart. Currently, they do not offer single stream recycling as the initial costs to implement a single stream program are currently prohibitive among other reasons that can be found in this report(link).

In May of 2002, Eureka Recycling partnered with the city of Saint Paul and the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (MOEA), to undertake a 14-month study that would examine and evaluate five different ways to pick up recycling at the curb. The final recommendations of the study can be found here.

This table from Eureka Recycling’s report shows the costs of all five methods of recycling pickup.

How do these costs compare to garbage pickup? Until 2007, the cost to dispose of one ton of refuse in Saint Paul was approximately $68. To only landfill the refuse would cost the city significantly less at $38 per ton, or $7 less than the cheapest recycling method. Is savings of $7 per ton enough to abolish an otherwise successful recycling program and landfill everything? Some critics would have you believe that this $7 savings IS enough to abolish the program, as the benefits of recycling are “nonexistent.”

An interesting note is that recycling costs are hidden to residents while the refuse costs are billed directly to residents, thus increasing their visibility, which could positively impact the rate of recycling. They could use a slight increase as the City is currently under the metro’s goal of having a 50% recycling rate. They are currently hovering around 49% and have been for quite a few years.

Michael Shapiro, the former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste, had this to say about the cost of recycling versus garbage collection:

“A well-run curbside recycling program can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $150 per ton…trash collection and disposal programs, on the other hand, cost anywhere from $70 to more than $200 per ton. This demonstrates that, while there’s still room for improvements, recycling can be cost-effective.”

According to the chart above, Saint Paul is providing the service in a very cost effective manner in all five of the options, just barely above the minimum average cost presented by Mr. Shapiro. In option A, the City is actually under the national average and below the contracted refuse removal costs of Saint Paul, unless they do begin only land filling the refuse, in which case that number is difficult to beat.

The City of Saint Paul, Eureka Recycling, and the State of Minnesota SCORE funds through Ramsey County provide funding for the Saint Paul recycling program. In 2002, SCORE (some detail) funding reached over $4 million for Ramsey County with additional funding provided by the county and also the individual municipalities such as the City of Saint Paul. Total SCORE funding for multiple counties can be seen in the following graph that was taken from an OLA report regarding SCORE funding effectiveness.

As a final note, even though the benefits of recycling over disposal are plentiful, individuals should keep in mind that it better serves the environment to “reduce and reuse” before recycling even becomes an option.

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