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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 20, 2009

Durham doubles recycling volume in first "blue zone" pickup week since adding curb roll-out carts

Recycle While neighborhood listservs have continued to debate the pro's and con's of all the changes to Durham's recycling and solid waste system -- after a dizzying July 13 change that saw recycling go bi-weekly, bulky and yard waste go to second-day return trip pick-up, and all Friday collection moved to Wednesday -- here's one sign that the most important part of the new program is working well:

Recycling as measured by tonnage doubled over the previous week's collection, with "blue zone" residents making twice the level of use of recycling services with their large new curb-side roll carts.

That's a pretty significant win -- especially since any increase in recycling brings with it a net cost reduction possibility for plain ol' solid waste, which unlike bottles, glass and plastics has no residual value and, thus, no discount against its collection, hauling and disposal costs.

In other news, bulky item collection tripled versus the previous week. Though a number of residents have groused about bulky items (and yard waste) having to go out on solid waste/recycling day only to be picked up the following day, meaning more time for the waste to stew on the sidewalk, the new system seems to be easier for folks to understand -- unless of course the change just motivated residents to get rid of those big items they've been kicking around for a while.

(The city's theory: few residents use yard waste or bulky item collection, so Durham saves on collection cost by sending a second vehicle back only to those houses with extra collection to make.)

Still, there are some bugs in the system. One of them: not everyone has received their new yard waste collection stickers. Fret not, pick-up using the old ones has been extended to July 31 to allow all the stickers to make it out in the mail.



It might be due the fact the the TFC people stopped collecting a month ago. I know I had put my TFC bin out for the past 3 weeks without it being picked up. Finally this week they took my TFC cart.. and I am not due for Durham pick-up until next week... I am "red"


Another bug in the system: a lot of us still haven't received our new blue recycling carts!


The system is brilliant. Less cost, more recycling.

We'll get through these switch over hiccups without too much trouble. Durham got this one glarringly right.


Would also note that "volume" may be skewed:

In the old system, we had to break down cardboard. In the new, many people will shove full boxes into the bin. The volume of a box must be 10-50 times the volume of a flat board, so that could skew.

I got a little lazy with breaking down a box (or 3) of 12 packs, and I was surprised at how quickly the bin fills up.

= less trips for the trucks

Michael Bacon

I'm going to assume that the doubling in tonnage isn't just a factor of having an additional week for recycling to build up? Or is that not correct, and what we're seeing essentially the same amount of recycling as weekly delivery, but less cost in collecting it?

Erik Landfried

Michael, the blue zone folks didn't skip a week (yet).

While this is a good start and I have no doubt recycling will increase over previous years due to this change, I don't think a doubling effect will continue. I certainly have no way to prove this, but I think a decent chunk of the early success is just plain increased awareness. Folks who might not have recycled much before get this brand new cart and are reminded that recycling might not be a bad idea. This will likely stick for some (I'm assuming having a big blue cart looking at you every time you take out the trash rather than a dinky one sitting under your porch is the reason this works so well). Others will probably go back to not caring and the percentage increase will go down a bit.


I'm soooo excited about the new bins, but we filled up ours by Friday. Hopefully next week we can make it to Tuesday.

Todd P

Are there any plans to place a sticker on the recycling carts with the blue/red collection schedule? In past years, city crews placed a holiday schedule on the green trash carts, so it's not like this hasn't been done before. A collection calendar right on the cart would help people understand when their recycling week falls.


How does one get a second cart?


My cart is already full, and yes I do break down my corrugated cardboard. The cart contains the old plastic bin as well. Now that I have three big rollaway carts, I had a good excuse to build the extension on my deck just to keep them put away. I think they are much improved over the old bin since I don't have to worry about my paper blowing away or rainwater collecting in the cans.

BTW: Cereal boxes are collected. Logically, other dry goods outer boxes made of the exact same paper are recyclable such as for frozen dinners, pasta, tea bags, instant oatmeal, popcorn, etc. I've also put in other containers made of #1 and #2 plastic like the Stouffers trays and detergent bottles. Is this what you all do, or am I just contaminating the waste stream? If junk mail and phonebooks are collected that adds a lot of heavy glue and plastic to the paper stream doesn't it? It really seems that nearly everything can be recycled except for some plastics and paper contaminated with food residue.


I'm not sold on the increase in volume until we see that it is sustained for at least a few months.

I know I stopped pulling out the little bin the day I got my cart. It was just easier to let the stuff accumulate in the roll-out.


Donald Long, director of Solid Waste, specifically mentioned that window envelopes cannot be recycled when he spoke to the PAC2 meeting last week.
Also, the only plastic containers that can be recycled are bottles that have a neck. Containers such as for margarine, sour cream and yogurt, are not recyclable. There is a good explanation why on the city web site:


The city now accepts rigid plastic items, such a plastic buckets, lawn chairs, etc. Some examples of acceptable items are here:


I'm looking forward to having to have a smoothly operating system once all the bugs are worked out.


