JOHNSTOWN - After more than 20 years of recycling, the Fulton County Department of Solid Waste is considering changes in the way local residents recycle may be on the horizon.
"What we're really doing is looking at other ways of being efficient," says department Director Jeff Bouchard.
Those changes being considered include possibly having the public mix, or "commingle," all their recyclables together into one bin in what is known as a "single-stream process."
Officials say most of New York state's landfills already are accepting recyclables in one container because of newer, more modern separation equipment and trucks.
"People will comply a lot more," if the county goes single stream, predicted county Recycling Coordinator Dianne Woske.
She said there would be no plastic bags for curbside collection, replaced by residential "bins." She said it would be easier for residents to recycle.
Under such a scenario, Woske said the existing recycling facility on Mud Road might have to undergo a "multi-million dollar renovation" to deal with single-stream changes.
But she also said some of the Recycling Division's services would be scaled back because recycled items would have to be shipped from the landfill to another site for separation.
Single-stream collection would be an alternative to the three different products currently displayed on streetside collection - plastics, cans and bottles, and paper and cardboard.
Other possible changes might include adding other products to the list of recyclables, such as gable top cartons, which are accepted in single-stream programs. Such cartons are often used for liquid products such as milk and juice.
Bouchard said other efficiencies already have been implemented. They include fewer trucks performing curbside runs, and using staff to assist in other programs that have increased, such as electronics collection.
Bouchard said he has been reviewing the curbside recycling program - begun in 1992 - to determine ways it can improve.
Curbside recycling involves county trucks picking up bags and bundles of recyclable goods along curbs on set days throughout the month in the county. Recycled items have to be placed into see-through plastic bags, although paper items or cardboard can also be bundled and tied. Items recycled include: paper, cardboard, glass, cans and plastic.
From an equipment standpoint, Bouchard said his department has been experimenting with a government surplus-obtained packager garbage truck as a collection vehicle on a few runs. The process has included having bags removed and all items mingled together.
From a space standpoint, Bouchard said the current county fleet of four compartmentalized recycling trucks can each hold 1.5 to 2 tons of goods. He said the packager trucks hold 2.5 to 3 tons, while larger garbage trucks can easily handle 8- to 10-ton loads.
"We've become a dinosaur," says Woske. "We've made it labor intensive."
The ordinary compartmentalized recycling trucks have become less efficient, Bouchard said, as the product at the curb has changed over the years. Although volume remains about the same, weights are down and the lighter loads are due to lightweight packaging and fewer paper products due to increased use of electronic media.
Bouchard said his department set up a few trial deliveries to the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority in Utica with commingled products. He said his department wanted to evaluate the authority's single-stream process facility.
He said if Fulton County delivered its recyclables, it could receive a net revenue of $38 per ton at today's market pricing. Bouchard said that analysis includes payment of a $70-per-ton processing fee, but also receiving shared revenue for sale of recyclables at today's market prices.
Woske said she wasn't a proponent of the single-stream collection, but is now after having toured the process in Utica. But she said Fulton County wouldn't be able to completely do the single-stream process here anytime soon.
"We'll have to collect it curbside here and recycle it somewhere else," Woske said.
Bouchard said there are more lightweight plastics coming out all the time, so the "volume it takes to get them to a ton" is on the decline. There also are fewer cardboard and paper products coming into the recycling stream.
"The paper side is going down in tonnage," he said.
The task before the county is how to figure out "alternatives" to better collection. He said the county is looking more and more at possibly using the garbage trucks it can obtain through government surplus.
Nowadays, almost anything is recycled, and it appears even food is the next step.
"Some counties are looking at food waste composting," Bouchard said.
Woske said the push on the federal and state levels is for more composting.
The Department of Solid Waste will continue to study other ways to modify the curbside program, with recommendations expected later in the year, Bouchard said.