Yeah, I started using the big bin a couple weeks back, and just waited to pull it out.

Mostly, I'm psyched to have gotten rid of a non-functioning TV with minimal effort. Does anyone know if there is an upper limit (weight or bulk) of the items that will be picked up? All I can find on the city page is "three bulk items".

(There's a certain gargantuan sleeper sofa in my basement, which I would hate to move twice...)


Greenlantern, I was wondering the same about cereal like boxes. In my previous city, the recycling program said no to all frozen food boxes. Because some frozen dinners are cooked in the actual box and I think that silver part at the top that helps the food brown off isn't recyclable??? and or food gets on the box, thus affecting recycling. I know some frozen foods are cooked in a plastic tray. But in this case the city decided to lump all frozen foods together and say as it would make sorting difficult. I do not know if that is the case here in Durham or not. The FAQ on the gov website did not give much detail. FWIW, I put out cracker boxes etc. I'd love a specific list though. BTW, for those envelopes w/ windows, just ripe off the window section for the garbage and recycle the rest of the envelope.


I put out my bulky items , which remained on the curb all week, only to have me drag them back.


We've found that we can create a ratio of RECYCLING:TRASH volume of roughly 3:1.

That's cradle to cradle philospohes at work. If I start composting again, it'd be even better.

What ratios is everyone else experiences?

Bryan Gilmer

Agree that people have been hoarding recyclables in their new bins and that later volume may not be as impressive as the first week. But I bet it is a true increase.

The cart recycling program is really smart. As a PR guy by trade, I'm struck by the psychological genius of giving folks a recycling bin as big as the trash bin. The message is, "We expect you to recycle a LOT, at least as much as you throw into the trash." Maybe the next step is smaller trash cans when they replace them.

The other thing is that single stream just makes recycling so much easier that those who previously said, "Not worth my time" can get on board.

In our house, we have two kitchen trash cans, identical except that one is white and one is black. White can is for all recyclables; black for garbage. I'm proud to say our 2 1/2 year-old son knows what stuff goes in each can.

Bob the Builder

Cheers, that. My 3 year old is the best recycler in the house. It's the only chore he has.

Tar Heelz

Let's see what happens at the next collection cycle. That figure, divided by two, will give us a reasonable estimate of impact.

Here at our house, we simply stopped putting out the bin as soon as we had the roll-away. In fact, the bin ended up in the roll-away! (additional volume)

Joe G

Homes in the University estates area still haven't received their new carts. After several calls to the city on when they would be delivered we were assured by EOD on July 20. Well that time has come and gone and there is still no carts.

Planning on standing outside when they do the pick ups in the area tomorrow and blocking the truck if they think they will skip us because we still have just the old bins.

Erik Landfried

Joe, I hope you are as passionate about all injustices as you are about a recycling cart.

Ken D

Here in the Penrith neighborhood, many of us still do not have the new bins. Leading up to the cutover, entire streets had not received new bins and began contacting Durham about it. We're in the Blue Zone, so new pickup should have begun the 13th, but piles of recycling have been sitting streetside since then untouched. Since the cutover, many people have tried many methods of contacting anyone who can help, or even explain the situation, and have received little response. Yesterday a handful of new bins were surprisingly delivered to random houses, which doesn't really alleviate entire streets worth of missing bins. We do not know whether to expect more bins to arrive, or not, or what.

We have contacted Durham One Call by phone, by website, and by email. We have variously been told to call back later, that carts would be delivered by July 10, had the call transferred to the Durham Bulls, and not had voicemails returned.

We have contacted Donald Long, Director of Solid Waste Management, and Andrew Martin and Larissa McGill of the same department. Also Terry Capers in the City Manager's Office, and Mayor Bill Bell's secretary. Mostly we're being told that people will "look into" the situation, and then we get no followup.

J. Loftis


(In response to a question I had about recycling "rigid plastics", I recieved the following answer from a member of the Solid Waste Department)

"The contract negotiation for recycling processing has taken much long than anticipated and has not yet been finalized. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the new recycling contract on August 6th. In the meantime, we are operating under an extension to our previous contract, which does not include rigid plastics. We are not currently recycling rigid plastics, but that may change next month, depending on which vendor is awarded the contract."

J. Loftis


(In response to a question I had about recycling "rigid plastics", I recieved the following answer from a member of the Solid Waste Department)

"The contract negotiation for recycling processing has taken much long than anticipated and has not yet been finalized. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the new recycling contract on August 6th. In the meantime, we are operating under an extension to our previous contract, which does not include rigid plastics. We are not currently recycling rigid plastics, but that may change next month, depending on which vendor is awarded the contract."


This is done by weight not volume. The volume of cardboard has no bearing on the number of tons of weight. So to say the increase is a function of people not breaking down their boxes is flawed. Yes the cardboard takes up less space when flattened, but is still weighs the same amount.

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